Monsanto, Cargill and Occupy Wall Street
By Kristin Wartman
If you are paying attention to Occupy Wall Street—and by now most people are—the anti-corporate message is coming through loud and clear. Most participants at the events now spreading across the country say they are no longer willing to let powerful corporate interests determine the course of their lives. These Americans realize that a participatory democracy is essential.
As it stands today, 75 percent of the population are obese or overweight and many are chronically ill with diet-related diseases. They are also largely dependent on an increasingly unhealthful and contaminated food supply that is heavily controlled by corporate interests. It’s obvious that this is our moment to drive a very important point home—upending corporate control of the food supply is a fundamental change that must occur if the 99 percent are to be healthy participants in a true democracy.
This could be a catalyzing moment for the food movement with a real chance for average Americans to see and hear the connection between corporate control of the food supply and our nation’s health crisis. Indeed, the declaration of Occupy Wall Street (available on its Facebook page), addresses issues the food movement has been working on for years. The declaration states, “They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.”
Author and activist Naomi Klein has been an outspoken advocate and participant in Occupy Wall Street. When asked how it connects to the food movement, she said, “The protest is about the corporate takeover of democracy of our lives in every way. The food movement is inherently anti-corporate and it is inherently about rebuilding a real economy.” She continued, “The food movement is where a lot of the leadership is. Occupy Wall Street is not just about banking legislation. The food movement is paving the way for what needs to happen in manufacturing and I think it’s all connected.”
Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University agrees. “Of course Occupy Wall Street connects to the food movement,” she said. “If we had a healthier financial system, we might be able to fund better food assistance, universal school meals, a rational and effective food safety system, and production agriculture that promotes sustainability and affordable food that is healthier for people and the planet. The food movement needs to be there and its voices heard.”
While powerful players like Goldman Sachs and Fannie Mae were on the lips of nearly every American after the 2008 financial crisis, the names of industrial agriculture corporations remain largely unknown. But consider how much power they wield. Take Monsanto as an example. When Monsanto began selling its genetically modified Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996, only 2 percent of soybeans in the U.S. contained their patented gene. By 2008, over 90 percent of soybeans in the U.S. contained Monsanto’s gene. This is especially alarming given that soybeans account for the largest source of protein feed and the second largest source of vegetable oil in the world. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2008-09, the farm value of soybean production was $29.6 billion, the second highest among U.S. produced crops—and soy is ubiquitous in processed foods. It ends up in the meat, milk, eggs and farmed fish many Americans consume (as a result of it being in animal feed) as well as thousands upon thousands of packaged foods usually in the form of soy protein isolate, soy isoflavones, textured vegetable protein and soy oils. Soy accounts for one-fifth of the calories in the American diet.
Monsanto has also produced genetically modified seeds for corn, canola and cotton, with many more products being developed, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. (To see how ferociously Monsanto protects its patented seeds, watch the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc.) As for corn, the highest valued U.S. produced crop, 93 percent of it is genetically engineered. Physicist and internationally renowned activist Dr. Vandana Shiva points out that the notion that genetically engineered food will improve the food supply and improve nutrition is a myth. “These are illusions that are being marketed in order for people to hand over the power to decide what to eat to a handful of corporations,” she said in an interview on her website.
Another corporation with broad reach and control over the foods we eat is Cargill, which rivals Monsanto in its control of the food supply. It is the largest privately held corporation in the nation, owning Cargill Pork and Cargill Beef, the second largest beef producer in North America. According to Anna Lappe’s book "Diet for a Hot Planet," Cargill also owns dozens of subsidiary businesses, is one of the largest commercial cattle feeders in the U.S., the world’s biggest processor, marketer and distributor of grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities, and controls 80 percent of the European market for soybean crushing with a similar share for animal feed manufacturing.
If you eat any processed or packaged food, or anything from a typical restaurant or café, you can guarantee that Monsanto or Cargill played a role in those foods somewhere along the line. As Dr. Shiva points out in much of her work, these companies contribute to the toxification of our food supply. It’s not only the lack of nutritional value in many of these highly processed foods, but also the actual toxins that are added to genetically engineered foods. Bees, butterflies, cattle and other animals have been dying as a result of these crops, so how are they affecting humans? (You can listen to Dr. Shiva discuss this here).
If America’s health crisis is any indication, corporate control of the food supply is taking the ultimate toll. American children born in 2000 are the first generation not expected to outlive their parents as one in three is likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime, with those rates even higher for black and Latino children. The corporate monopolies over the food supply and the government’s role in facilitating corporate control translates into control over the health of the American population.
Occupy Wall Street illustrates a basic tenet of democracy—we must participate for it to function properly. We must also participate in our food system to develop local food economies that function with our interests in mind. Our first steps must be learning and teaching others about where our food comes from and how to access healthy food. We must also boycott companies like Monsanto and Cargill, whose sole interest is profit, not our health or protecting the environment.
Writer, activist and academic Raj Patel said that while Wall Street is certainly behind many problems with the food system, there is an even deeper connection between the two. “At its best, the food movement is about learning to see the politics in our everyday lives and then to take a stand against injustice,” he said. “That’s what Occupy Wall Street is doing—creating a space to learn, demand, exchange and organize.”
Occupy Wall Street understands that the corporations—whose driving force is profit not the health of the people, the country or the environment—cannot be allowed to control our political systems. Similarly, when corporations control the food supply we are left with an unsafe and unregulated food supply with virtually no oversight and a population in the midst of a dire health crisis as a result of corporate greed and carelessness.
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By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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