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The Good Food Revolution

The lush landscape of Hawai‘i once offered abundant food. What can these islands teach us about food and sufficiency?

The island of Kaua‘i is one of the most beautiful and fragile places on earth. From above, it looks like a vibrant green flower, lush and pulsing with life, floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Hawaiian tourist industry calls it "The Garden Isle," comparing it to the Garden of Eden. The image of Hawai‘i has always been sold as a "paradise." But there is another side to life on this island, one that visitors rarely see.

The west side of this tiny island is home to the U.S. military's Pacific Missile Range and testing grounds, part of the longstanding military occupation of the Hawaiian islands, and to the headquarters of giant agrochemical corporations Syngenta and Dupont. These corporations test and produce genetically modified crops on former sugar plantation lands here and throughout Hawai‘i, along with toxic herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. It is the very worst of America's "agrochemical military industrial complex," imposed on the ancient homelands of a rich traditional farming and fishing culture, in the midst of some of the world's most precious biodiversity.

When I visited the west side of Kaua‘i in 2006, the local newspapers were full of reports of children from Waimea Canyon School who had been sickened by chemicals used on nearby test plots. As many as 60 people were affected, including teachers and staff. It happened again in 2007, with school children suffering nausea, headaches, and dizziness. In 2008, for the third time in three years, chemicals being tested for industrial agriculture sickened children and adults and sent them to clinics and the emergency room with tears in their eyes, holding their heads in their hands, or vomiting. The corporations responsible for the tests deny any role in the incidences. But the open air testing of chemicals and genetically modified crops is a now a persistent worry for people living in this small rural community. Local activists have suggested that the welcome sign at the Kaua‘i airport be changed to warn tourists of what is going on there: "Welcome to the Mutant Garden Island." Instead of being a source of health and well-being for the land and people, the American system of industrial agriculture has become a source of problematic food and even fear.

The connection to the military is the key to understanding how this tragedy came about. Most of the toxic chemicals used in agriculture came from the implements of war, such as nerve poisons and defoliants developed during World War II. And our military has been repeatedly used to impose our system of industrial agriculture on other lands, depriving traditional farmers of their livelihoods and redirecting their natural resources to the use of U.S. business interests. American plantation owners used the military to force the monarchy of Hawai‘i out of power. The takeover of Hawai‘i-the imposition of plantation agriculture on Hawai‘i's traditional system and the conversion of the Hawaiian people to a Western lifestyle-is a case history and a warning for all of us concerned about the future of food. We are facing an urgent problem: Given global warming, growing populations, and declining natural resources, how will we feed ourselves?

Full story: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/03/09-9

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