First, the anti-ag activists complained about Maui sugar, filing numerous smoke complaints, and ultimately a lawsuit, all aimed at shutting down Hawaii's last sugar plantation.
Now that sugar is dead, and HC&S is striving to keep the land in viable ag production, they're complaining about the decision to run cattle on some of the acreage.
In a letter to the editor of Maui News, Stephen Beidner, who variously lists his address as Kula and Paia, writes:
Raising cattle on Maui will foul our air, water and land. Grasses grown to feed the cattle on poisoned sugar cane land will poison the cattle and the humans who consume the final products. Are we going to replace the sugar museum with tours of slaughterhouses?
Surely we can use this precious land for something better, like growing real food: fruits and vegetables.
Oh, yeah. Mo bettah to let the invasive species take over so the albezzia, African tulip trees and guinea grass have to be removed with heavy equipment before the land can be returned to production. Or turn into gentleman's estates, hotels and shops. Because those uses have zero impacts. Ya, right.
Turns out Stephen, a member of the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii, was one of those complaining about the cane smoke and dust. But is he willing to actually get out there and grow the fruits and vegetables he envisions? So much easier to bitch and tell someone else to do it as he tries to impose his own dietary choices on everyone else.
And what's with this claim that the land is “poisoned?” I saw that assertion as well in a comment left by the Maluhia Group — an organization of ignorant teachers and staff sadly involved with educating children at Waimea Canyon Middle School:
Historical and modern agriculture practices have resulted in large areas of Hawaii farm lands unusable for food production.
Like where? Shoots, even the Moloaa land that grew chem-intensive pineapple is now being used for organic farms.
The Maluhia Group comment was left on an article promoting a $45 book from University of Hawaii Press: “Food and Power in Hawai‘i: Visions of Food Democracy.” Unfortunately, the catalog doesn't disclose who wrote the nine essays that comprise the book.
But a few things in the press release about the book did catch my eye:
While it is important for farms to maintain economic viability, the value of agriculture in Hawai‘i goes beyond its economic contribution as it provides opportunities for people to engage in food citizenship.
What is food citizenship? Here is the definition provided under this image:
The term Food Citizenship is defined as “engaging in food related behaviors that support, rather than threaten, the development of a democratic, socially and economically just, and environmentally sustainable food system”.
Or as the book's editor, Krisnawati Suryanata, puts it:
The concept is how to broaden public participation in reshaping our own agriculture system.
OK, that explains why so many people are so keen to weigh in on how agriculture is conducted in the Islands. But like so many other purely academic discussions, it fails to address such nitty-gritty practicalities as who is going to actually get their hands dirty?
And should people who don't know WTF they're talking about — people who believe applying salt to the land is a good way to control weeds, people who can see no reason why everything shouldn't be produced organically, though they've never even grown a garden — be allowed to weigh in on the discussion, much less shape important food policies?
Aya Hirata Kimura, one of the other editors, offered this quote to The Garden Island:
“I sympathize with the investments in local food but at the same time I feel the arguments for localization of food are simplistic. If the goal is maximizing the volume of food in the quickest way, the quickest way to do that is with modernized farming and intensively chemical farming and is that what people want?”
I agree that the arguments for the localization of food are simplistic. They fail to take into account the high cost of producing food in Hawaii, the challenge of feeding some 8 million tourists, the realities that food can be produced and processed much less expensively on the mainland due to economies of scale. So yeah, it's good to be talking about that.
But Kimura then goes on to show her bias — and her ignorance — by offering her assumption that the quickest way to do that is through “intensively chemical farming,” a term that is essentially meaningless, but loaded with pejoratives.
And is anyone really serious about doing away with “modernized farming?” What does that even mean? A return to the o'o? Oxen pulling a plow? Women and children engaged in hand-weeding? Using nightsoil in the fields?
The book's description offers more insight into what is really behind so much of the modern food movement:
Given the island geography, high dependency on imported food has often been portrayed as the primary challenge in Hawai`i, and the traditional response has been localized food production. The book argues, however, that aspects such as differentiated access, the history of colonization, and the neoliberalized nature of the economy also need to be considered for the right transformation of our food system.
There is no question that the modern food system can be improved. But it has effectively delivered more food — safely, reliably and at affordable prices — than ever before in history.
So before we let the academics, activists and foodies start tinkering with it too dramatically as part of a larger socio-political agenda — "democratic ownership of food resources and policies at all scales, and not merely the local level or even the nation-state" — we should consider the implications — hunger, famine, high food prices — if they're wrong.