Breaking Pasty White Bread and Ideas with the Other Side. Kind of.
Just spent a long and taxing day.
Face to facing with Syngenta, McCains, Bayers, Sobeys and the like.
Way (light years of way) out of my comfort zone.
Talking up agriculture and sustainability.
What the hell was I drinking?
Seen as the biggest, baddest, and ugliest food corporations around.
They are hate personified for many (most?) foodies.
Seeds, biotech, and chemicals. Including paraquat and atrazine.
Atrazine is used across North America, and banned in the EU.
Linked to hermaphroditism in frogs, says Tyrone Hayes.
Persecuted researcher. University of California, Inc.
Elsewhere. The Landless Farmers Movement. Occupying a Syngenta research farm in Brazil. Clashed with security guards. People on both sides killed and wounded.
Maple Leaf Foods. Michael McCain, CEO. Largest food processor in Canada. 24,000 employees.
Toronto plant linked to listeria outbreak in 2008. 20 dead and 68 sick.
Driver of Manitoba’s intensive hog industry. Polluting environment and dividing rural communities.
Seed, pesticides, and biotech. Linked to horrific research conducted by Nazi scientist Josef Mengele. Now markets GM crops – Liberty Link – canola and rice.
Latter not yet approved, but contaminating rice crops across the US.
1300 stores, and 85,000 employees.
These, over 30 other agriculture and food related organizations.
Ducks Unlimited on the nature front.
Meeting Location: Westin Canada.
Opulent, decadent, expensive – and overbooked.
Staying down the road. Downmarket digs.
Socializing and drinks. Evening, April 12.
Serious work. Day, April 13.
Hmmm. Social drinks, Inc. Yes no. No yes. Indecision now a no.
What to talk about?Israel Apartheid. No.
Food crisis in Indigenous communities. Nope.
Globalization and the global food crisis hunger. Nope again.
Buy Nothing Week. Ditto.
My kids. Please. Saving that for tomorrow’s meeting.
Fast forward. Next day. Two miles to the Westin.
Latish rising and last minute emails. Really last-minute limo-cab.
Howdy dowdy. Nod importantly to smiley porter. No bags. No prisoners.
Meeting. Upstairs. Plush. Sign vague: “sustainability meeting”.
Room full of suits. And well dressed farmers.
Me. Dumpster denim. But clean. Really.
Back pressed against wall.
What the hell was I drinking.
Sustainability in agriculture. Along the so-called value chain.
Different links in the chain include.
Producers (bureau-speak for farmers). Input manufacturers (pesticides, equipment, fertilizers, GM crops). Processors (packing, cooking, shipping). Retailers (stores). And the missing links?
More about that later.
First hour of meeting. Presentations by hosts. Again, Syngenta, McCains, Farm Credit Canada. Sobeys. And Soil Conservation Council of Canada (farmer group not environment). Visions (theirs) of sustainability. How this is being achieved.
Sets tone and reinforces direction of meeting.
Not a good sign. Agenda in granite.
Meeting objectives. Also in stone.
1) Meeting other sectors in the value chain in Canada. Yes.
2) Better understanding of the sectors along value chain and their responses to “demands of downstream users”. Yes? No? What does this mean?
3) Getting a better understanding of existing initiatives that advance sustainability. OK.
Then deciding whether to meet again in the future. Good enough.
Our back wall table. Mostly young(er). Mostly nice. All smart. Pioneer Seeds. Ducks Unlimited. Greenhouse operator from BC. Farmer from Saskatchewan. Fertilizer sales. And banker. All Ag stock. EXPORT AG.
Two major groups emerge.
Farmers upstream. All else downstream.
Or maybe the opposite. River analogies make for heavy wading.
Lots of interest in sustainability. Some genuine. Most strategic.
Stewardship is short-term. Sustainability is long-term.
If we don’t do it, someone else will.
Yes. Farmers. No surprise there.
Especially the “splicer dicers” – chemical read biotech.
Thoughtful. Serious. Smart
But.Few intersections. With me. At least.
Same sandbox. Same toys. Same words.
Environment. Earth. Care. Food. Future.
Very little disagreement among others attendees.
Although fault lines with farmers.
Bottom line. Can’t do any more.
Livelihoods at stake.
Will. If they hear the “jingle”.
Environmental Farm Plans? Next.
And everyone else. Fault lines? Who’s at fault?
Well said. Yes. Yes. Clap. Clap. Pat. On back. Yes.
Tomayto. Tomahto.Red.Flavr Savr red.
Much learning. For me. At least.
New term. Radical collaboration.
Working together. Outside your sector.
At least focusing on environment.
And the future
Oil them. Or not.
My bad habit. Talk. Stoney silence? Talk more. And louder.
Huff. Puff.Smoking out the white elephantTM.
A chain of value.
Many links at our meeting.But some links missing.
Consumers. Missing In Action.
Consumer Association of Canada.
Independent. Volunteer. Education. Advocacy.
Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
Non-profit. Legal and research services. Consumer Interests. Esp. vulnerable consumers.
More squeaks. Diversify the chain?
Ducks Unlimited. OK. Hunting is Good. Nature farming is good.
But other environmental organizations?
Even the mainstream. With more diverse agendas.
World Wildlife Fund. Sierra Legal Defense Fund. Natural Resource Defense Council.
Even. Pause. Greenpeace?
And cultural diversity? Hey, we are all “settler stock” here.
Today, visible minority. Next, visible majority.
To say nothing of the Indigenous.
Nation to Nation.
Not a mention. Business as usual. Boardroom usual.
These points.With upper and up-coming class, white folk.
Feed me some Gruyere.
Diversify the agenda.
It’s all a wash. As in GREENwash.
Here and in other similar initiatives we study.
Canada. US. EU. WTO.
Some more cheddar?
Yeah, Yeah. Three pillars. Sustainable Development..
Sigh. 30 years after Brundtland, we talk
Like it all still means something. New.
Economics. Check. Environment. Maybe check.
Social. Here? Anywhere?
What about people?
Families. Communities. Labor. Gender. Fair enough.
This pillar. Crooked. Overgrown. Alone.
Because hard to define?
Or because it pushes back.
Subsidies. For smaller organizations.
So that they can attend the next meeting.
And push back. CHEESE
Communication. Bad, bad, bad. They all moan
Especially the chemical companies and farmers.
Needs to be better. BETTER KNOWN.
Dumb. Dumber. Dumb ass consumers.
But consumers and media aren’t welcome here.
Wasted opportunity. For all sides.
Stereotypes. Layered. Like lasagna gardens.
Consumers are cheap. Self-serving. Savings and personal health.
Emotional. Confused. Perception not reality.
(except all of us; we, of course, know real)
And no one pushing back.
CHEESE. CHEESE. CHEESE.
No one likes mice.
Especially pushy, noisy mice.
I sit. Alone. Under the table.
It’s early evening.
Bye. Westin sky. Bye
Airport shuttle. Loading on.
Windy. Business cards. Yikes. Flip out pocket.
Blink. Blowing. Blink. Down hotel driveway.
Blink. Around corner. Blink. Blink.
First time cards are in use today.
Just like my words and ideas.
Hello. Hello. Anyone. Hello.
Westin. Packed full of meetings
Gigantic piles of words. Blow down and round the corner.
Porters with great steel rakes. Sweating gold braids.
But need to start. Somewhere.
Complacency is toxic. Like paraquat.
Take a chance. Open up.
What might we learn?
Despite our fears
As I did today.
Sharing. Builds insight. Maybe even trust. And change.
For the good.
How about a real radical? Or three?
I’ll be back.
This time I’ll bring my own cheese.
Stinky. Local. Organic.
And maybe beer as well…
Stef McLachlan is a professor at the University of Manitoba and co-host of Shaking the Tree Radio.