Finding Manna in the Age of Monsanto

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The idea of manna unsettles the sense of entitlement behind modern-day genetic modification.

Once upon a time, in order to grow corn, farmers around the world would do the same thing their parents and grandparents did: plant simple, ordinary corn seed. But now, in the twenty-first century, they have marvelous new choices. They can purchase potent seeds such as Bollgard, Yieldgard Plus, or Genuity SmartStax. Behind the fancy monikers are promises of unprecedented crop yield.

All of these choices are courtesy of the global mega-corporation Monsanto, a world leader in genetically modified food. They are part of a great tradition of human technology that insists that, with a bit of scientific tinkering, we can improve on the limitations and blandness of Mother Nature. And of course, Monsanto, its PR machine insists, is simply putting technology at the service of the people, helping to feed a hungry world.

But grassroots activists and critics of globalization tell a different story: many of Monsanto’s patented genetically modified seeds are designed to be infertile after planting, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each year instead of practicing the ancient art of seed storage. Further, the seeds are highly dependent on the usage of toxic pesticides sold, of course, by the same company. These new costs have embroiled hundreds of thousands of poor farmers and their families in debt.

Lemon-LimeIt’s yet another piece of a distressingly familiar pattern: a profit-driven corporate juggernaut uses its economic power and political clout to put a stranglehold on poor communities worldwide, forcing them into economic arrangements that keep their countries bankrupt and beholden to aid from the West. These arrangements not only fail to deliver on promises of prosperity, they are also harmful to creation. And all the while, companies like Monsanto reap massive profits, even as much of the world continues to go hungry. What can we do to change this bleak reality of global economic oppression and injustice?

Enough for Everyone: Food Justice in Exodus

An increasing number of faith-based activists and advocates from both the Jewish and Christian traditions are making the audacious claim that some powerful answers might be found in the old and odd tales of the Torah. They are looking to stories of liberation from empire, of a new covenantal community, and of divinely given visions of an abundant creation that can be shared by all, free from hoarding and bondage.

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Fruit images credit: Jessie Caron.

I believe that ancient biblical wisdom can empower us to take on the high-tech and politically sophisticated iniquities of the Monsantos of the world. One story, in particular, offers a profound vision of economic and ecological justice: the famous account in Exodus 16 of God feeding the hungry, grumbling, newly liberated but still fearful Hebrews who were wandering in the desert. For us churchgoers, the manna story was a lovely and quaint Sunday School tale of God’s miraculous provision, as well as a prototype for Jesus’s institution of the Eucharist. But we would do well to take a deeper look at its insistence on “enough for everyone” and its introduction of the Shabbat rest, which offered a framework for resistance to slavery. ...

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William O’Brien works for Project H.O.M.E., an organization that develops solutions to homelessness and poverty in Philadelphia, and has been involved in political advocacy on economic justice for over thirty years. He also coordinates the Alternative Seminary, a grassroots program of biblical and theological study (alternativeseminary.net).
 

Source Citation

O'Brien, William. 2012. "Finding Manna in the Age of Monsanto." Tikkun 27(2): 47.

tags: Christianity, Environment, Food/Hunger, Judaism   
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