Corn Commentary

Getting Real – Really?!?

Last week’s TIME Magazine cover story, renamed “Getting Real about the High Cost of Cheap Food,” made me think of a Saturday Night Live segment they like to call “Really?!?”

Really, TIME Magazine?!? Cheap bacon feeds “an American addiction to meat?” Really?!? We’re the only country that likes to eat animal protein, something humans have been doing since the dawn of time? Really?

And, really? Our food is “increasingly bad for us, even dangerous”? Really?!? In case you hadn’t heard, America has the safest food supply in the entire world. Using the salmonella in peanuts problem as an example to say that consumers are now “rightly worried about the safety of their meals?” Really? Consumption of peanuts and peanut butter has now bounced back to almost the same level it was before the outbreak.

Oh, and really, as an example of how we can change the way we eat, “from the very top” we have “First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House garden has so far yielded more than 225 lb. of organic produce.” Really?!? Let us know when the Obamas can live on what they grow organically at the White House without buying any other food and we’ll be impressed by that “powerful symbolism.”

And just what is your definition of sustainability that “purists worry” will be “co-opted” as a result of large companies like General Mills opening organic divisions. In other words, are you saying that big companies can’t do sustainability because it won’t fit your definition? Really.

TIME tells us that “our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later” because “the earth can no longer deliver.” Really? I would be willing to bet that 20, 50 or 100 years ago there were people saying the same thing – we can’t continue to feed a growing global population, yet we keep finding better ways to grow food more efficiently, and yes – more sustainably. The real definition of sustainability is family farms in this nation that date back two centuries or more with the promise of future generations to come. Really.

Which brings us to one of the few truisms in the article – “as every farmer knows, if you don’t take care of your land, it can’t take care of you.” REALLY! Farmers take care of their land. They don’t grow corn on “monocrop” fields or they could not continue to grow corn. They rotate it with soybeans to replace nitrogen in the soil, they use no till or minimum tillage conservation practices to minimize soil erosion, and as for fertilizer and fossil fuel use – it really is expensive – which is why farmers continue to use less and less. Precision agriculture techniques such as GPS are used by most farmers at this point to navigate their fields, which saves on precious resources – including time, money, fuel, fertilizer, farm chemicals – and the environment. Really.

Ok, how about the so-called “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. According to TIME, there are nearly 400 similar dead zones around the world. Really?!? And is runoff from corn fields in the Midwest causing all of them? Could it be something else?

Moving on to the “prison-like” conditions under which our livestock are raised – really? “What factory farms do with (manure) gets comparatively little oversight,” according to TIME. Really? Compared to what? Concentrated animal feeding operations have to comply with a myriad of federal, state and local regulations that get tougher every year, and most operations have stringent manure management systems. Not to mention the fact that manure digesters are being used on many farms now to convert poo into power. Really.

So, some guy in California is raising black Angus cattle on a pasture overlooking the Pacific Ocean in California – really. “He believes that his way of raising farm animals – in the open air, with no chemicals or drugs and with maximum care – is the only truly sustainable method.” Really?!? That would definitely cut down on our addiction to meat.

It is nice that TIME says that “Farmers aren’t the enemy – and they deserve real help.” Really? What kind of help did you have in mind? TIME says we have “transformed the essential human profession – growing food – into an industry like any other.” Yes, it’s a business. Really. And most farmers really do enjoy their work and don’t need someone to help them “make farming real employment, because if you do it right, it’s enjoyable work.” They are doing it right and they are enjoying it, except when some city slicker writes a sensationalist article telling them how they can do a better job.

TIME says we need to “scale down” our food production to make it more sustainable, “a distributed system of many local or regional food producers as opposed to just a few massive ones.” Really? Isn’t that how they do it countries like Africa and India? Works out really well for them when regions have drought and disease outbreaks that lead to famines.

Once again, toward the end of the article, something makes sense. “How willing are consumers to rethink the way they shop for – and eat – food? For most people, price will remain the biggest obstacle.” REALLY?!? Yep, we like to be able to afford to eat. Call us crazy. Really.