The above picture, "The Harvesters" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, (1565, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Harvesters.jpg) is an image that is a seasonal ritual across almost every corner of the inhabited world. Although this picture is over 500 years old, its relevance remains today. True, the methods have changed. Instead of back-breaking labor, machines rumble almost effortlessly, collecting the mature plants for processing. If you find yourself on the interstate anywhere in Middle America, you'll see machines like this one working the land.
Food is something we all need, of course. Without it, we'd, well, starve. Of course, we also use food to power our cars and support our larger economy. In 2003, we exported about $56 billion worth of food. (Economic Research Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. World Cereal Production (2004). That's a lot of...everything.
This is a good thing, obviously. The economic impacts go past the kitchen table, or even the supermarket, it carries over to the trading markets. I got my basic understanding of how the markets worked from watching the movie, Trading Places. Food, in small amounts, is eaten. Food, in larger amounts, is sold.
Then there is the darker side to food. Unfortunately, food, or more precisely, the denial thereof, can be used as a weapon. The late Sam Kinison, a comic known for offending just about everyone, had a rant about people in Africa needing to "...GO TO WHERE THE FOOD IS!" or words to that effect. Sadly, that is not possible for many. They have no where to go and the men with the guns are not inclined to let them go. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Army's involvement in Somalia and the Battle o Mogadishu, a/k/a "The Day of the Rangers." Mark Bowden's book, Black Hawk Down was made into a movie about 10 years ago. In an early scene, a captured Somali warlord tells Brigadier General Garrison, "In Somalia, starvation is negotiation." He says it not in a taunting tone, but a matter-fact one. It is as if he's explaining the going rate for some product. The cost of doing business in a place without law or mercy.
At this time of the year, it is a good thing to take a moment to recall that for those of us living in the U.S. that we do have an abundance of food. Sure, we can debate the various policies that impact our food supply and we should. It is part of our civic duty. Yet with this duty is also our good fortune to celebrate this bounty. It is something that makes life not just sustaining but joyous. I am hard-pressed to think of a more enjoyable activity than sharing a meal with one's family and good friends. It is our harvest and it our responsibility to respect it for the good that it is.
Be well my friends,