I've got a new post on my new website, dealing with "food justice", farming and one man's memory of hunger in the aftermath of the Korean War. You can check it out here, with all the photos, or read it below:
As soon as I got into the cab that was taking me to Incheon airport in Seoul, the driver asked if I was an American.
I said yes, a tad tentatively, not sure what sort of reaction I’d receive.
“I love Americans,” he enthused, his face breaking into a big smile. “My father was in the [Korean] war, and he told me, ‘son, never forget what the Americans did for us.’ Even now, when I think of how many Americans died to liberate us…”
His voice cracked and trailed off, and he dabbed at his eyes.
A few minutes later, he told me that he was 60 years old — old enough to remember the desperate, hard scrabble years that followed the war.
“I was hungry, so hungry,” he said. “Americans brought us food. I remember they brought food to my school, and the cookies, they were the best cookies I’d ever had, because I was so hungry. I can remember what it’s like to be hungry. But the young people today, they never knew that hunger. They have forgotten what America did for us.”
I looked out at the skyscrapers that towered beside us, the cars whizzing by on an eight-lane freeway, the modern apartment buildings, the bridges spanning the Han River — all of it constructed in the post-war years, creating the only life that the under-30 folks had ever known.
The driver, whose name was Dan Kim, tuned in a Joan Baez recording on his I-pod before continuing, telling me that he’d driven a Frenchman to the airport one time, and their conversation had turned to America. The Frenchman had said he didn’t much care for America, because it was the world’s policeman.
“But the world needs a policeman,” Kim said. “Small countries like ours, we cannot stand up for ourselves with big countries like China and Russia hovering over us, looking to take us over. And I told the Frenchman, have you forgotten how many Americans died to liberate France from the Germans, how much money they spent to rebuild your country after the war? He had no answer. He had forgotten, because he was not old enough to remember. He was not old enough to have been hungry.”
I said nothing myself, having had my own reservations about America’s role as the world’s policeman, having never suffered the calamity of war, having never been hungry.
But when I got out of the cab, I thanked him for sharing his experiences with me, because it had made me think.
And he thanked me, just for being an American.
Later, back in Honolulu, checking my phone, I saw an email forwarded by a friend. It was from an organization in Oakland, Calif., advertising an expensive tour to “Join Food First to explore food justice in [sic] O’ahu.” Clicking on the link, I saw this:
Explore O’ahu’s beautiful landscapes & vibrant culinary traditions while meeting with the actors cultivating food justice in paradise.
Yeah, they’re actors all right. Because while they’ve been busy fighting biotech crops on social media, they’ve forgotten to actually produce food or feed the hungry. Though some 20 percent of the people in Hawaii depend on the food banks to eat, the anti-GMO movement has done nothing to supply the food banks, set up feeding programs, open loi or do the hard physical work of producing any significant quantity of food, much less justice.
The promo then went on to link post-WWII military expansion to the decline of “traditional food systems” and the rise of biotech with its “massive open-air chemical trials” before claiming:
Hawaiians are increasingly turning to local food and native food traditions, ecologically-based farming systems, and a re-valuing of traditional ways grounded in Aloha ‘Aina.
Really? Where, exactly? On top of Mauna Kea?
I scanned down to find the price: $2,875, not including airfare, for eight days of traipsing through “paradise” and dabbling in the very same cultural appropriation and tourism that the food tour advertisement condemned.
What if the participants instead donated that money to food banks that feed the hungry? Created an urban community garden? Cleared a ditch? Bought tractors for a farming co-op? Got their hands dirty opening a loi?
Wouldn’t that do more to achieve “food justice” than listening to anti-GMO activists spout fiction about the “vibrant movement growing across Hawaii?”
And isn’t there any food justice to be achieved in the ghettoes of Oakland, the migrant farm labor camps of Salinas? Why come to the Islands and ignore their own backyard?
I thought of the thousands of acres of irrigated farm land that at this very minute is wide open for cultivation on the westside, land never leased by the seed companies. I thought of the abandoned loi in Hanapepe, Waimea and Hanalei valleys, the hundreds of acres fertile land on the North Shore tucked away into luxury estates, all of it just waiting to be cultivated by farmers, not actors.
Perhaps, when people get hungry enough, they’ll start supporting agriculture — all agriculture — and stop attacking farms and farmers who aren’t growing food the way non-farmers think they should.
But until then, this world of cheap, abundant food is all they know, allowing folks who have never known hunger the luxury of dabbling in “food justice tours in paradise.”