Monday, June 20, 2005 | Frankenfoods. Pesticides. Herbicides. MSG. Aspartame. Growth hormones.

It’s getting to the point that when I read an ingredients list on a food package, I don’t recognize more than half the words. I can’t help but be suspicious when a simple-looking concoction has more than 50 ingredients, most of them of unknown purpose. And by the way, what the devil is “xanthan gum”?

Am I just oversensitive, or is our food industry trying to kill us? There is ample evidence that MSG and aspartame are poisonous, and yet they are in most pre-packaged foods, mixes and practically all fast foods.

And there is Monsanto, Donald Rumsfeld’s former employer, suing farmers for patent infringement because insects cross-pollinated Monsanto’s patented, bio-engineered grains with plants in the neighboring farmer’s fields. Did Monsanto never hear about bugs, those dirty little pollen pimps that abet plants in their practice of profligate sex?

There is something sinister and sinful in agri-businesses deliberately engineering crops that won’t produce viable seed for the next year’s planting. This separates the people from the power to produce their own food, making us completely dependent upon a food industry that does not necessarily have our best interests uppermost in its profit-driven mind.

Then there is the concept of “risk management,” in which the food industry, among others, will weigh the costs of losing a lawsuit against the profitability of their dangerous product. Knowing that, I have an uneasy feeling that they’re all up to no good.

Have you heard of the Victory Gardens, back during World War II? People were told that their food was being sent off to help fight the war, and they should start gardening as much as possible. Over 40 percent of the domestic food supply was produced by the people themselves, for themselves. These were just homeowners and residents, not high-maintenance agri-businesses, and it worked.

And then there were the original founders of the Roman Empire and the United States, people who were proud to be farmers when they weren’t being politicians. They worked the land until they were called to lead their country through a crisis, and then they humbly returned to their plowshares when their duty was successfully completed. Cincinnatus, consul and dictator of mighty Rome, led his forces to glorious victory and then abruptly resigned his offices to return to his farm. Former Emperor Diocletian, proudly wrote to friends about his cabbages. We remember George Washington as farmer-patriot and Thomas Jefferson with his orchards and winery.

Mike and I plant vegetables every spring. Usually we reap far more than we can eat, and so our neighbors and co-workers share in the bounty of our Garden of Eatin’.

We don’t use pesticides and herbicides. Sure, we have weeds and caterpillars. But there’s still enough for all, and so we can share some of the bounty with the bugs. After all, those caterpillars will become useful pollinators as butterflies. And anyway, whatever might kill the weeds and bugs is no good for us either.

There is something both artistic and profoundly philosophical about digging in the earth, getting your hands deep into good, honest soil, and engaging in the act of creation itself. In fact, my gardening books are located on the shelves right below philosophy and just above art.

Soil, the great democratizer, doesn’t ask your political persuasions, but just provides to anyone willing to work with it.

Soil, being magically converted by plants into foods that nourish our bodies, itself nourishes our spirits as we dig and plant.

Soil, the ultimate recycler, reminds us of our mortality and the need to get the important things done while we can.


You probably know that the world’s petroleum supply is finite and diminishing. Maybe you also know that our agri-businesses depend on petroleum for over 90 percent of our food production and distribution. So when the petroleum goes, the food goes – unless we are prepared to help ourselves.

It would behoove you to start growing things and saving seeds. You don’t know how much longer unpatented, non-hybridized, non-corporate seeds may be available. And there is nowhere better to grow than right here, in the eternal spring of north San Diego County.

Just as it defies the petroleum industry when we bicycle or take public transit, just as it defies the electricity industry when we install solar panels, so it defies the agri-food industry when we grow and consume our own foods, free of their poisons.

Increase your independence. Take back your personal power. Plant a Victory Garden for yourself and your family.

Sow the seeds of rebellion, right in your own back yard.

Mike and Ramona Byron are writing a regular column about people, issues and events in North County. Voice welcomes all perspectives from different parts of the region.

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