Why WEforum? Synthetics Are Not a Good Source of Sustenance
By Tracy Leonard-Turi, WEforum Member
Remember the What to Expect books? Imagine a complete series concluding with What to Expect in Your Last Decade. It could be a guide for getting us to where we want to be later in life. What will your health be like? Imagine your future lifestyle, the prospects for your children and grandchildren. Will you leave behind a mark or a blemish? Almost every day the media tells us that the American Dream is collapsing, and today’s generation will not earn more than their parents. This is a frightening prospect. It’s important that future generations be successful, but maybe earnings alone are missing the overarching point.
Americans today are primed to shop and consume 24/7 but this doesn’t necessarily make us prosper and thrive in ways that truly matter. Many Americans, particularly our youth, are overhauling their priorities and paying closer attention to issues like the environment in their everyday lives. Yet we live in such deeply polarizing times that it’s often difficult (and exhausting) to keep up with the sheer volume of information, and even then, we can’t always distinguish between fact and fiction.
Even food shopping is a fraught issue. We all try to conserve energy, recycle and not waste water; for years I thought I was doing well by purchasing organic. But organic is just the tip of the iceberg. Organic food isn’t necessarily sustainable because this industry often uses dangerous pesticides as long as they are naturally occurring. It also leaves behind a huge carbon footprint. What is the real difference between organic and sustainable, and how do they both differ from conventional farming? Sustainable farming methods rely on criteria superior to certified organic labels. According to the farmer and environmentalist, Joel Salatin, a farm is truly sustainable if it is regenerative, meaning environmentally, economically and socially responsible. This means nonpolluting, pesticide/fungicide-free, energy efficient, profitable; causing neither soil erosion nor soil depletion, employing fair pay and good working conditions. Sustainable and regenerative agriculture is emerging as a more holistic approach.
But can sustainable, regenerative agriculture simultaneously reduce environmental damage while supporting the highly productive yields the planet needs to feed a population projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050? Listening to scientists on both sides of the aisle is like watching a tennis match. This very skilled back and forth dialog can seem equally compelling and mind-boggling. We already live in an industrialized society; what seems more likely today is an intersection between our ability to feed billions of people and our need to regenerate the earth’s resources for future generations.
Conventional farming relies on some of agriculture’s greatest inventions and innovations. The wheel, the plow, natural fertilizer, selective plant breeding, and irrigation greatly facilitated the cultivation of the land, particularly in challenging conditions. On the other hand, human interventions often lead to unintended consequences. Critics of conventional farming emphasize the environmental unsustainability of conventional methods; the depletion and contamination of the soil and the runoff to both our water and our food supply, the corruption and the misuse of water, the reliance on cheap energy, poor labor conditions, and waste throughout the distribution process. Opponents also argue that corporations are edging out small farmers in order to plant high-yield commodity crops like soy, corn, rice, wheat, rapeseed, oil palm and sugar cane. Yet proponents point to Norman Borlaug, agronomist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, the subsequent Green Revolution. His initiatives have saved billions of lives around the world in the last half century by producing enough high yield crops on fewer acres of arable land to match and even surpass the needs of growing populations.
Whereas, some scientists claimed that man-made technology and monoculture farming helped create man-made ecological disasters like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s … after all it was Henry Ford who first understood that the oils from processing soybeans could be used for industrial purposes, for the paints and plastics in his automobiles, while the byproduct could be milled to use as animal feed. Others, like Norman Borlaug, argued that environmental disasters were caused by the inefficient use of such technology and that high-yield farming could work if properly executed. Opponents counter that reduced biodiversity and the subsequent depletion of the soil has reduced or reversed the long-term effects of his initiatives.
When it comes to soil, scientists do agree that healthy soil is directly proportional to the health of our agriculture. The scientist and activist, Patrick Holden, of the Sustainable Food Trust, suggests that we visualize soil, not just as dirt with added nutrients and the random earthworm, but as one big digestive system, much like our own stomach’s digestive system. Soil contains thousands of microorganisms, fungi and minerals which break down matter into nutrients that are easily absorbed into the root systems of plant matter; very much mimicking our own stomach’s digestive process. Seen through this prism, sustainable agriculture begins to resonate with our daily lives. We are caretakers of the soil just as many of us are learning to become caretakers of our own gut health. It’s about stewardship.
But where does that leave us exactly? And how do we become stewards of sustainable living? We’re often left with a sense of guilt because most of us have neither the time, the ability nor the inclination to give up the trappings of modern life. I have often resented my SUV, but I had four children who needed harnessing and anything smaller wouldn’t have done the trick. Growing up we could cram nine or ten kids into a family car by piling in and then stuffing a couple of extra kids on the floor of the car under our feet. But seat belt laws aside, our sensibilities have changed. Even if we could get away with that today, most of us couldn’t live with ourselves if we tried. And guilt isn’t a constructive approach to facilitating our children’s futures. We try to make small changes but frequently feel restricted by even larger constraints, like illness, finances, disabilities, unemployment, and other personal commitments. For me, a good day is remembering to bag my groceries with recyclable totes.
Here’s what we do know. Growing up we trusted huge food corporations to feed us, but we’ve inversely swapped low food costs for high healthcare costs. Among wealthy developed nations, we rank last in both health care and sustainability. As a nation we are laggards when it comes to issues like nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and food waste. We also consume the most sugar and have the highest obesity rate. We lag behind in life expectancy and are hovering below the poverty line.
Sustainable living is all about regenerative living, and the data suggests that women more readily support sustainable living and purchase sustainable products. As wives, partners, mothers, community activists, career professionals, and spiritual beings this resonates. It’s about relationships, stewardship and what we can accomplish together for the sake of our families, our communities, our nation, and our planet. It’s about mindful, authentic living. We are united as spiritual creatures and we understand the power of regenerative living. Within our own individual parameters, we can leave our mark because we couldn’t live with ourselves if we don’t. The wisdom of the ages tells us that real happiness requires that we weigh the consequences of our actions. And that’s precisely the kind of holistic sensibility that can change the way we think about agriculture, so we don’t compromise the welfare of future generations.
Which now creates a new dilemma. How do I actually do this every day? How do I reverse engineer my mindset so that in my last decade of life I don’t look back and realize that my neuro-responses had been perpetually hijacked by food corporations priming me for my next treat, like a trained dog?
First, look at fresh, nutrient dense ingredients as medicine and employ a simple, back-to-basics approach to eating whole ingredients (like carrot and beet tops!) and even refabricating scraps in creative ways. Instead of buying a plethora of packaged products or leaving dried pantry items to languish on the shelves until we throw them out; try tossing together dried oats, nuts and raisins with honey before they become rancid and baking in the oven until golden for a beautiful batch of granola. Vegetable scraps can be frozen until needed and then cooked in water to make a quick, very flavorful vegetable stock. Without any extra effort, you’ve reduced food waste, eliminated processed foods, drastically reduced expenses, and made the house smell good. The only thing you didn’t waste was your time. Simple steps that only take a few minutes.
Second, whether or not you have your own garden, try developing relationships around fresh grown food. Seek out at least one farmer or gardener in your area, or shop at the farmer‘s market. Growers can be a wealth of information and some of these farmers even allow people to volunteer their time harvesting produce. Try to get your hands dirty and learn to appreciate freshly picked food. And whether you grow your own or buy fresh produce, share some of it with friends, neighbors or even a local nonprofit organization. These relationships are regenerative and cultivate an appreciation for the food we eat in our local community.
Third, lead the way. Data suggests that our youth, specifically the Millennials and Gen Z, are already leading the way. They have the energy and the enthusiasm, not to mention the stamina; but they need our guidance and the wisdom that comes with age and experience. We can nurture them and provide the sustenance they need. We can role-model many of these goals by creating and building, not destroying. By living regeneratively we can facilitate the process and pave the way for them to grow into their roles as stewards.