By Terry Sterrrenberg
I saw the movie “Fed Up” a few nights ago and came home rejuvenated about the Villaging project and our Villaging America movie. There is of course a tremendous amount of information about how the food industry has contributed to the problem of obesity in the USA. The main point of the movie is that sugar is the culprit that is the prime contributer to our weight problem as a nation. There are several tragic examples of obese childen who get caught up in the food castrophe of this country. The movie describes how when in the 1970’s fat was denounced as the menace to avoid, the food companies started making low fat processed foods. But as one person in the movie said “when you take out the fat, food tastes awful”. So to make food taste better and to keep up sales the food industry started adding sugar to everything to make the food more appealing. If you are not aware take a look at the sugar on your food labels. You will notice that sugar has no daily percentage listed. That is because the food industry lobbied to omit the inclusion of the percentage of sugar as a maximum daily value. That means when you buy a product you can see the amount of sugar in the product, but unless you are in the know about sugar you will not know how that amount of sugar will contribute to your nutritional needs.
Even “the healthy” foods have added sugar. The movie shows how the food industry has lobbied and testified before Congress consistently denying that there is any proof that sugar causes children and adults to be obese. In order to make that case they need to ignore the evidence. I came away from that movie experience thinking that this is just another instance where the profit motive has led big corporations to continually look after their own interest by ignoring what is good for the common good in favor of profit.
Over and over we discover that in every area of our lives there has been a string of history that has developed an attitude of “screw the public, it can’t be truth if it does not make a profit.” Don’t get me wrong I am not one who believes in conspiracy theories. However as I look into the development of the corporation over the last century I see a common thread of diminishing public good in favor of profit. Our life style in the USA is a direct result of how industry and business has developed in this country. David Graeber in his book “Debt: the first 5000 years” describes how this happened. He describes how going into debt become a way of life in the US.
Watching the movie and reading Graeber’s book made me ask the question “How has the Corporationing (a word I just made up) of America affected us?” Perhaps Corporationing is the opposite of Villaging. I turned to the six elements of villaging we have outlined for the Villaging America movie. In general “corporationing” takes us away from direct involvement in the core processes of life. For some reason we have let this happen and have actually made it OK for our corporations to be morally numb in their business practices.
1. Food Production: Toward the begining of the twentieth century “Mechanization brought farming into the realm of big business as well, making the United States the world’s premier food producer–a position it has never surrendered” (http://america…ra/3_657.html) Big farming has meant a vast reduction in the amount of family farms and local food production which means that most households get their food from over 1300 miles away. This reduces nutritional value of the food and has resulted in an abundance of processed foods full of added ingredients (preservatives and different forms of sugar). Communities providing their own food supply would be a threat to food corporations.
2. Energy: Reliance on fossil fuels is a direct result of our lifestyle. Just as we are dependent on oil to stay warm and to go places, big oil companies are also dependent on our lifesyle for their profits. It doesn’t take much thought to realize what would happen to the petroleum business if alternative forms of energy were developed or if we found ways of living to use less. Turning to local energy grids to service local communities would be a threat to energy corporations.
3. Perimeter: The model for villaging we are using is the human cell. Each cell has a function and a perimeter that defines its identity. At present where people live – our house and location – is largely determined by our income. We have to be able to afford the house we live in as well as the transportation to our work. Affordability of housing has resulted in people living in suburbia, at a distance from where they work, and has led to isolation and disconnection. Feeling safe and secure in one’s neighborhood has also become an issue for many people. Having a village perimeter creates a sense of identity, and promotes connectedness, a feeling of safety and an appreciation for diversity. The perimeter also sets a limit to the capacity of the village in terms of caring for its population. The model of business in the USA is one of growth. Graeber comments that “Just about everyone agrees … that capitalism is a system that demands constant, endless growth.. Enterprises have to grow in order to remain viable”. The concept of a perimeter as a container for a set number of people that a village could support seems to be a threat to the very core of a capitalist system focused on growth.
4. Automobiles and Roads: When Henry Ford developed the assembly line to produce automobiles, life in America was changed forever. People could now more easily travel to other places for recreation, social support and income. “By the time the Model T was withdrawn from production in 1927, … 15 million units had been sold, and mass personal “automobility” had become a reality”. (http://www.history.com/topics/automobiles) All Americans had their own individual transportation system. Every year car manufacturers have built stronger and better cars that keep us separate from one another. This freedom of movement, however, has created the dependency on fossil fuels we live with today. Constructing walkable communities where individuals do not need to drive to work creates green living space rather than dangerous concrete pathways that reinforce isolation rather than community. Localizing economies to reduce the need for commuting to work, and providing public transportation alternatives present a challenge to the automobile industry.
5. Work: Large business/coporations often seem to buy their way into communities with promises of providing local jobs and increases in local revenue. This promise often is very hollow. After construction, the company transfers in its own managers from other places and purchases products from far away, thus taking revenue out of the local community, and providing no respite for local unemployment. One’s job or career is a huge element that determines individual identity and purpose. Still as Graeber points out, the relationship between an employer and employee tends to be impersonal. This is particularly true in large businesses where profit consistently trumps the well being of the worker. Strategies such as hiring people part time to avoid providing healthcare insurance or days off are becoming more common. The impersonal nature of the work place strips the employer-employee relationship of any moral responsibility on the part of the employer. The employer’s only loyalty turns out to be related to the level of employee production. Graeber describes how this happened in the last century as big business has grown and grown. Worker-owned collectives give the moral imperative back to the workers who have a direct relationship to each other and to the success of the business. If local businesses are thriving, there is no need for big corporations to infringe.
6. Governance: . Democracy was originally intended to provide representation of the people in decisions affecting them. In big business, governance is profit-oriented, and not necessarily in the best interests of the people. Government in the USA has been influenced by financial considerations and big-business lobbying to the point that the voice of the people is no longer a determining factor. Local governance that gives a voice to each individual in a Village allows for the ability to make decisions and solve problems for the local community. This ability gives local communities the power to give preference to local workers rather than corporations, develops trust and affinity, and addresses the issue of inequality locally. Inequality dissolves when everyone ‘s concerns are taken into account. Who knows better the best solutions to issues than those who live in a particular community? People need to learn how to solve problems non-violently. With effective problem solving as a core value, self-governing Villages are able to particpate peacefully within the larger network of Villages.