New Roots for Patriotism, Fall 2008


By Brook Le Van



FALL 2008


In the heat of this election year we hear how
the candidates will spend our money to renovate
the economy, upgrade education, improve
health care, maneuver national defense and
keep our gas tanks full–all to build a safer,
healthier, more secure America. In listening to
all of the campaign prattle, who will generate
the political will to encourage the necessary
shift in priorities–the real changes that will
address climate change, and the above issues
not as isolated phenomena but as symptoms
of a whole system in peril? Who will generate
the political will to promote food and energy
security through establishing renewable energy
networks and reviving local small-scale agriculture,
thus reducing our carbon footprints while
building resilient local economies, and regenerating
the homegrown pleasures that make us
healthy from within and life worth living?

In all of the issues covered in the political
arena there is no mention of food and energy
security and its relationship to climate change.
These are interrelated systemic concerns that
must be addressed–and soon–if we are to
maintain any semblance of life on earth as we
know it. By adopting policy measures that foster
the re-establishment of local food and energy
security and by backing that policy with
adequate funding to rebuild the network of the
millions of small-scale family farms across the
country–the bedrock of local economic resilience
and national security–we begin to climb
out of the mess we are in. A campaign platform
built on these priorities will address much of
our urgent needs to return health to our populace
and bring us back into balance with our
planetary life-support systems.

Although large aspects of agriculture are
subsidized, the bulk of the funds and the USDA
rules and regulations support the special interests
of large-scale corporate commodity agriculture.
The billions of dollars in annual subsidies
are designed for and allocated to support the
production and distribution of corn and soy,
source material for the food industry’s many
novelties—not the food you and I really need.
The incredible pool of funding each year, doled
out through the mechanism of the Farm Bill, is
instead funneled into the coffers of the multinational agro-industrial
corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill. This
financial and regulatory edge allows these companies to bring us gems
such as high-fructose corn syrup, and the host of “nutrients” you cannot
even pronounce, which are laced into the
processed and packaged gimmicks on grocery
shelves that masquerade as food. Our
consumption of these edible wonders—
deemed good for us by all the supporting
“scientific studies” and massive marketing
campaigns—in turn yields our citizenry
the national crises of obesity, heart disease
and diabetes, while garnering record
profits for these companies. Real food—
whole fruits and vegetables that you buy
at the farmers’ markets or from a local
grower or rancher—is not being supported
in any significant way, shape or form
in the Farm Bill. It is important to note
that the centralized food system that continues to emerge and dominate
agriculture was never voted on by the people of this country, or, for that
matter, the people of the world. It is the product of deliberate decisions
made by a very few powerful people for their own benefit.

The time has passed when it was enough to merely elect our officials.
We must show them what we want, then once elected go and
watch them to make sure they are doing what they said they would do
for us–the same way the energy and agriculture corporations do. It
is time to propagate new roots for patriotism, a foundation based on
making connections and understanding patterns and systems. This new
patriotism means reacquainting ourselves with decentralized food and
energy systems where the health of our families and communities is at
its heart. This new patriotism supports
measures to correct the last 60 years of
agro-industrial ecological and economic
plunder. The new patriot recognizes that
the current national and global economies
were formed in almost perfect
disregard of community and ecological
interests. The new patriot then votes
for candidates that will implement economic
measures that focus on generosity
and a well-distributed and safeguarded
abundance–not the rape and pillage of
our communities, nature and the world
for the short-term gain of a few.
Life here in our high mountain Shangri-
La will change soon. The distant food items we have become accustom
to and deem necessary to our happiness and survival—bananas,
avocados, salmon, coffee and olive oil—may be traded for, but the failing
global food and feed supply chain, due to high energy costs, will certainly
make these foods dear. All things considered, 10 years from now
we will be getting most of our food from within 50 miles of where we
live. Are we planning for this? Is the preparation for this shift, from the
current energy-intensive, distant, globalized model of food production

and distribution to a relocalized agricultural production and distribution
system, on any of the current candidates’ list of crucial campaign
issues? Are the candidates making the connections between ecosystem
health and our health, distant food and global climate change, exhausted
natural resources and a failing economy? Are our counties and cities
developing plans to help its citizenry with this transition? Proximity to
food and the related energy expended to produce and distribute it will
reign ever higher on our list of crucial issues to solve as we move ahead.
Many are talking now about the great technological innovations that
will save us. Though technological advances in agriculture and energy
exploration may soften our landing as we wean ourselves off cheap fossil
energy, they will not solve the systemic challenges we face. The energy
industry’s assurances of yet more reserves of crude oil and technological
pipedreams aside, the communities that fund and support the reestablishment
of local agricultural infrastructure through appropriate
affordable zoning and code will be the communities that endure.

Does it matter who is in the White House, Senate and House? You
bet. Vote this election, by all means. It matters. But if we really want
to change course we need to embrace a deeper involvement, a new patriotism
with new priorities. The greater systemic challenges of climate
change and food and energy security that we must address immediately
do not fall in one camp or another; they are not liberal or right wing,
Republican or Democratic. The issues before us all are the real or Great
Work of the generations alive on earth today. We have no time to lose
in making the shift to actively solving these threats to our survival. If we
act now—alert to pattern and whole interrelated systems—and can motivate
the political will to act in every arena, from farm to fork, oceans
to ozone, we can find the good solutions that, as Wendell Berry says,
“come from our wholeness, our affections, and our reverence, not from
our sense of duty, much less from desperation.”


Brook Le Van, driven in life predominantly by flavor, is the co-founder and
director of Sustainable Settings, a nonprofit land-based demonstration and
research institute—a Whole Systems Learning Center—near Carbondale,
a place and program devoted to reviving small-scale diversified farms and
ranches, the bedrock of local food and energy security.