Growing Resistance to War: Learning from Victory Gardeners

There is no peace of mind without peace in the stomac

By Anna Kirkpatrick | 2006-07-01 12:00:00

Militarism is deeply integrated into our economy. According to a Polaris Institute report of October 2005, "annual global military spending has surpassed one trillion dollars, approaching the level of spending at the height of the cold war."

But this grim reality is also a potential source of hope. We can either uphold the current system or nurture an alternative one.

Most of our food is grown on massive factory farms far from its final destination. According to the Organic Consumers Association, the average family's meal travels between 2,500 and 4,000 km from field to plate. Modern agri-business is based on conflict with nature and relies on an arsenal of pesticides, synthetic chemicals, and heavy machinery. As Vandana Shiva has said, "What is called food today is not food. It is the by-product of a war economy. We are eating the leftovers of the Second World War." Our system of industrial agriculture is inherently violent.

Grow food for Peace Instead

In the years since World War II agriculture and war have become intertwined. Much agricultural technology originated on the battlefield. The tractor is essentially an adaptation of the tank. Nitrogen was first extracted during World War I for the production of explosives. After the war, surpluses of it were sold as fertilizer. Parathion was originally developed as a chemical weapon and later used as a pesticide. Petrochemicals are the backbone of industrial agriculture, providing the components of pesticides, fertilizers, and fuel. And petrochemicals are also at the heart of a number of recent conflicts. By supporting the industrial agricultural system we are indirectly supporting the war economy. War inspired much of the violent technology of agriculture. Ironically, though, war also inspired victory gardening, a movement which could provide an alternative to large-scale industrial agriculture.

World Wars I and II reduced the supply of fresh produce for urban people. The enlistment of farm workers, troop food demands, and the scarcity of tires and gasoline needed to transport food all contributed to the shortage, so the government encouraged civilian victory gardens. An astounding variety of places were converted to food production: golf courses, parks, vacant lots, schoolyards, racetracks, even the White House lawn -- with remarkable success. In the United States, some 21 million gardens produced about 40 percent of all vegetables during World War II. And in 1943 Canada, according to the Vancouver Province, 115 million pounds of vegetables were produced in 209,200 victory gardens, changing food production.

During the war, governments encouraged their citizens to cut back on resources such as aluminum, gasoline, rubber, butter, and sugar. U.S President Woodrow Wilson saw the wartime restrictions as an opportunity "for America to correct her unpardonable fault of wastefulness and extravagance." The victory garden movement was part of this effort to conserve resources. In a Vancouver News-Herald article dated February 15, 1943 Vancouver Mayor J.W Cornett wrote, "Food is as important to the war as munitions, for without food armies cannot fight...Remember that everything you raise here releases just that much more food for our troops at home and abroad."

People made big changes willingly. Government officials at every level threw themselves behind the victory garden scheme. But these sacrifices were made for the sake of war. Albert Einstein once said, "We must be prepared to make the same heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace as we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war." If such changes can be made for the cause of war, why not for the cause of peace? Perhaps the thirst for justice could make heroic sacrifices for peace possible.

From the Ground Up

Eating is basic, and it reveals the connections between our choices and the military industrial system.

We need to roll up our sleeves and dig in. Our health, our environment, and our communities depend on it. Top-down approaches to local self-sufficiency won't work. Seeds grow from the ground up -- and so must any movement seeking to challenge our current food system. Growing our own organic food, saving our seeds, and supporting local farmers are ways of showing our commitment to peace.

Anna Kirkpatrick is a gardener.

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2006

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2006, page 7. Some rights reserved.

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