THE RESPONSIBILITY LIES WITH EVERYONE
With every cent, every euro a consumer spends he or she makes something happen.
You often say that consumers and producers will move closer together out of necessity, so to speak, because the food supply won’t work the same way anymore…
Until now, anonymity was the top priority for global trade. Removing the producer’s identity was extremely important. Everything was exchangeable. Wherever the price was cheaper, that’s where things were bought; the other producer was dropped. It was paradise but also a dead end street. But this kind of commerce is over.
We need to have a platform of producers and consumers where both sides meet. They will understand each other’s needs and learn to be considerate of each other. As a result, both sides will be able to live well.
Farmers will understand that their work makes them responsible for the health and well being of the consumers. And consumers will see that a real person, a family, makes sure that proper food is produced. People will understand that this family on the farm has to lead a happy life in order to maintain product quality and be able to run the farm. There are no alternatives to this development.
Max Weber used the term ‘ethic of responsibility’. We have to develop in that direction. We have to understand that every one of our actions has an effect and side effects. We need to consider this when making decisions about the way we live. That is the only way we can survive.
You brought up climate change, the population boom. These threatening developments are extremely relevant right now. Nevertheless, they don’t motivate the majority of people to rethink things. Apparently, presenting scenarios based on fear does not help induce a shift in consciousness. Do you think that pointing out positive, pleasurable examples and alternatives could have more of an impact?
A while ago I read that one of the most successful magazines in Germany now is the gardening, cooking, and lifestyle magazine Landlust. The people publishing this magazine are completely surprised by their success. It shows that this type of reporting can be a way to address issues that doesn’t make people fearful. Elements like well being, a regional focus, the feeling of being at home, these are things that appeal to us and make us feel good.
On the other hand, I have also had different experiences. In the nineties, when radio and TV were still reporting on courageous issues, there was an animal show about how animals for slaughter are treated. Horrific pictures were shown. I think people cried for hours afterward. And the next day they went shopping and bought the cheapest meat... No, we won’t induce change with images of fear.
When I started with organic products (Ja! Natürlich) in 1994, I got a lot of letters from parents who told me that their son or daughter was suddenly forcing them to buy organic. Back then I often worked with children and young people in schools. And that is exactly where we have to be, in the schools. Children are very open, very curious, and they are quick to understand that the development of agriculture and food is important for their future. Values like accepting responsibility, staying composed; these are virtues that interest young people, especially during puberty. Young people feel comfortable with these values. Children struggle with the fact that what adults say doesn’t endure in their lives. The wisdom of adults doesn’t even endure in the lives of adults. This confusing system is problematic for young people. I think getting involved with this age group would lead to positive changes in the future.
Speaking of young people and their growing access to new media and the Internet, what is your take on the power of Facebook, Twitter, etc. and their influence on political issues?
Through new media we can see how strong the ability to mobilize is. I think this is a great opportunity that we have to take advantage of. A lot can be done here. Over the years I have seen the amazing potential in new media. But so far we have not been using it very intelligently. We are treating new media like print magazines. But that’s the wrong way to go. New media offers enormous, subversive power that we should use. There is still massive potential waiting to be seized. We have a lot to catch up on in terms of managing it.
Traditional civil society organizations like political parties, associations, etc. are mostly run by adults. New media offers young people the chance to actively participate in shaping society for the first time...
Unfortunately, right now there is nothing happening socio-politically. I think agriculture is where capitalism occurs in its elemental force. Nowhere, not even in China or India, is radical, capitalistic exploitation as present as it is in agriculture. People are exploited, animals are exploited, land and soil is exploited – all resources are mercilessly exploited. Farming in Europe only works because the rainforest is being destroyed in South America so that proteins can be grown for our animals. There is no political system in which the concept of colonialism is as strong as in agriculture – and in our food. And no one is addressing it...
We can’t trust the institutions that we think of as civil society and political systems. That is why the time has come for us to find new ways to change. And that’s why I dream about the subversive power of new media.
When we think about how much had to happen in the world for a piece of meat to arrive on our plate – the rainforest is being burned down, genetically modified soy is being planted in unsuitable soil. That means that enormous quantities of artificial fertilizers and pesticides have to be used. At the same time, indigenous populations are being wiped out and driven off their land.
In this country, many animals are kept in horrible conditions, produced only for the end result: fattening, growth, slaughter. Terrible conditions can be seen on many farms, and we just accept all of this?
There is no society, no working environment, in which capitalism thrives in its raw, elemental force as much as in agriculture and food production. Let’s take Africa; we have sent so much money to Africa and nothing has happened. Now Indians and Chinese are taking over African agriculture. The locals who have been growing their grains and vegetables there for hundreds of years without registering their land are being chased away. Hundreds of thousands of hectares are being pooled and run as industrial farms. But everyone knows that this kind of industrial agriculture will destroy the soil, water, and landscape in a few years.
How do you think we can stop these dramatic developments and bring about change? Will it take something like a giant reset button - a restart?
Twenty years ago I had a dramatic experience that showed me how afraid big companies are of mobility, of consumer strength. Metaphorically speaking, it just took a squeak from a tiny mouse to spark an enormous reaction from upper management. Since then I know what no one there wants to accept – consumers have incredible power. With every cent, every euro a consumer spends he or she makes something happen. We vote on what the future will look like and how food should be produced every single second. Every time a consumer buys a product, he votes on whether he is happy with how it was produced.
It’s not about major appeals or demonstrations; it’s about small steps. I need to think about what I am spending my money on when I shop. The act of buying basically determines our future. It is very easy for every single person to take action and make an immediate impact.
Interview: Helmut Wolf