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Delocalization and GM Foods:  Harmful or Helpful?

Today, food depends on much as humans as humans depend on food.  But why is this the case?  For the past five hundred years humans have grown, traded, and eaten food that is not native to the region in which they reside.  We are able to enjoy such a diverse selection of food as a result of delocalization.  This is defined as “the process by which food varieties, production methods, and consumption patterns become increasingly global, market driven, and interdependent.”  But the world has not always been able to enjoy a smorgasbord of food.  So when and how did this phenomenon occur, how has this affected parts of the world, and what sort of problems have occurred because of delocalization?  These are just a few questions that need to be answered in order to better understand this recent foodways phenomenon.

            Delocalization is a recent phenomenon and has occurred within the past five hundred years.  Before this time, with the emergence of homo approximately two million years ago, human foodways were local.  Each region was responsible for the production and distribution of their food.  Prior to five thousand years ago means of subsistence were region and environment specific, rich in variety, and were oriented for human use.  Famine and large-scale extensive periods of starvation among groups was virtually unknown during this time.  As organized civilizations emerged, so did periods of famine and ecological destruction.  Many times these disasters occurred due to overproduction and exploitation of natural resources and natural disasters such as drought.  In order to provide these growing civilizations with the food needed, current practices required a change.  New food systems developed as a response to shifting ecological conditions and cultural patterns.

            Localized foodways began to alter with the emergence of long distance exploration and trading among cultures approximately five hundred years ago.  The emergence of delocalization was a gradual change most likely starting with a shift in tastes which then led to the demand of specialized and rare foods among wealthy and noble classes.  The colonizers and middle class were soon to follow suit, desiring a more gourmet and varied diet.  As technology and transportation facilities improved, the process of delocalization was able to grow at a faster rate than ever before.  Foods that were once considered rare delicacies, such as sugar and chocolate, quickly became household staples.

            Delocalization has had many widespread effects since its emergence five hundred years ago.  The ways in which we obtain food have become commercialized and are market driven through grocery stores and large production factories and farms.  This means that demands for production have increased in areas of energy, transportation, and technology.  The efficiency ratios are significantly smaller since the amount of energy needed to produce food overweighs the energy the food yields.  The local control of food has also been undermined by external market forces and capitalization.

Another problem that results from delocalization is the unequal access to means of production and higher quality foods among lower classes and developing nations.  According to Pelto the majority of inhabitants in Latin America, Asia, and Africa have a lack of purchasing power due to major cost increases which restricts their diets in quantity and quality.  Not only are production means more expensive, commercialization costs have to include packaging, processing, advertising, and transportation (Pelto 277).  As a result, the quality and diversity of food increases for the wealthy and decreases for less affluent classes and third world nations. 

            As is evident, delocalization has begun to create many pervasive nutritional issues.  Now that we are beginning to see the adverse effects of overproduction and abuse of our natural resources, we are scrambling to find quick solutions to long term problems.  Many of these solutions are high tech and under-researched or poorly tested, if tested at all.  One of the more popular solutions is the genetic engineering of agricultural products.  But the intended solution to curb malnutrition and depleting resources has been known to cause other related problems and political issues.  Debbie Mack has studied the effects that genetically modified crops are forcing upon small-scale farmers.  According to her research, biotech companies are strong advocates of genetically modified foods and believe that it would be beneficial for small-scale farmers to switch to large-scale production.  But the rising costs of technology could drive out the many small farmers who cannot afford this way of production and leave agriculture in the hands of large-scale money-grabbing corporations.  Even if smaller farms could afford the technology, their independence would be undermined since many biotech companies require farmers to sign contracts stating that they will only use name-brand seed and may not reuse the seed year after year as had been previously practiced (Mack 293).

            Other political issues also seem to be a problem according to Anne Murcott.  Public beliefs about GM foods are based on biased information from the corporations who advocate the use of biotechnology such as governments, scientists, and agro-chemical corporations.  What we don’t know is going to hurt us in this case.  Approximately fifty percent of Americans don’t even know they are eating genetically modified foods.  Not only do they not know what chemicals they are introducing into their bodies, they don’t know how it is going to alter the environment they live in (Murcott 11).  Many GM seeds are created to be resistant to pesticides which in turn means that the amount of pesticides used will increase as will the strength of these pesticides.  Currently there are no laws in place which require tests to be conducted for ecological soundness of using these types of seeds and pesticides.  Even if we wash the chemicals off our food before we eat them, when we put pesticides into the soil they are still liable to run off into water sources that are used by animals and humans alike.  These are just a few of the problems that are possible with the increase in biogenetically altered foods.

            The use of genetically modified foods is obviously a controversial issue.  There are many positive rewards to be had, such as more reliable and predictable crop yield, larger fruits and vegetables, and more resistance to pests.  But it seems to me that the negative long term effects outweigh the positive short term effects.  People these days are selfish and are always looking for a way to benefit quickly.  Short term change is a trend that will not get the human race very far, though large-scale consequences may make us feel like we are progressing in positive ways.  Not only does our generation have to benefit, but so do those after us.  I feel that not enough research has been conducted to effectively confirm the outcome of long term use of GM foods.  Not only could there be adverse effects on my body due to the introduction of foreign chemicals in my system, but negative changes in the environment also worry me.  Environmental studies are long and complicated to conduct and I don’t feel that the amount of time GM foods have been in use is long enough to see the extent of effects that are possible. 

Since the onset of delocalization, our world has undergone many rapid changes in agriculture, technology, and health.  This long chain of events should be evidence enough that long term effects will eventually outweigh short term gain.  The introduction of genetically modified foods has successfully allowed humans full control over food production, but we now must endure the consequences of intervention.  What we have ultimately created is an environment in which humans depend as much on food as food depends on humans and we must now learn to act on the future.

Lindsey Friedmann