September 4, 2009

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Support local farmers and honor the God of creation

David SilerAs we enter the harvest season in the state of Indiana and our land yields its very bountiful fruits and vegetables, we are given the opportunity to experience some of the best food in the world.

I imagine that we have all said or heard someone say that there is just nothing like an Indiana tomato or ear of sweet corn.

Have you ever wondered why they are unlike anything else? Have you ever really wondered where your food comes from?

I recently watched a movie titled Food Inc. The film is an exposé of the food industry in America.

To use the term “industry” to describe the production of food in our country is certainly accurate when you realize that only a handful of companies currently control the growth, manufacturing and distribution of food in our nation. The small family farm is a rarity today, but was the backbone of our great state and country not too many years ago—until the reign of fast food began.

To cite one example that hits very close to home: Monsanto developed a genetically altered soybean that is resistant to the weed control product Roundup, which is also made by Monsanto. This allows farmers to eliminate every weed and grass that grows in their soybean fields and therefore allows for greater crop yields—a truly amazing technological development.

However, because of this amazing soybean engineered by Monsanto, more than 90 percent of farmers use this bean to plant their fields.

In order to maintain their patent on this seed, Monsanto does not allow farmers to keep the seeds that they grow to replant the following year, which has been standard farming practice. In order to enforce this strict requirement, Monsanto employs some 75 “soybean police” to monitor farmers.

According to the directors of Food Inc., a farmer who simply had a field next to a Monsanto bean field, and therefore had some beans pollinated by his neighbor’s field, was accused of infringing on their patent. Monsanto filed a lawsuit against the Indiana farmer featured in the film, who in turn ran out of money trying to defend himself. In the end, this man and his family had to give in to the giant, wealthy company who could afford expensive lawyers.

This was just one of the many examples given in the film of giant food corporations who bully small farmers in order to maintain or expand their market share. The examples of worker exploitation by these same corporations were despicable and highlighted throughout various food industries: beef, pork, poultry, food processing. Our Catholic faith compels us to protect the rights of workers.

The intersection of food and our faith may seem a bit strange, but an awareness of how food is brought to our tables, how those who work to bring food to us, how the animals that become our food are treated, and how the land is impacted by our agricultural practices are opportunities to honor the God of creation.

One of the most important and effective things that we can do as consumers is to support small, local farmers—especially the increasing number of organic farmers who are working hard to sustain a healthy environment while producing some of the most healthy and tasty food possible.

You can find these farmers and retailers in your local community at the Web site

For more information provided in the film Food Inc., log on to

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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