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Globalization of Agriculture, Food Production and Resources
The Ideology and the Reality of Food Production and Agriculture
Green is good. Buy organic. Down with genetically modified 'franken foods'! Such environmentalist assertions have the ring of modern truisms. Often, the impetus to recycling can have a moral drive to the way that the ideology is enforced upon every street corner, from the shrill wastebaskets that proclaim 'for cans and bottles only' to the supermarket aisles that scream 'no pesticides used.' The modern distaste for technology can be hypocritical as well as hysterical in its intensity at times. After all, such technological innovations as the CD transmit far better musical sound quality than the LP. (DeGregori, 2002, 152). And, more to the point, the modern revolution in food production and shipping has enabled modern individuals to have, at their fingertip's access, enormous amounts of healthy produce, in and out of season, and to be able to eat high-protein, high-calcium foods at great convenience and relatively little cost.
All the world's consumers, however, do not enjoy this bounty. Who is to blame for this? Thomas R. DeGregori, a professor of economics and food science, would suggest that the reason that African nations in states of privation and hunger are turning away food, simply because it is genetically modified, are the victims of the modern environmentalist movement, a movement DeGregori sees as a kind of ideological cult of purity, as well as a dangerous political movement with hints of racism and exclusivist at its very ideological core. In Thomas R. DeGregori's 2002 book The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology the author states that such supposedly positive assertions as 'buy organic,' in regards to changing consumer behavior are quite questionable and have had dangerous worldwide implications. He begins the first chapter of the text stating that such consumerism is still consumerism, creating the perception that if one simply 'buys right,' or buys the correct product, one can change the world. (DeGregori, 2002, 9-18) These assertions are foolish, but more importantly they create victims of middle-class moral dietary fads and 'junk science.'
What is so harmful about such ideas, and why is DeGregori so angry about their supposedly far-reaching implications? The American environmentalist or worldwide green movement may seem harmless on its surface. DeGregori's initial point may seem well-taken as well, and humorous to boot, when portraying individuals who feel that they are being helpful on a world scale when buying a more expensive and dubiously labeled tomato, or inserting a glass Snapple bottle in the right receptacle. But what makes this behavior not just another object of satire, to feel that by buying organic produce one is changing or helping the world, and downright dangerous? (DeGregori, 2003, 10)
However, specifically in chapter 2 and 4 of this work, DeGregori demonstrates that such first-world consumerist idealism has negative, real-world consequences. Africans have been driven from their land and traditional modalities of food production because of narrow efforts to conserve specific species, and the American Indian has also, because of his or her ostensible status as a 'natural' human being, deprived of real, concrete property land rights that did exist within their particular cultural context, albeit not in the same fashion as in European culture. (DeGregori, 2003, 47) The ideology of 'naturalness' and purity is neither an object of parody or a life-sustaining ideology, ultimately, DeGregori asserts, but one with a dark world history of deprivation.
DeGregori grows even more scathing and accusatory in his later Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate, when he holds the obsession with 'pure' organic farming responsible for the starving to death of millions of people worldwide in Africa. (DeGregori, 2002, 95) By denying others access to genetically modified crops, to necessary pesticides, and to dietary innovations that could end hunger, environmentalism has caused world damage. DeGregori suggests, controversially, that the free world market rather than government regulation is the solution. If only companies were allowed to do as they wish regarding pesticides and genetic modifications, they could develop foods that were cheaper, more easily shipped, and more easily grown in a diversity of environments.
However, DeGregori's assertions ignore the fact that the reason that hunger is such a problem on a world scale is the free reign of imperialism and colonialism, a 'market' ideology that persecuted the Native and African lands he ostensibly champions, simply because they did not possess the same weaponry as the Europeans whom wished to overtake their land. DeGregori attempts to fuse capitalism and technology into a singular industry, also ignoring the fact that government funding is responsible for a considerable amount of the new technological innovations in food science and production he espouses. (DeGregori, 2002, 150-156)
His assertions become even more questionable when he equates environmentalism with a kind of intellectual, modern colonialism. First-world science has the power to save the third world, rather than to harm the third world, the author implies, but with a kind of underlying paternalism. He states that modern attitudes towards the use of pesticides in raising produce and towards commercialized agriculture are luxuries of affluence and the developed world, and needlessly deprive the developing world of the modern, technological sustenance they require to end mass epidemics of hunger. (DeGregori, 2002, 9)
At times, the rhetorical intensity of DeGregori can reach the kind of level of hysterical polemic he accuses environmentalists of, essentially accusing the green movement of desiring individuals to go back to caveman and cavewoman eras, before fire was even invented.
When he states that "man had learned to use fire for cooking about 40,000 years ago," and it one wishes to forego the use of innovation in cooking, raw foodism would be logical result, DeGregori creates a kind of 'either or' choice for his readers -- namely either one chooses the ideology of progress or primitivism, with nothing in between. (DeGregori, 2002, 123)
But the most striking part of DeGregori's book is when the author calls efforts to idealize a lost purity "Nazi" in their nature, because of the Nazi ideology of a pure and primal past in much of the 'literature' of the Third Reich and art. Beyond certain, select images that are reductive of the racism of Germany of the 1930's, such an analogy between the purist ideology of environmentalism and fascism seems to generate more heat than light. Furthermore, the idealized view of the old west in this nation, it would seem, is equally subject to such accusations. DeGregori grants that his language is strong of course, but states that he speaks as such because he fears such ecological political efforts will freeze developing nations in time, depriving them of technological developments that they need to overcome the way that colonialism has deprived such nations of their traditional modalities of crop generation and sources of food. (DeGregori, 2002, 36).
Of course, the modern media reminds is that some individuals are gripped with such crazes as 'raw food' fads, so perhaps one cannot turn up one's nose at DeGregori's efforts at parody so easily. Still, when DeGregori calls a German effort to establish a zoo akin to fascism because of the purity ideology behind it, he seems to be painting the environmentalist movement with a needlessly broad brush. (DeGregori, 2002, 36) Surely, there are examples that are extreme and sanctimonious enough without taking the debate to such a level. Moreover, the desire of Africa and other nations that have rejected genetically modified produce has not only come from the First World, but also from indigenous efforts within those lands, who view such actions upon developed nations with great suspicion, and fear the colonial subjugation of their existing infrastructure by new forms of agriculture as akin to the colonial tyranny of old.
Lastly, certain elements of the DeGregori effort to debunk environmentalism, despite the relatively…[continue]
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