Here is a California story for you: I registered to vote in a Ralph’s parking lot on my way to a bar, just after I turned eighteen. The Ralph’s is now a different supermarket, and this means that I always confuse people when I give them directions to the bar; the bar is where Robert Pattinson took a girl he may or may not have slept with when he and Kristen Stewart were definitely still together. I am still registered to vote in California, despite the fact that everything from my driver’s license to my taxes has me as a citizen of Connecticut. It turns out you can’t de-register yourself; you can only re-register in a new state.
Both states are solidly democratic, which means that my vote for president is basically a wash no matter what I do and where I vote. But there are other things on the ballot, particularly in CA, where there is always some wack measure I’m dying to vote against (four years ago, prop 8 and an effort to criminalize abortion) and, at least recently, important food system reform stuff that I’m dying to see pass. In 2008, Prop 2 took a minuscule but important step towards bettering the conditions of caged laying hens in the state; this year, prop 37 looks to force companies to label foods that contain GMOs.
There’s a lot of weird science on both sides of the GMO debate; I’m currently unconvinced that there’s conclusive evidence that they’re harmful to human health. But I do believe they’re part of an incredibly damaging agricultural system, and that their cumulative effect on the environment is awful enough to warrant avoiding them anyway. A GMO crop is almost certainly being grown in a massive monoculture: thousands of acres of genetically identical plants which are identically vulnerable to pests, disease and fluctuations in weather. It’s pretty clear at this point that GMO plants require more pesticides than their non-GMO counterparts, which exposes workers to unsafe (and untested!) levels of the toxic chemicals and means that more of these chemicals end up in our groundwater and on neighboring fields and towns. Monocultures deplete the soil, drawing the exact same nutrients in mass quantities year after year; they are replaced with nitrogen heavy, fossil-fuel intensive artificial fertilizer, runoff from which ends up creating dead zones and blight in nearby waterways. There is convincing evidence that soils managed this way fare poorly in conditions of drought and flood (especially as compared to organically managed soils), both of which are the coming effects of climate change. And then there are the labor issues.
It’s a fucking mess, basically: chemical agriculture contributes to climate change with farms that can’t tolerate its effects. I don’t know what the perfect alternative system is, but I believe that without exploring what it might be, we’re just screwing ourselves. And that means that a lot of policy change needs to happen, definitely, but also that as consumers we need to be able to avoid food that was produced in ways we don’t agree with, as a means of pushing back against industry on every possible front. I’m not going to vote in California because I don’t live there, and I haven’t for years, and there’s important stuff going on in Connecticut, too. I just feel like I hear so much fatigue from California Democrats, a sense that our votes are a given and are never going to count so why even bother. And maybe, for Obama. But that’s not the case for everything, for sure.