On Monday night, Kai & I hopped on our bikes and rode to St. Michael’s College to hear Dr. Vandana Shiva give the inaugural address for the College’s new Environmental Studies major.
When I read that Vandana Shiva was going to be speaking in Vermont, I was thrilled. I have long admired Shiva’s commitment to the environment, to science, and to the well being of our global community. Her every choice is made intentionally, based upon deeply held values that uphold the sacredness of life. As she says, “Over the past three decades I have tried to be the change I want to see.”
And she has most certainly been a leading force behind change. A long list of accomplishments precedes her: Bachelor’s in Physics, Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, the Order of the Golden Ark, Global 500 Award of the UN, Earth Day International Award, the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace and the Sydney Peace Prize 2010. She is author of over 300 scientific/technical journals and many books, including Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace, and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Known as a leader of the alter/anti-globalization movement, she is a member of the International Forum on Globalization and the World Future Council. She has fought for changes within the fields that drive agriculture and food, specifically in relation to industrial agriculture, genetically modified foods, intellectual property rights, and biodiversity. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which became Navdanya, a women-centered NGO based in India that promotes biodiversity conservation through seed-saving, organic farming, and the rights of farmers.
During her address she spoke about how corporations and governments have “com-modified” and “industrialized” our food and agriculture, and how, in doing so, they are taking away our freedoms and what is already rightfully ours. Companies like Cargill, Monsanto and Wal-Mart are systematically and methodically creating an agricultural system that prevents us from growing and owning our own food. Seeds are being patented and are being altered in unnatural and harmful ways, in order for these companies to maintain a monopoly over the very essence of life – our soil, our seed, our food.
Dr. Shiva also talked about the hopefulness of the growing grassroots reaction to corporate greed and attempts to control us. More and more, people are choosing to grow their own food, and support local, organic farmers. Countries and citizens around the world are challenging the use of patents in relation to our food and other naturally occurring, community owned “property”. Consumers are demanding genetically modified foods be labelled. They are making choices about what they’re willing to pay for – the food that was modified and that profits already-wealthy monopolies or food that was grown down the street by a neighbor they trust.
When asked what we could do as individuals to counter the powerful corporations, she challenged us to make choices in how we grow, buy and eat our food, and to treat our bodies as “the temples they are”. “Every day, three times a day,” she said, “you’re able to make a choice about what food you decide to feed your body.”
Shiva speaks with a calm forcefulness that requires you to acknowledge the truth of a matter. She spews out an unending list of undeniable facts and real-life stories, all the while gazing directly into the eyes of her audience. With a smile, she challenges each person to embrace their responsibility within the “web of life” and make daily choices based upon what is best for their bodies, our earth and the farmers that help sustain us.
The Case of Monsanto
I doubt anyone hasn’t heard of the horror stories of farmers in relation to Monsanto and their GM (genetically modified) seeds, but if you haven’t, here’s how it works:
Because Monsanto creates their genetically modified seeds with a built-in “suicide gene” and because they patent the seeds, farmers cannot save seeds and replant them the next year, even if they wanted to. They have to buy new seeds every year from Monsanto, at exorbitant prices, taking out loans to cover the cost and gambling that crops will be bountiful enough for them to break even. Often, they produce no more than non-genetically modified crops, despite the high price of growing them. Farmers across the world are not eating the very food they grow, due to their need to sell their crops in order to pay off rising and unsustainable debts they incur as a result of using GM seeds. They are committing suicides because of failed crops and their inability to pay off the debt.
If you’re a farmer and you don’t use Monsanto’s seeds but your neighbor does, your fields will likely become contaminated with GM seeds, eventually taking over your fields and causing the extinction of your natural seed, without any way of stopping it from happening. Once you realize your crops are failing, Monsanto usually comes in and verifies that you’ve successfully “pirated” their seeds and they sue you for thousands and thousands of dollars (never mind it was they who “polluted” your land without your permission).
Beyond the tragic realities our farmers are facing in relation to GM seed and food, and the horrible affect GM crops are having over the earth and the bio-diversity of our environment, there is debate over the safety of eating genetically modified foods. You can find more information about GM foods and those debates here.