Stormy Weather Continues in Northern California

sky with clouds backlit and illuminated by lightning with pine tree in foreground; colors are deep purples, blacks and bright white

Dramatic thunder and lightning is rare here, but not this year, and oddly happening in late May along with rain. Thankful for the rain accompaniment because usually when lightning strikes this time of year it means hundreds of fires that turn into one big complex. Not this time.

Rainy Day Garden Walkabout

(click on a picture to scroll through individual pictures in the gallery below)

Weather’s in the Driver’s Seat

screenshot of weather forecast for Berry Creek California for 10 days out showing lots of rain and cold

The weather is in the driver’s seat … isn’t it always? Whether (no pun intended) we realize it or not, weather drives us. When life is closer to the elements, the weather’s driving influence is so intense, almost relentless. And really obvious. Farmers know this. Some others do, too.

The picture above is unprecedented (in our California experience). We keep thinking the computer models are wrong. In any case, we are acting as if they are real. We shut down all water aqueducts today. Mowed pastures. Worked like freaking fiends getting our garden mulched so the weeds don’t come up. Normally, in California, at this point, it is safe to assume a tilled garden is going to stay permanently dry until November (except for the water we give it in specific locations).

More later!

Food Labels in a Global Economy

picture of American flag that says "An American Company" Package and Product Designed in the U.S.A Made in China
An American Company, CC BY-SA

Many living things on this planet seem to need food of some sort.  Sunlight, heat, water, plants, animals, blood, and more are all food for something.  Billions and billions of people also consume a lot of food, food they do not grow.

With currency or through barter, people buy food from someone or something else.  Currency or barter becomes a surrogate, an intermediary, for labor, knowledge and resources, and so the consumer gets a long-way separated from his/her food by handing cash over for it instead of growing it.

For example, an information technology professional earns dollars, and gives those dollars to a grocer or restaurateur in exchange for food.  Without food labeling, the tech nerd probably does not know the farmer that grew his food, the chemicals used, the farmer’s (or corporation’s) environmental stewardship, the amount of fossil fuel consumed to cultivate, process and transport the food, the years of previous scientific study or genetic selection that went into making the food better, and so forth. The financial transaction contains and obscures all of that information.  In theory, food labels can convey some of that information.

But do food labels work?  Do they make sense?  Do they make food more expensive?  Do they matter in a global economy? Hold those questions for a moment.

In theory, a dollar itself can be labeled to let its holder know where it has been and what it has been used for, how it was created and first earned.  Block-chain based currencies could do this, but it would add to currency cost, and would eventually consume a lot of computer resources to maintain the label over time.

Now back to food labels …

How much information should a food label contain?  Who monitors label accuracy and enforces label integrity?  Thinking about food labeling questions, we can start to see that an infinite amount of information could go onto a label, but that we decide to use only a small amount of information, hoping the information we do use covers a lot of that other stuff.

The bottom line is that most all of us want food that is inexpensive, good for us, tasty, nutritious, easy to get, and safe.  A few more of us want a few things more in our food.  Some of us want food raised in particular ways because we believe those ways are more sustainable, less toxic, more community-based, family-friendly, etc.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), in order to promote free trade, does not like country-of-origin labels on meat.  One of the things Donald Trump told farmers when he campaigned was that he would protect American farmers and make sure that American consumers knew the difference between beef raised by Mexicans in Mexico and beef raised by Americans in the U.S.A.

However, multinational food corporations and the biggest lobbyists (whether Republican or Democrat) are not interested in country-of-origin labels.  They say labels are too expensive, too difficult to do, interfere with free trade, and do nothing for the product, consumer or producer except make life more difficult and expensive.

This morning, “The Washington Post” ran a story about a family farmer’s struggle against multinational food corporations opposed to country-of-origin labels on beef.  It’s pretty clear the family farmer is going to lose that battle, despite what Donald Trump told them, as long as we continue to give the most power to the people with the most money.  The story, by David J. Lynch, is titled: “’America First’ may be last hope for these cattle ranchers”.  Mr. Lynch sums the farmer’s predicament this way:

 “the younger Wishon may end up as just another cog in a corporate machine rather than pursue the life of self-reliance his father has enjoyed.

‘George still might be able to be a rancher, but he’ll ranch to Tyson’s specifications or JBS’s specifications, using the genetics they want and the feed they want,’ his father said. ‘And he will receive a paycheck…’”

So why do we need labels at all?  Why do we need to have this debate, and why must it be part of our politics?

I think it comes down to values and trust.  Like for most things human.  Humans will band together in a community that shares similar values.  If the community is small enough and does its job well enough, it will be able to trust its members to continue to do the right, community thing.  Homes are unguarded, the community feels safe and actually like home.  But when one community grows and bumps against another, if they are different enough, they will not trust each other.  They may fight.  And in a fight, the one with the most power (either at first or over time) will subdue the other. 

With food labels, we are trying to protect our values, and have the same amount of trust in food that someone else sold us as if our community had grown it for us.  But in so many words, the global trade people are saying trust us, trust capitalism, trust free trade.  But the global capitalist, free-traders have not earned our trust.  They don’t share our values.  We do not trust them and they look down on us.

I do not think laissez-faire, capitalist free trade has earned our trust.  Some countries are not advanced enough to meet our health and safety standards.  For these two reasons alone, for me, origin-based food labels are important.  And because those labels are weak or non-existent thanks to food company lobbyists, I will grow as much of my own food as I am able to, no matter the dollar cost or opportunity cost (because I also know that the dollar cost of global, corporatist food is arbitrarily low because it does not contain or reflect my values or the many externalities inherent in food production).

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