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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Food
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In the West the cowboy way of life has ruled since the first pioneers and their covered wagons.

After a generation living out here, I can vouch that the earth and snow pack have changed. It feels as if everything is geared to the cow, setting up the kind of environment that dissolved the Anasazi people a thousand years ago. Our current drought is the worst in 1200 years. One reason is that the average American eats more meat than anyone on earth – nearly 500 pounds of meat a year -- followed by the Australians. The pollutants and gases discharged into the atmosphere by meat production are killing the planet. If we changed the way we eat worldwide, the forests of the world might have a chance.

Everything seems to bow to cows out West, from fences and water waste to alfalfa fields that could be used for far more efficient food, all for cattle. The condition in which cows and livestock are raised in the factory farms is a horror story. Predators are killed in the thousands in the name of saving cows, although domestic dogs do far more damage to heifers than coyotes or wolves. When the dustbowl erupts again in the Midwest, and there are signs that it is, people will remember this warning.

America has been built on beef and pork since the beginning as a measure of good health and social standing. After World War II, the hamburger craze exploded. Nearly half of all meat consumed after 1990 was hamburgers. We see the consequences in the obesity rate. Already in the late seventies we were warned of the cholesterol, cancer, diabetes and coronary complications of eating a diet rich in red meat . Today we have became a country of chicken eaters primarily because it has less fat, but the bird flu affecting tens of millions of chickens is a clear sign that we are treating domestic animals with untold cruelty and abhorrent living conditions. Humans and Big Ag animals account for 96 percent of the mammalian biomass on earth. Only four percent is wildlife. The earth will simply not be able to feed 10 billion carnivores. We will cannibalize ourselves long before that.

Forty percent of the world’s land area has been degraded since America’s inception. The flaying of the old growth forests is a crime for which we cannot atone. Much of the deforestation in the Amazon is due to America’s and the world’s meat consumption. The Amazon is close to dieback, the point at which the great green miracle with the greatest biodiversity on earth, will become savannah. We are insane. Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has given free rein to illegal logging and miners to promote cattle ranching and other exploitive activities. How much of this devastation was abetted by our banks such as JP Morgan-Chase and the average American consumer? Listen to the scientists who protested at Chase Bank in LA, one of them gluing his hand to the bank’s window, exclaiming,” We will lose everything.”

Meat consumption, with its methane producing by-product, is also melting the Arctic and Antartica. We are losing 1,2 trillion tons of ice every year. The cooling system of the planet is collapsing. We have seen it up close. It is a horror story.. If those who don’t believe in climate change take charge again in the midterms and 2024, we may well lose the planet…for good.

Only a few years ago, climate change felt like science fiction. Those who still disbelieve the scientific and ecological realities are sacrificing their children’s future. The economic fallacy of endless growth is costing us the lifeline to existence. Perpetual growth on a finite planet is a fallacy and going to the moon, Mars, or Enceladus will not solve our dilemma. We have precisely this decade to turn things around or our civilization politically, financially and ecologically may not make it to 2030, let alone 2050.

Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson have been bearing witness to the interaction between tribal people and wildlife in Africa for over a generation. They have published four books on Africa including the latest with their son Lysander, Lords of the Earth -The Entwined Destiny of Wildlife and Humanity. Their most recent film is Walking Thunder- Ode to the African Elephant.

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In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grassroots farmers, consumers, and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been re-elected in a landslide.

The 51 to 44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as ... well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was, ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic ag economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small (but politically powerful) world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University, but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the preeminence of middleman food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

"Agriculture is no longer a way of life," he infamously barked at them. "It's a business." He callously instructed farmers to "Get big or get out" — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomeratized, industrialized, globalized and heavily subsidized corporate-run food economy. "Adapt," he warned farmers, "or die." The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, "releases people to do something useful in our society."

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, free-thinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting "Twinkieization" of America's food. They were sickened that nature's own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers.

"The central problem with modern industrial agriculture... (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul," said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Oregon. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The Good Food rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.

This transformative grassroots movement rebuts old Earl's insistence that agriculture is nothing but a business. It most certainly is a business, but it's a good business — literally producing goodness — because it's "a way of life" for enterprising, very hardworking people who practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. These farmers don't want to be massive or make a killing; they want to farm and make delicious, healthy food products that help enrich the whole community.

This spirit was summed up in one simple word by a sustainable farmer in Ohio, who was asked what he'd be if he wasn't a farmer. He replied: "Disappointed." To farmers like these, food embodies our full "culture" — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into "agriculture" and is essential to its organic meaning.

Although agriculture has forestalled the total takeover of our food by crass agribusiness, the corporate powers and their political hirelings continue to press for the elimination of the food rebels and ultimately to impose the Butzian vision of complete corporatization. This is one of the most important populist struggles occurring in our society. It's literally a fight for control of our dinner, and it certainly deserves a major focus as you sit down to your holiday dinners this year.

To find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets, and other resources in your area for everything from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey, visit www.LocalHarvest.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.