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Ammonium Nitrate

Ammonium Nitrate

I have been really debating whether to say this out loud, and whether to do it so soon, but I’m going to take the risk. This week has seen serious tragedy on US soil, one incidence of intentional violence, another that is being considered an industrial accident. It is always our natural reaction to want to know WHO and WHY as soon as we can. When that need is added to panic, things can get ugly, as in the case of The Saudi Marathon Man.

So I am well aware that a knee-jerk reaction is not always best, and I try to put things in the hopper for a while to mull over and edit before I commit words to the semi-permanent blogosphere. But there is a question I have tried to ask many times before, that is not a new question, nor a knee-jerk response to the tragedy in Texas. But this horrible explosion simply highlights it.

When are we going to collectively ask “the system” or “the powers that be” or whatever force greater than us that determines the status quo this question: why do we need to fertilize our farmland with explosives?

That’s not hyperbole. I mean it. In 1995, when Tim McVeigh used a fertilizer bomb to level the federal building at Oklahoma City, I am sure there were many people who, upon hearing the news, had no idea that you could make a bomb with fertilizer. We’re talking about ammonium nitrate here.

I will go ahead and show my ignorance, as my chemistry education ended in 1991. I am not so naive as to just throw around the vague term “chemical” as a perjorative. I am well aware that the same elements combined different ways can be benign, or they can be dangerous. Drink H2O and you’re living well. Drink H2O2 and you will not enjoy it.

But this just highlights the fact that our farming industrial complex bears liltte resemblance to the image we have in our heads when we think “farm.” The compounds used in producing industrial seed oils are horrifying, and one of the the reasons I won’t use corn, soy, rapeseed (aka canola) and many others. If they couldn’t press it before 1850, don’t eat it. For reference, see Toxic Oil by David Gillespie.

Industrialization brings risk. Upton Sinclair exposed the unsanitary and unsafe conditions of the massive meat packing industry in The Jungle in 1906. Massive harvesting equipment has the power to remove your limbs or kill you if you get caught in it. Life is dangerous. We won’t ever live without risk.

But is it too much to ask why we accept this as the norm? We have a food system where mono culture centered production has yielded an unsustainable situation. We use more petroleum to bring “food” to market than you can imagine. We’re addicted to it. We strip the land of nuttrients through this commodity model, and to “fix” it, we use ammonium nitrate.

The people of West, Texas are right now, still cleaning up and finding victims of this horrible tragedy. As we across the country pray for them, offer sympathy, and shake our heads in disbelief, let us not lose sight of the assumptions we’ve made about farming, industry, and the dangers we have accepted. This was not, as far as we know, an intentional act. But was it preventable? I think it’s worth asking. And it’s worth asking right now.

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