Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Yoga of Sustainability


Beginning in the last chapter, biodiversity was introduced. Biodiversity describes the numerous varieties within each species of plants & animals raised in human agriculture. Each variety has developed over generations of adaptation to climate, varying weather conditions, and resisting pests & diseases. Simutaneously they also were chosen for unique color & taste properties, & these factors actually are nature's way of expressing nutrition. Biodiversity in food plants and farm animals is a result of the on-going process of their evolution.

A large share of what decimates & ravages the Earth is the unstable & impossibly unsustainable globalized food system. One of the most disturbing elements of this food system is that its based mainly on selling farmers patented genetically-modified seeds & suing them into ruin for saving their seeds. Here are presented the basics of what is happening, why its unsustainable and how to do the right thing, but reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver will present a more full view of the problem and solution.

If biodiversity and polyculture are the heroes of sustainable agriculture, then capitalism, genetic-modification & monoculture are the villians. Farmers have always had the responsibility of feeding the people. Farms are ecosystems, including not just food plants & livestock animals but also grass, microorganisms, insects, birds, sun, water, people & abstract concepts to honor the natural functions & needs of animals and ecosystem alike- rotation, diversity, and loops of interconnection large & small.

Each region was served by farmland and families of farmers- respectable earth-workers that learned to care for the land & animals, those that knew the subtleties of coaxing food from the land with resourcefulness & the ability to enrich the land's fertility. This was no mindless skill, the farmer's knowledge & mindfulness needed to be vast to be successful, and so much life depended on this success.

Before the 20th century, all seeds were heirloom, all farm animals heritage- in other words, farmers saved their best tasting, heartiest seeds for next year's planting, & the healthiest heartiest animals bred.

Farming was slowly undermined and taken over by big business. Farms were choked out by big agribusiness megafarms. These small, diverse, sustainable & regionalized family farms were stomped out or, facing bankruptcy, forced to become part of the agribusiness machine. Agribusiness farms want quantity over quality, conformity over taste, and use chemicals, inhumane animal treatment and hormones, among other environmentally & socially devistating tactics to produce more, bigger, fatter, faster, but only of one crop or one animal at once.

Instead of have polyculture, or the growing of several plant & animal varieties, the agribusiness farms focus on monoculture, just one. This fact, teamed with genetically-modified seeds that aren't allowed to adapt naturally to withstand weather, pests & blights anymore, can make these mega-monocultures very open to crop failures.

Still, many farmers have been led to believe that becoming part of this system was the only way to stay in business. In 50 or so years Americans went from knowing the farmers that grew their food to a food system based on a seasonless globalized machine of reallocating food. The people have forgotten how to eat whole, natural, season foods, farmers were becoming slaves to multination corporations that took over more than 75% of our entire food system, and these companies got rich. This is the food represented at your grocery store. This food often travels, on average, 1500 miles from farm to plate. So, if tomatoes are in season in your county, you are still probably finding another state's tomatoes at your local grocery store. This is just just one example of how absurd, unstable, inefficient & unfair our current food system is.

Animals are not raised on farms, but CAFO'S, Confined Animal Feeding Operations. This isn't true for all of the meat, milk & eggs sold in this country, only more than 80%, but this 80% reflects 100% of fast food animal products, and nearly all of the supply found at chain grocery stores nation-wide.

CAFO's keep animals in unnatural conditions, force them to eat antibiotic-laced corn, which is not there natural food, & thus causes them ill health- in the case of cows it causes them lots of pain and increases the instances of deadly E. COLI, deadly to the humans that eat them. CAFO animals, be they chickens, cows, turkeys, or pigs stand (or lay if they are too weak to stand) in the mass of feces from themselves and their prisonmates. These animals live tortured lives, start to finish. They are not healthy and happy.

Although at the grocery store the labels, purposefully deceiving, show happy pastoral scenes, this is not where eggs, meat, milk (and thus cheese & other dairy products) come from. Some terms on labels are regulated, like organic, but some are not, like natural. And even the organic stuff has a decent chance of coming from what is basically an organic CAFO, better than its non-organic counterpart, but not kind enough to the earth or the animal.

Combining the results of all of these factors- monoculture, genetic-modification, CAFO animal products, animal cruelty, deadly E. Coli, and we have a pretty dangerous and unstable system. It also depends on oil so heavily- for proscessing, shipping, and even in growing, that it is an extremely environmentally destructive force all around. And, its also destructive to the public health. White flour products, which so much of the plastic offerings at the grocery store are, laden with corn & soy additives are highly contributing to the epidemic of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Even corn-fed animal products have a negative impact on health where their counterparts from animals fed the natural diet on which they evolved do not.

Yet again, the way to protect our health and the earth's is the same. And in this same way we can strengthen our national food system, our local economy and our bodies. The solution is to choose locally grown food. Shop at farmer's markets and co-operative markets. Only buy milk, meat and eggs from farmers that you know are raising their animals in a humane & old-fashioned way. boycott fast food. Grow a garden of heirloom variety produce. Stop buying processed food.

More details of a localized diet will be shared in the chapter on lifestyle. To protect bioiversity, the earth & your health, eat locally, especially all animal products. You will taste the difference!

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