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Feature Article -February1, 2007

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February 1, 2007

The End of Food -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------by Jeff Green

With the provocative title of his popular book, writer Thomas Pawlick points to the changes that have taken place in the food system over the past 60 years.

As he noted in a talk he gave to the Lanark Slow Food group last weekend, government research, both in the United States and Canada, has shown that the vitamins and minerals in supermarket produce have decreased by as much as 70% in that time frame.

For instance, since 1950, supermarket potatoes in Canada no longer contain Vitamin A, and their iron quotient has been reduced by 57% along with their Vitamin C. Meanwhile, tomatoes have lost 61.5% of their calcium, 35.5% of their iron and 50% of their Vitamin A, while gaining 200% more sodium.

The decrease in food value has taken place incrementally over time, and Pawlick sees its source in the way agricultural practices have developed over the years.

Flinton_build

In researching his book, Pawlick travelled to some massive farms in California and elsewhere, and talked to regulators and food industry officials to get an understanding of the logic that drives the agriculture in North America.

What he found is that the corporate ethos is so strong in mass agriculture that concerns over taste and nutrition are non-existent.

“When I saw lists of the top ten criteria for planting a particular type of tomato, for example, size, colour, yield, resistance to disease, and ability to withstand long distance shipping were all mentioned. But not taste or nutrition,” he told the audience in Perth.

Pawlick mentioned that there are about 5,000 varieties of tomatoes in existence, but most supermarkets carry only three, and only four are planted in large numbers in North America.

Another issue is mono-cropping. By using chemical fertilisers dominated by synthetically produced nitrogen, thousands of acres are planted with a single crop, be it corn, spinach, or tomatoes, year after year. While the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium based fertilizers enable the soil to produce large crops of the same plant year after year, Pawlick says there are many other trace minerals in the soil which are continually depleted. “It is no wonder that the food value of the vegetables is continually dropping. Traditional agriculture provides for moving crops around after a few years. This gives the soil a chance to recover.”

Thomas Pawlick is also critical of the mass marketing of organic products, saying that the lobbyists from the large food companies have worked very hard to make it easier for mass produced products to be classed as organic.

Food is the only product that has continually come down in price over the years. “People pay a lower per cent of their income for food now than ever before, and this is only possible by putting pressure on the suppliers. Even mid-sized farms can no longer survive. Only massive operations have remained profitable,” he said.

Pawlick farms himself, with the help of his son, and he said that he has two neighbours, one who runs an organic farm, and one who uses conventional techniques; however, none of the three farms are able to provide an adequate income.

Industrial agriculture, whether the product is spinach, tomatoes, chickens, or hogs, is detrimental to the land, has devastated small town and rural economies, and produces an inferior product, according to Thomas Pawlick.

He is currently working on a new book, wherein he hopes to be able to promote solutions to some of the problems he delineated in “The End of Food”.

The solutions that he offered up to the Slow Food group in Perth were ones that were familiar to his audience: plant a garden and shop at a farmers’ market, all things that Slow Food advocates are familiar with.

The Kingston Frontenac National Farmer’s Union chapter, which is embarking on a sustainable local agriculture project this year, made a short presentation after Pawlick’s talk. Their vision of bringing together farmers and consumers from a 100 km radius around Kingston fits in well with the kinds of things Thomas Pawlick was saying.

Eating locally seems to be the only way to ensure that the product is of top quality and producers are receiving a fair price for their efforts.

Articles from January 18

Third time lucky for South, North Frontenac:The 3rd and final intake of submissions to the Canada Ontario Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund (COMRIF) resulted in funding support for relatively small initiatives in South and North Frontenac.

Flinton Habitat build: Executive members from the Prince Edward Hastings Affiliate of Habitat for Humanity met with the newly formed Flinton Build committee and the public at the Flinton Rec. Hall on Jan. 16

Biosphere, Committees, and the bridge: South Frontenac Council meetingThree strikes at Comrif for Addington Highlands: Addington Highlands Council meeting of January 15.Frontenac Heritage FestivalIt's Election Year, again: EditorialLetters

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