I have been reading a lot about the new anti-terror legislation and, like many people, I've been feeling privacy's prospects for the future crumble. It's my view, one very much borne of a typical Canadian education and socialization, that a buffer against the state is always more important than a buffer against mostly nebulous threats against which the state insists it needs to protect its citizens.
There have been many eloquent thoughts expressed about what is happening to privacy, and there have been endless warnings about the dangers of a surveillance state, and there is not much I can add to that. Suffice it to say that when a government like our current one tells its people that it is its role to keep them safe, I feel less safe.
Bruce Schneier points out in an interview with NPR's Democracy Now, "Privacy is not about something to hide...privacy is about individual autonomy...when we're private, we have control of our person. When we're exposed, when we're surveilled, we're stripped of that control, we're stripped of that freedom."
What does this have to do with farming or local food?
Just as the government asks us to give something up in return for "keeping us safe," we are surrounded by forces that insist they are there to feed us, and they ask, tacitly, that we give something up in return. Visit a university and hear Food Services use language like, "it's a big task feeding so many people day in and day out." Multinational Sodexo finds time to run a "Feeding our Future" program for children in need on top of making sure students and faculty have wholesome foods in their stomachs to keep them going. Not to say that the food served at my local university is somehow substandard, or that there is anything wrong with people choosing to buy food there, or that the campaign must have no merit because it is Sodexo that is running it. It's the clever angle they take that is disturbing to me: we are not there to make money, we are fulfilling a calling. They have crafted a "where would they be without us?" message (to my knowledge, there haven't been any "bring your own lunch" campaigns on campus).
Companies like Kraft (owned by tobacco company Philip Morris in the 2000s in one of its many conglomerate incarnations) have countless campaigns around their role as Nurturer: Feeding America Partnership...Toddler Feeding Tips...Huddle to Fight Hunger Campaign...Kraft Fight Hunger Facebook group...Healthy Living: Smart Dinners, Desserts & More…and now Kraft Singles bears the Kids Eat Right logo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bear in mind that it is not cheese, but a "pasteurized process cheese food," one whose quasi-perishable quality has fascinated many, and left many like myself to wonder how this counts as food.
Gerber brought us the Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, helping us understand nutritional gaps in the diets of America's children. This is the same company that spread its message throughout the developing world beginning in the 70s: Our formula is better than breast milk.
Coming back to C-51 and the very personal loss of privacy, something over which I have little control - I think there are many losses happening and they surround the concept of autonomy. When it comes to food, I have made it a central part of my life: being involved in a small way in a local food system and taking more responsibility for knowing what I am eating, and knowing more about the consequences of how food is sourced. While I am slowly giving up on privacy, I feel I still have a prospect of autonomy around my food choices - something equally, if not more important.
I don't want to put this forward as a sales pitch: "You can't trust Big Food, but you can trust me - let my farm be your provider." Instead, I hope more people will see the appeal of regaining alternatives to the way things are going - of asking "what are we quietly being stripped of?" as these forces larger than life ask us to just let them take care of us.