Exchanging Culture for Convenience

A guest blog article by J. Matthew Noonan (student, activist, world citizen)

In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of my spare time reading about food production and communities that are traditionally tied to their vocation in the fields.  Obviously, this notion of the traditional farming community is no longer a reality in our country, but it is often used as a façade by corporations that no longer work the land by the sweat of their brow, but instead by the exhaust of burnt fossil fuels and the collapse of traditional farming communities.

These companies—Monsanto, ConAgra, Cargill, et al—aren’t necessarily in the business of destroying communities, but they are in the business of making money.  If the small farmers that make up these farming communities are their competition, so too they must fall.  Used-to-be farmers then have two choices: to join the other team (working for one of those companies), or to “seek retraining and get into another line of work.” (Karaim 1986)  Wendell Berry sums up loss of traditional farming communities perfectly: “This loss of local knowledge and local memory—that is, of local culture—has been ignored, or written off as one of the cheaper ‘prices of progress.’”(Berry 1990 p.157)  Essentially, small farmers have been driven out of their communities because they can no longer compete with the power and money behind industrial agriculture and have lost their traditional knowledge as a result.

The prime example of local culture falling to a more general and industrialized culture can be seen in the role played by Walmart.  These super-stores are more or less a combination of all of the “ma-&-pa” shops you might find in the downtown area of a given small town and they’ve created a complete disconnect from the people and their community.  While you might have traded your baker access to your thresher for bread in a more traditional community, now, you no longer own your thresher as it’s the property of Cargill, and the Walmart has cheaper bread anyways.

This doesn’t just represent a loss of culture, norms, and human relationships, but also a loss of knowledge.  People no longer make the products they consume or sell, but instead earn money to go purchase premade, highly processed, products that have been shipped thousands of miles and are loaded with preservatives.  In a Marxian sense, this represents the alienation of humanity from their work, but further, it is evidence of a growing gap between individuals and their local communities.

To this end, it is clear that the historical course of food production—though more generally, of industrialization—in the United States is altering the historical role and value of the local community.  Members of small locally based communities are seeing their culture crumble before their eyes, and are in many cases unaware as to why.  More and more people from small towns are relocating to big cities, and suicide rates among farmers are three times that of the country at large. (New Solutions 2007 p.10)

The problems in this particular demographic show a need for a more holistic analysis of the social problem by those involved.  C. Wright Mills (1959) would advocate an application of the sociological imagination to this problem.  A better understanding of the historical and eco-political nature of this problem would help individuals understand the role they play in this issue and what they can do to help.  It is necessary that members of small communities resist the convenience of companies like Walmart and invest in local small businesses as much as possible.  Consumers at large, in cities and rural towns alike, need to be more mindful of the origins of their food and chose the local option whenever possible, or at very least, not purchase the products of community-crushing Agribusinesses.  And of course, since this problem is very much tied up with federal policy, citizens should pressure their representatives to invest tax dollars into small businesses rather than subsidizing industrial production of corn monocultures that are used for processed food.

A reevaluation of the state of our food production in the United States would have deep and various positive effects.  A more critical look shows that not only do these companies and the ideology that underpins their actions effect local communities, but also climate change, human health, soil health, worker’s rights, and oil dependency, to name a few.  Seeing the issue more holistically using Mills’ sociological imagination is a tool to help understand the depth of this issue and what we can do to change the way we eat in a manner that would benefit everyone, and preserve local wealth, monetary or otherwise.

Bibliography

Berry, Wendell.  1990.  What Are People For? Berkeley: Counterpoint. 157.

Karaim, Reed. 1986.  “Loss of million farms in 14 years projected,” Des Moines Register, March 18, 1986. p. 1A.

Mills, C. Wright. 2000 (1959). The Sociological Imagination: 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press.

New Solutions.  2007. “Food, Feed and Fuel.” Community Services Inc. pp. 10

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13 thoughts on “Exchanging Culture for Convenience

  1. A very interesting article indeed, exchanging culture for convenience and how true it is. Interestingly enough our culture now a days is convenience. We drive everywhere and the drive thru’s are packed for sure. Packed with a bunch of overweight degenerates and I’m one of them. I absolutely hate getting off of school and not waiting until I get home to eat, no I will just hit the drive through real quick and eat on the road no big deal. All though the big deal lately has been my waste line and how big it keeps growing. I am 33 years young and my metabolism stopped when I was about 25 and although I was a very thin kid, each year I am struggling to not put on more pounds from the winter before. It’s got to be a part of our instinctual hibernation of some sort, but I just seem to eat more in the winter. It makes sense, since we are more active in the summer months enjoying the sun, sweating it up and drinking lots of liquids.
    Anyway, I have been an athlete all of my life, but with work and school it is hard to find time to work out. When I eat processed food and basically anything that doesn’t come from the ground or didn’t have a mother, I feel bloated and not quite complete. When I eat organic wholesome foods from the earth or from the animals of Gods great kingdom, I feel the nourishment that I need to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Over eating is a big problem too, when we are eating past our full point, then we are just trying to fill a void like an alcoholic or drug attic would, it becomes about not enough God in your life, which leads to needs of the flesh and a feeling of never being satisfied or having your craving met. A big part of our old time culture has been lost and it is convenience to blame, the lazy sense of self gratification also known as the pleasure principal. To many people reacting with their Id, instead of their ego and super ego.

    1. I agree with what you wrote Nick, there is much to be said for whole foods that provide essential nutrients naturally. Many processed foods today, like cereals for example, are taking their basic formula which is full of preservatives and additives, and they are adding vitamins and minerals to make it seem “healthy.” I think that people need better education about nutrition so that even if they do choose to be unhealthy, it is not out of ignorance. I can say that personally I feel much better when I eat fruits, vegetables, and natural whole foods. I think a lot of the digestion problems people have are linked to those additives and the rate at which people generally eat. Everyone is always in such a rush they do not eat at a pace that is healthy for their digestive system. The social aspect of a farmer’s market or a small farm stand in a rural area is something that is rare in this day and age. I like to see people coming together and learning about nutrition. I would like to learn how to grow my own garden and I would like to share my vegetables with people when I have a place of my own someday. There is definitely a social aspect in health and nutrition– and people that are a part of that world are much happier knowing they are fueling their bodies rather than filling a void.

      1. I agree that foods in general are more processed and contain greater elements that may or may not be harmful, however I don’t think it’s the farmers fault or corporations fault. No, I believe it’s our country as a whole who is at fault here. Society is yes dominated by advertisements funded by corporations but we as a people allowed that to take place. If we really wanted to, I bet we could probably still have these institutions and traditions in our midst, however the united states and really most of the western world chose at least a century ago to forgo the tradition and plow full forward into the future like a drunken blind rhino.

        And no amount of education, or new evaluations will change what damage has been done. Instead we need to move on take what we have learned from this in order to create a better future for us, our children and our children’s children.

  2. As Tempestas points out, I also believed that we are very much responsible for the way our food system works. Our society expects things done fast, because we are always in a hurry, it’s all about supply, and demand. For example, in the article “The McDonaldization of Society” by George Ritzer, on the Ron Matson book, explains how McDonald’s is a Americana symbol. This restaurants have been providing us with tasty, low-priced, and conviniently fast-food. The success that McDonald’s had, became a model for companies like Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, even Wal-Mart. We were the ones that made them succed, because we prefer to stop in one of these locations, instead of supporting our local restaurants or grocery stores, only not to cause ourselves the inconvenience to wait a few extra minutes. It’s in our hands to make choices that are healthier for us and our communities.

  3. I just watched a documentary on the agriculture and the tight grip that monsanto has on it. The small guys cannot afford to stay in because they keep getting taken to court with the accusation that they stole seeds from monsanto. One farmer tirelessly tried hard to fight it, but with all of the lawyer/court fees he eventually folded and had to give up everything. That is what monsanto wants. They want everyone to buy their seeds and to do so there is some sort of agreement. It is the same for the chicken industry with tyson. If you try to get smart with them they will just shut you down and thats that. We are blindly letting big corporations control all of our food and we dont even realize what goes into our food. Everything we eat has been genetically modified. Corn is 8 times the size of the actual corn the native americans used to grow. We really need to wake up and get control over the food we eat because these corporations are walking a think line with the FDA and the FDA gets their money so they are happy

  4. I saw the same documentary as you did, and it made me very sad that the local farmers don’t get a fair share, and disappointed that institutions like the FDA allow this to happen, they are supposed to control the quality of our food, and I got sick to find out the deplorable conditions this companies handle the animals, and all the hormones they feed them to make them grow in just a matter of days.

  5. I too have seen that documentary, I can’t believe tight grip that some companies have on certain markets. It is in a way the culture of america to control money and to have power over others. Sadly this comes at the expense of the health of citizens. If any one wants to check out these films they are free to stream on Netflix – “Tapped” thats about the bottled water industry and how much of a scam it really is. “Gasland” about the rise in the use of natural gas which is great and burns clean sure but at the expense of our nations water supply. “Super size me” About McDonalds and the health problems it causes and obesity in the nation.

  6. I think it is very sad how our food market has changed within the last few decades. Companies no longer care about nutrition, but rather just the money going into their pockets. It’s no wonder America and other countries have such an obesity problem. Companies would rather have very cheap processed food to make a profit than spending a little more for natural food. Most farmers are going out of business, and I think that’s a bad sign for our country as a whole. Back in the beginning of our country and through almost all of its history farmers have been the face for our country. I also don’t think it’s fair how stores like Walmart are taking “mom and pop” type stores out of business because this shows how the big corporations just care about money. Overall, I agree with this entry and think it was very interesting to read

  7. I totally agree with you, the way our food is being produced in America has changed and sadly as a result of that local farmers are being put out of business. I don’t think a lot of people actually take the time to think about where their food really comes from. They only care as long as it’s there in the supermarket. As you said these larger business like Monsanto, ConAgra, and Cargill are taking over farm production and the local farmers either are struggling to compete or fall to the competition and join them as employees. I think more people should try to make the conscious decision to buy local because it is not only going to be helping your community, but also your local farmers. I know that the local grown produce might be a little more expensive , but when you put it into perspective wouldn’t you rather help keep the local culture alive than feed into the mass production?

  8. I completely agree with you, smaller family owned companies are quickly disappearing all around the country. It’s a shame that ‘mom and pop’ type of establishments are going out of business because of the larger corporation, such as Wal-Mart. The community loses the interaction/communication that they used to have with the people that worked in stores, like mom and pop businesses. Because of this, it is as if the community is losing part of their culture as well. I agree that citizens have to do more to encourage the government so that they take a real initiative to stop larger corporations from closing down family owned businesses. By doing this, people would have healthier choices for their food because family owned businesses wouldn’t have to import such a large amount of quantities at once; thus, the food they get doesn’t have to use as many preservatives. All of the processes foods offered in larger corporations should also be managed more closely and the least amount of preservatives as possible should be used. Although local grown foods are sometimes more expensive, they are healthier over all. Thus, keeping more family owned businesses open would help the local community because it would poor money right back into that community and not go off someplace else, like in major corporations.

  9. I agree. We are losing culture and history to the ease of fast food and other chains. Local supermarkets are going out of business because Wal-Mart has everything at a cheaper price. In order to change this consumers will have to start changing the way they buy things. We spend more money on clothes and gas than we do on what we put in our bodies. No one looks at the nutrion facts anymore or the fact that most of our food is made up of things you will not be able to pronounce without a PhD. Overly processed food is bad for you. And with the consumers being mainly focused on price and speed, we are losing all of our hard workers that grow the food we should be eating. The free range chicken and the grass fed cows are not a good enough selling point any more. We need a nationwide food campaign to show people why what they are eating is bad for them. If this campaign were to occur, more small stores might be able to make it.

  10. I had to watch that documentary for my Environmental Biology class and I was utterly disgusted at how Monsanto has destroyed a lot of farming communities by monopolizing the industry and it is a shame for the small farmer who is only doing what he loves and that is farming his land and helping people eat and be healthy. It just really saddens me. By the way, I agree with all of your comments.

  11. Unfortunately this is true! Walmart as convenient as it is, also is a community destroyer. I presented an article about this topic and it was actually titled Wal-mart and poverty. It basically said that Wal-mart had destroyed the existence of “mom and pop” type shops. Also like the author said people need to stop investing in these massive companies and invest into smaller companies and this will cause people to keep their jobs!

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