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Happy Thanksgiving

If you've been traveling this Thanksgiving, I hope you've arrived safely. Tomorrow, it will be time to eat.

This is a holiday that for better or worse has come to revolve around food. Perhaps we can take this opportunity to think about where our food comes from and how it's produced.

At Thanksgiving, we celebrate the food we eat. The cornucopia on our dining tables is the unifying force that brings family and friends from hundreds of miles away to partake of the delectable feast.

But unlike our pioneer ancestors who relied on their own crops and livestock, most Americans today see food as mere commodities, without any personal connection more compelling than patrolling the aisles of the supermarket.

We're fortunate that we all don't have to be farmers or hunters anymore. Some of us enjoy these activities more than others do, and some of us probably just aren't very good at them. But the fact that we buy our food in a grocery store doesn't mean that food is nothing but a commodity. If it were, then there would be no grounds for arguing that locally-produced food, grown by real farmers and not by machines or agricultural laborers, should be privileged in any way over mass-produced industrial food products that embody the corporate ideals of efficiency at the expense of the ideals of taste, variety, and health.

But there are in fact such grounds. Political, social, ecological, spiritual, ethical, and biological grounds exist for the argument that the corporate methods of food production may not be ideal.

Unfortunately, not all the news is positive. Over the past five years, the closure of several regional food processing plants has left area food growers with few options for selling their produce. Small farms struggle with high labor costs and stiff out-of-state and foreign competition.

The farmer's share of the food dollar has slipped from 37 cents in 1980 to less than 19 cents today, making farmers twice as likely to live in poverty as the general population and resulting in a 20 percent decrease in the number of Lane County acres in crop production between 1989 and 1999.

Even worse, only 2 percent of America's children meet all the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid. Incredibly, one of every three Lane County children is at risk of hunger!

When food becomes just another commodity, it can be outsourced, imported, and centralized just like every other "consumer good." When farming becomes "agricultural production," we can start to think of it as a "growth industry" (no pun intended) or as an economic dud in the mode of the American steel industry. The land we farm and the food we eat are subjected to the same speculative uncertainty as every other commodity in the global economy.

This may not be so bad for widgets, but food may be different. We don't build holidays around a widget. We don't gather with family around the holiday widget and give thanks for all we have.

The Pilgrims celebrated with food because food is a special thing. We ought to think about whether treating it as if it were just another commodity might not be the best decision we could make.

[You might be wondering, what's the point? How else should I think about food? Well, it's late, and I'm going to bed, so you're on your own. Turns off light, shuffles away from desk . . . "yeah, yeah, happy Thanksgiving! I'm hungry."]