Independence. It’s an idea and an institution that every citizen of the United States is intimately familiar with. Whether it be because of studies of the Declaration of Independence and the time of our nation’s inception, celebrations on the Fourth of July, or because a teen negotiates with his or her parents for a later curfew and more independence, everyone has heard of this notion. However, what really is independence, and are Americans upholding the idea today?
In my eyes, independence consists of two major things: the freedom of choice, and the ability to stand alone. In this light, it’s pretty easy to say that the United States is full of independence today. When I wake up each day, I can choose to take a shower, go for a morning workout, eat breakfast, watch sports on television, go golfing, or even go sailing-to name just a few things. The list of possibilities is endless, I could even choose to go right back to sleep and waste the day away. This must be independence.
Now let’s focus on my decision to eat breakfast when I wake up. What am I going to eat? More choices follow: Cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, french toast, waffles, bacon. Thanks to modern agricultural infrastructure, I have access to all these possibilities just from the convenience of my own kitchen. This seems like a whole lot of independence, and for that I must say, well done America.
While consumerism in the United States has seemingly given its citizens the full liberty of choice and thus independence, the reality is that the corporate agricultural institutions in place in our nation severely limit our independence as individuals. The aforementioned breakfast options I explored seem like a variety of options, however they all have one major component in common: corn. As a result of the highly mechanized agricultural sphere our government subsidizes so heavily, nearly ninety percent of products in a supermarket contain corn (Food, Inc.). Moreover, the last 15 years have seen more than $77 billion change hands from taxpayers to corn farmers, and the alarming fact is that only 10 percent of the farmers collected more than 75 percent of these subsidies, directly supporting an oligopoly (King Corn).
If no matter what I choose to eat for breakfast, or buy from the supermarket for that matter, comes from corn, is this really true choice? To be independent not only means to have choice, but it also means being able to stand alone, to be self-sufficient. If my every meal relies on corn farmers, how independent is that? Most people are aware the United States produces a lot of corn, (enough to feed 1.26 billion people annually on a 3000-calorie-per-day diet), but are they aware that 55 percent of corn produced by American farmers is used for livestock feed on concentrated animal feed operations, or CAFOs (Foley, King Corn)? If the corn crop were to be wiped out, where would my food come from? The ingredients or processed foods purchased in the supermarkets, let alone meat from restaurants or fast food joints, would become extremely pricy, if they were still available.
Not only is the lack of variety in the food industry limiting our independence, but also the fact that ‘We aren’t growing quality. We’re growing crap. Poorest quality crap the world has ever seen,’ which is corn farmer Don Clikeman’s view on the crop he and his colleagues are growing today (King Corn). In Caitlin Shetterly’s case, this lack of variety and healthful options lead towards the limiting of her independence insofar as having to give up many constants in her life prior to getting unbearably ill. Tea bags, juice, cheese, coating on store bought apples, even toothpaste (to name a few) were some of the things she had to avoid in order to prevent her body’s adverse reaction to GMO-altered corn products (Shetterly).
Not only has consumerism limited our abilities to use the liberty of choice to its full extent, but it has also caused self-sufficiency to become a rarity and a spectacle. This is exemplified by the cases of both Joel Salatin and Marcin Jakubowski. Joel Salatin (pictured below) is founder of Polyface Farms, a pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley (Food, Inc). Salatin sought to venture away from the factory farmed process so widely used and created an agricultural sanctuary on which is livestock roam free, eating real grass and getting real exercise. He provides farming techniques that are sustainable and food that tastes better and is more nutritionally valuable than the factory-farmed sustenance in our supermarkets and restaurants today.
Marcin Jakubowski, founder of the Factor e Farm and the Global Village Construction Set, is a visionary who wishes to show that self-sufficiency, and independence from the corporations and technologies that provide us with the means to live comparably to our peers is achievable. Jakubowski’s ambitions to create the Global Village Construction Set through the Open Source Economy is one that even author Emily Eakin is skeptical of at times when she reports on his accomplishments and goals. Jakubowski’s quest to become self-sufficient, and to give all individuals the power to become independent from corporations is viewed as extreme and as an impossibility, exemplified by his struggle to find loyal and longstanding partners (Eakin). And despite valiant efforts, Jakubowski must still rely on modern technologies to start his projects.
The fact that he is seen as a radical and someone with unrealistic ambitions demonstrates that the people of the United States have lost a degree of independence. Despite the illusion of having many options when it comes to what we feed ourselves with, the truth of the matter is that Americans do not have the ability to choose completely independently, and live in a self-sufficient, self-sustaining way.
Breakfeast food. Digital Image. 13 June 2014. http://photo.elsoar.com/wp-content/images/Breakfast-Food-Idea-A.jpg
“Global Village Construction Set.” Digital Image. 13 June 2014. http://opensourceecology.org/gvcs/
“Joel Salatin.” Digital image. 13 June 2014. http://createdinagarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Joel-Salatin-1.jpg
Eakin, Emily. “The Civilization Kit.” The New Yorker. 23 December 2013. Print.
Foley, Jonathan. “It’s Time to Rethink America’s Corn System.” Scientific American. n.d. web.15
Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. DVD.
King Corn. Dir. Aaron Woolf. Balcony Releasing, 2007. Video.
Shetterly, Caitlin. “The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn.” Elle. N.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.