I have added a new book to my recommended reading list. Grain by Grain by Robert Quinn and Liz Carlisle is an exceptional read on how our food and farming system has gone askew, and one farmer’s path to reversing the trend on a local level. You can find the entire reading list here.
Enter Bob Quinn ~
If farmers were shafted by such a system, I began to realize, eaters were not much better off. On the supermarket shelves of their local grocery stores, they had little choice outside of standardized commodity wheat, crushed between colossal steel rollers to strip it of its nutrient-dense bran and germ. Processors did their best to package this white flour into creative forms, giving the appearance of an abundance of culinary options: vitamin-fortified white bread, fiber-added breakfast cereal, omega-3 enriched energy bars – all packed with sugar and a host of unpronounceable ingredients meant to increase shelf life and make the stuff taste like food. The processors even had the audacity to call such concoctions “value-added products.”
To me, this definition of value-added is completely backward. Many things have been added to our commodity wheat, but value is not one of them. We would never have needed nutrient fortification in the first place if we had removed so many nutrients in the course of industrial breeding, production, and processing. When we look at the net movement of value in the commodity system, it’s pretty clear that it has been moving steadily away from our food. What we have now is essentially value-subtracted wheat. Not only has much of the embedded value been literally stripped away – no bran, no germ, no soil health, often no net profit to the farmer – the ability to even assess value in such terms has been removed too. The purveyors of value-subtracted products deliberately concealed the nature of their production and processing: as the saying goes no one wants to know how the sausage is made.
In contemporary American society, we see many such value-subtracted products. Commodity wheat, corn, and soy, aggressively refined and transformed into soda and burgers and cookies, greet you in nearly every aisle at the supermarket. The car you probably drove to get there runs on value-subtracted energy: commodity petroleum. The clothes you’re wearing? Value-subtracted fiber or commodity cotton, or perhaps a blend of synthetics.
Back to John ~
A lot to contemplate here. The foundational question that comes to mind is: Are my activities adding value or subtracting value from the crops we are growing?