When we read about the Catholic Church these days, it’s in connection with pedophilia. The whole switch-a-pope thing was trumped up to give them some positive press. Back in the middle ages, though, the Church was at the top of its game. That’s not to say there was no abuse of power, quite the contrary. It’s just that people didn’t really question it.
Church leaders were and are traditionalists; they don’t like lady folk being powerful. Yet for some reason many women felt called to devotion. Caroline Walker Bynum in her great book Holy Feast and Holy Fast argues that women who wished to express devotion in the middle ages did so through the only medium they controlled: food. Many devout mystics and anchoresses essentially fasted as much as physically possible. They expressed devotion to Christ by sacrificing the only thing that was in their control.
In our household we have a similar control problem. Our oldest indigent occupant has a delicate palate. He eats hot dogs, white rice, black beans, peanut butter and honey sandwiches (on very particular bread), and Brown Cow blueberry yogurt. Dinner is not eaten if a stray vegetable can’t pass through a 30 micron mesh (food must be an indistinguishable mush). The boy is eight and has real control over almost nothing in his life. He lives with abundance so is seldom truly lacking for anything, so he controls what he eats. It turns out this controls what we eat and how dinner goes. He is winning. This does not bode well.
Control over our food is not a problem only for the powerless. A long chain of custody connects our mouths to the soil for even the simplest, least prepared vegetables. For processed, packaged foods, the number of hands and machines boggles the mind.
This helps fuel the anger over the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” rider that was passed as part of the continuing resolution in congress last month. The law protects farmers and the food chain from disruptions if a court orders a halt to the production of genetically modified food stuffs. To be clear, it is impossible to prove something “safe,” though it is quite possible to prove something unsafe. No reputable scientific study has shown any danger in genetically modified foods as foods. They may pose a danger to the environment, but the evidence there is somewhat unclear. There is little likelihood that a court would order a stop to production. A great many of our calories already come from GMO soy and corn.
Most GMOs do dramatically reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides by conventional farmers. Sure it would be better if organic techniques were used, but given the conventional agriculture paradigm, GMO’s actually reduce chemical use.
We’re back to control. The chemical cropping model attempts to control crops and naureto maximize yield. That’s exactly what I do in my garden except that I avoid the synthetic chemicals. I add manure, I weed, I trellis, I pick bugs. I try to control the ecosystem.
Permaculturalists argue that we’d be better off integrating our food growth with nature. We’ll yield more and harm the earth less. I love the idea, even if it sounds a bit Pollyanna. I’m reminded of Tennyson:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed
I’m not sure nature wants us to eat.