We can only repair or heal the world through relationship. Since food is the most intimate relationship we have with the natural world around us, reestablishing a sustainable and humane relationship with our daily sustenance is a critical issue for all of us devoted to working for tikkun.
The challenge is great. Today's corporations have taken the culture out of agriculture and turned it into agribusiness. This dominant industrial food model, with its massive chemical, mechanical, and now genetically altered biological inputs, is based in a profound alienation of the public from their food. Over the last decades our society has become ever more urbanized, moving ever farther from the rural sources of our daily bread. The great physical and psychological distance separating the public from food production obscures the tragic consequences of our industrial food model. Many happily munch on their hamburgers without a thought to the forest and prairie being destroyed for cattle grazing, or the immense cruelty in the raising and slaughter of the billions of animals we use for food each year. Mothers continue to prod their youngsters to eat their vegetables, unaware of the pesticides poisoning the farmworkers and wildlife involved in their production, not to mention the water and air. This distancing makes us all unintentionally complicit in the eco-crimes, animal abuse, and social devastation of farm communities caused by current agriculture. In this way industrial food creates a moral crisis, as well as an environmental and health crisis.
However, over the last two generations a food metanoia has taken place: the "organic and beyond" movement. It has been my privilege and joy to be part of this movement. Millions of Americans are buying organic, local, and humane. They are taking part in community supported agriculture (CSA) systems, joining groups, and fighting against the misuse of pesticides, the factory farming of animals, and the genetic engineering of food crops. They understand that we cannot heal the wounds caused by industrial agriculture if we remain mere "consumers." The word "consume" means to destroy (as in a consuming fire) or to waste. We can no longer be food "consumers," destroying and wasting our lands and farm communities. This grassroots movement urges each of us to be creators, not consumers. It lets us truly understand that each action we take in deciding which foods to buy, grow, or eat creates a very different future for ourselves, our farm communities, and the earth. It is now challenging the decades-long hegemony of the industrial model.
Perhaps even more profoundly the new organic consciousness is challenging the four-hundred-year idea that equated "progress" with the increasing technological manipulation, control, and exploitation of the natural world. This is one of the first mass movements in modern times to declare that it is the rejection of some of the major technologies or our time -- chemical (pesticides and fertilizers), nuclear (irradiation of food), and biological (genetic engineering of plants and animals) -- that equals progress. We hold that progress means seeking to learn from and participate with nature rather than working to dominate and control it.
As for the spiritual stakes involved in this historic food struggle, I can do no better than quote Wendell Berry: "To live we must daily break the body and blood of creation ... when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively it is a desecration ... in such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness and others to want." So let us all embrace and work toward the sacramental vision of a new food future.
Andrew Kimbrell is the executive director of the Center for Food Safety and the editor of Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture.
His articles in Tikkun include "Confronting Evil," November/December 2001.