The Unavoidable Politics Of The Post-Apocalypse

The Unavoidable Politics Of The Post-Apocalypse

Fancy a little nausea?

Fancy a little nausea?

Famously, the Queen does not carry money.

Just like the deliberate engineering of our financial illiteracy through primary school and high school, this is a marvellous piece of class warfare.

The people who have all the money do not talk about it. It’s somehow impolite. Beneath them. And it’s a behaviour we ape. Which makes it a lot easier to steal from us when we don’t know we’re being stolen from.

And so it is with food.

Promoting dietary health among low income earners is somehow perceived as an attack. “Hey poor people, just eat more salad!” And phrased that way, it certainly is.

However, the notion that access to life-sustaining food is somehow elitist is an insidious form of double-think, an archonic reverse psychology. Because it’s the seats at McDonald’s that are being widened, not the seats in Lear Jets.

Periods of severe economic disruption always impact the food supply and our relationship to it. Anyone who has ever learned about the Great Leap Forward or Mao’s Cultural Revolution knows the truth of this.

But we also have closer, more relevant examples that we are assiduously ignoring.

There is something bittersweet and heartbreaking about reading though the Ministry of Food’s suggested recipes of things to make with wartime and post-wartime rations.

For instance, instructions to turn leftover mashed parsnip or potato into a mock cake for your child’s birthday. Just go ahead and picture that.

It's wonderful to have an economic system that rewards lifelong hard work. Congratulations on your retirement.

It’s wonderful to have an economic system that rewards lifelong hard work. Congratulations on your retirement.

During and immediately following the war, our interests and those of our ‘betters’ were in alignment; the robust health and long-term survival of the population. Today, when it comes to food, the interests are diametrically opposed.

Commodity trading is a literal weapon of war, used to collapse entire countries and regions (Arab Spring) or bankrupt historic farming regions so that they are forced to sell their land to transnationals, go hungry or grow drugs. (South America.)

In the developed world, EU farm subsidies go to dukes and princes and Big Corn literally selects the next president. Added to this, it is vastly more profitable to have us all die of eminently curable and/or avoidable diseases than it is to redesign the food supply.

For instance, Type II diabetes has a cure. An actual cure. It’s fasting. In a high-profile documentary about juice fasting from a few years ago, it was pointed out that the cost of a heart attack is more than USD $50,000 versus around $14 a day for a 60 day juice fast. Even treating your kids for ADHD is expensive. ADHD… which French kids don’t get. (Guess why.) A bad health diagnosis is the single greatest cause of bankruptcy in America.

So the discussions need to be had… even if they run the risk of mythologising the poor. Because almost a third of British school kids thinks cheese comes from plants. You may have heard of Campodimele -called the village of eternity because of the longevity of its residents. I tried reading the book but couldn’t get past the romanticising of the noble peasant.

The underlying science is solid, however. Campodimelans remain moderately physically active by necessity and eat cucina povera… mostly greens and vegetables. They still drink and smoke as much as other (awesome) Italians.

However, you’re unlikely to live in a stunning, medieval, hill town. In fact, if you’re not eating cucina povera by choice then it’s more likely you live in a sprawling suburb as suburbs are now poorer than urban areas.

Hmm, what happened around 2000? Oh yeah. Ninja loans.

Hmm, what happened around 2000? Oh yeah. Ninja loans.

And it’s that suburb thing that has me thinking of a very specific hack. Historically, if one were to suggest turning a suburban back yard into a high yield vegetable plot, you’d get the standard responses that nobody has the time and it’s a very “let them eat cake” response to the challenges of a low income.

However, even that argument lacks historical validity. Prior to the end of the war, if you had land, you did grow your own vegetables. I’ve been to enough stately homes and ruined Elizabethan palaces and Norman castles to know a mind trick when I see one. After the war… growing vegetables in your yard was something immigrants did. Upstanding white people had lawns, pools and flamingoes. Fuck that.

In terms of resistance, you may also get this deceptive little gem: That the percentage of disposable income allocated to food has fallen every decade since the 1930s. Take a look at how this beaming moron celebrates the comparative affordability of American food. But you see, your grandparents and great grandparents didn’t buy bags of potato chips the size of bathtubs and call it food. We are spending less on shit food. It’s the worst of both worlds.

This would more or less match the UK, where we are only slightly less fat.

This would more or less match the UK, where we are only slightly less fat.

So there are other reasons beyond cost reduction to pray for Tyler Durden’s vision spread across suburban backyards rather than up the sides of skyscrapers. And it’s not food miles. The numbers don’t work on widespread hyperlocalism because there are scale efficiencies in keeping… say… corn centralised rather than randomly distributed.

The first, and most pressing for Americans, is that the food supply is alarmingly compromised. Watch this terrifying and mercifully brief video about Monsanto and how they test:

The second reason is to strip demand out of the market. A market that, even if it isn’t riddled with genetic modification, is still at the lower end of the nutritional scale. From the New York Times:

Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets….

Supersweet corn, which now outsells all other kinds of corn, was born in a cloud of radiation. Beginning in the 1920s, geneticists exposed corn seeds to radiation to learn more about the normal arrangement of plant genes. They mutated the seeds by exposing them to X-rays, toxic compounds, cobalt radiation and then, in the 1940s, to blasts of atomic radiation. All the kernels were stored in a seed bank and made available for research.

In 1959, a geneticist named John Laughnan was studying a handful of mutant kernels and popped a few into his mouth. (The corn was no longer radioactive.) He was startled by their intense sweetness. Lab tests showed that they were up to 10 times sweeter than ordinary sweet corn. A blast of radiation had turned the corn into a sugar factory!

Mr. Laughnan was not a plant breeder, but he realized at once that this mutant corn would revolutionize the sweet corn industry. He became an entrepreneur overnight and spent years developing commercial varieties of supersweet corn. His first hybrids began to be sold in 1961. This appears to be the first genetically modified food to enter the United States food supply, an event that has received scant attention.

Within one generation, the new extra sugary varieties eclipsed old-fashioned sweet corn in the marketplace. Build a sweeter fruit or vegetable — by any means — and we will come. Today, most of the fresh corn in our supermarkets is extra-sweet, and all of it can be traced back to the radiation experiments. The kernels are either white, pale yellow, or a combination of the two. The sweetest varieties approach 40 percent sugar, bringing new meaning to the words “candy corn.” Only a handful of farmers in the United States specialize in multicolored Indian corn, and it is generally sold for seasonal decorations, not food.

Food 3

Probably didn’t commute to Monaco from the suburbs. These are all from that same site, by the way

The third, and it is related to the one above, is to lob your own soil-encrusted chaobomb in defense of what we might call post-apocalyptic biodiversity. Because, make no mistake about it, ‘they’ are coming for your seeds. The aim is to have a limited number of species available from the fewest possible outlets… GM seeds that die after a generation to keep you coming back for more.

In the meantime, we still have the internet which means we have access to awesome companies like Seeds Of Italy (est 1783!). Let’s get crazy and diverse in our underwater suburban backyards.

All of this is a dream, of course.

It occurred to me yesterday while shopping at one of the many independent grocers on the high road that, in the five years I have lived here, there has been close to zero inflation from the independent grocers versus around 100% in the supermarkets a few metres away. To me, this indicates a functioning market. There is clearly a price ceiling. Certainly the type of produce for sale has varied. Five years ago, you’d get French wild garlic and coeur de boeuf tomatoes. Now you get what the nearby farming areas have actually grown to sell. Some years more cob nuts, some years less.

But that’s London. I don’t have to try very hard to get the craziest range of fruits and vegetables. And with a little effort, they’re ludicrously cheap. (The origin of my area’s name actually comes from the Saxon for ‘cheese farm’, ches wick, that once occupied this bend in the river.) The further out from centres you get, the less the range. Call it the Borough Market effect:

Borough Chart

Indeed, that’s one of the most common rebuttals to the earnest suggestion that we should be eating purple carrots rather than orange. It’s all well and good in London, but what about Alice Springs?

Except that’s kinda the point. I wish it wasn’t this way but it is. I wish we lived in communities of abundant, varied, decentralised, non-GM agriculture but we don’t. And in the meantime we’re getting fatter and dying of preventable diseases while our food supply is invaded by archon seeds.

We have got here because of class warfare. And it is an ongoing war. But don’t let deter you from making use of some pretty powerful short-term options already in your hands.

Heal thyself. Have the discussion.


Add yours
  1. 1

    ARGH my comment has been eaten by a grue. Oh well, at least I can try to condense it this time.

    The fight against GMO seems to be going in our favor, but Monsanto’s recent retreat in face of massive protests is only the first round of fight in Europe. Recently I’ve been seeing an argument that everybody who is against GMO is primitive fool who does not know anything about science and technology (this argument ignores the rigging of research in favor of Monsanto). This especially seems to be geared towards weak minded folks that want to be hip, urban and appear smart without bothering with such pesky things like actually thinking.
    So, itty bitty liberal committee and of course, geeks (and geek wannabees) are being more and more suck into this kind of argument. Because hey, some scientist said they’re safe, you must be an idiot to disagree!

    1.) —– Genetics professor Pamela Ronald wrote in Scientific American in 2011, “There is broad scienti?c consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. —- the whole thing.
    It’s pretty clear what side skepdicks have chosen. Their cohorts are on the same page.
    If you didn’t hear about this site, this is a sort of geek mecca that is rapidly gaining influence; Obama had an interview in 2012 IAMA style there for example.
    Note how all the top threads and comments are completely in favor of GMO, other comments got downvoted to oblivion.
    Some choice quotes from the link:
    “I wish the anti science crowd would stfu and come out to our farm and tell us how they would take care of the volunteer seed without chemical. All facebook is anymore is “OMG monsantan is evil” “repeal socialist obamacare, lol” or “Obama is going to come to my house and take my guns, repost if you agree” I guess they need their guns to shoot all the GMO seeds.”

    “Just want to add that leftist hippies also hate GMO because it’s like not natural mannnn.

    People fear what they do not understand.”

    “I also want to add that my facebook news feed (I am from a small conservative town) has lots of posts about how B. Hussein Obama is letting socialist Monsanto take over our food system with terminator seeds. Right along with the “don’t take my guns” “marijuana is a gateway drug” and “10% off all of my Mary Kay products when you sign up 10 or more friends” or whatever.”

    “I’m all for mandatory GMO labeling if farmers markets are also required to put “WARNING. THIS FOOD HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION BY THE USDA” stickers on all of their produce. It’s technically true so who cares if consumers are scared off by the implication?”

    “Eh, they know their customers are dumb enough to care about it.”

    And it goes on and on like that. So, the fight against GMO is still in full swing, the win in Europe is just a first round.
    Johnny´s last blog post ..Freedom of speech- more than just one law

  2. 3

    “Added to this, it is vastly more profitable to have us all die of eminently curable and/or avoidable diseases than it is to redesign the food supply.” It also appears to be the Obama administration’s plan to solve problems funding Social Security and Medicare by denying full medical care access to the elderly. It’s all as if Someone decided there are too many people overrunning the planet, and it’s time to slaughter the beef or whatever.

    “Class warfare” doesn’t quite hit the mark IMO. Someone wants us to think it’s class warfare, but it’s part of the psy ops.

  3. 4
    Apel Mjausson

    Around here it’s the front yard that’s going veggie. I can’t help but think that it’s about status to have the arugula up front and center because it’s so obviously impractical. Still, front yard or back yard, growing your own food is a noble and subversive cause.

    For the cynics, there’s this: The $64 Tomato.

  4. 5
    Andrew B. Watt

    The materialist’s failure is to give in to the belief there’s no underlying narrative… so yes, there’s something that we can label “class warfare” and something we can label “psy-ops” and something we can label “food war”. Sure there is. Except… :-)

    The non-materialist’s failure is to mistake the constellation (akin to seeing the Big Dipper instead of Ursa Major) — that is, seeing a specific narrative as THE narrative, instead of a peculiar arrangement of data point that arranges itself into a regularly widening waistline.

    Fasting matters. Eating mostly green veggies matters. Gardening matters. None of these things are exclusively determined by the Monsanto story, the GMO story, the ADHD story, and so on, because those things are stories. And it’s the magician’s duty to decide what stories matter and what stories we should or shouldn’t tell.
    Andrew B. Watt´s last blog post ..Tai Chi Y2D92: keep going

  5. 6

    I agree with Andrew, in many ways I see this as the difference between
    top down and bottom up thinking.

    The materialist / libertarian sees things in isolation, ‘studies show this’,
    ‘there’s no evidence of that’, and puts the solution down to individual acts of
    self control and ‘will-power’, largely ignoring the influence of the larger cultural environment.

    You might find yourself living in Candyland, but since it’s possible to individually stick
    to the straight and narrow path nothing needs to change that could potentially
    artificially hurt anyone’s short term commercial interests.

    The conspiracy theorist sees agreements made in darkened rooms,
    and secret societies with centuries old plots to overturn cultures
    enslave populations or commit genocide and rule the world.

    In a way both sides are missing parts of the picture.
    Complex systems analysis shows that larger trends are often emergent
    properties of smaller interactions. Individual small acts of self-interest,
    collusion and self gratification occurring at every level of the food chain
    compound and create their own feedback loops leading to large
    scale observable shifts with no easily observable source.

    In some ways it would be nicer if there was a big conspiracy at work
    behind these things. A single large scale conspiracy can potentially be found
    and stopped. At least that way the problems would actually be easier to solve.

    Simon Funk provides a much better explanation of this type of situation than I can.

  6. 7

    I lost my belief in what you were saying when I reached the part about ADHD. I have a similar diagnosis (ADD to be specific) and I certainly wasn’t raised on junk food (I’m not american either). It’s awfully tiring to constantly see people who consider themselves “counter-cultural” in some way trivializing my life experiences time after time to make some point against whatever troubles them.

  7. 8

    After reading Sebastian’s comment, I scrolled up to re-read what Gordon wrote. If you click on Gordon’s link to the Psychology Today article claiming that ADHD is almost unheard of in France and go to the bottom of that page, you will see links to two other Psychology Today articles that strongly disagree with the first one. Here’s the link to “French Kids Do Have ADHD” . My brother was diagnosed with ADD as a child. Reality is that so-called experts have a lot of theories about it, but no one really has an answer. Each person has to learn to cope with it in their own way.

  8. 9

    I recently finished the Dan Brown book Inferno that deals with overpopulation topics. The GMO and Monsanto debates came to mind while reading that. It does seem that the push for greater GMO infiltration of the food supply could be someones approach to “thinning the herd.” There are many sites with mentions of problems that have been found with GMO foods. Although being that everyone has an bias and agenda in their reporting. It comes down to who do you believe.

    With Obama signing an order that Monsanto can’t be help legally liable for anything and laws against requiring GMO labeling, it does seem like there is something to hide. Even if all it is in the end is protecting their bottom line from public opinion. There would likely be a big sales drop for many companies if they were forced to be labeled as GMO.

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