IFFP Environmental Working Group Book Reviews

BOOK SUMMARY OF “THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA,” 

BY MICHAEL POLLAN

  1. The Industrial Food Chain

     

The industrial food chain has been a disaster for farmers and also means that billions of animals are doomed to live out their lives in inhumane factory farms.  Agribusiness, a giant agricultural business, looks nothing like farming.  It is a series of factories that turn raw materials into food products. 

In the early 1900s, the average farmer grew corn, fruits, and vegetables.  They had pigs, cattle, chickens and horses.  Today’s typical farmer grows only corn and soybeans. Corn has muscled out almost every other plant and animal and taken over America.  There are 45,000 items in the average American supermarket.  Over one-fourth of the items contain corn.   

Growing only corn has damaged our farmlands, polluted our water, and threatened the health of all creatures downstream.  The corn seed used today is a hybrid seed created by agribusiness, which can be planted very close together to increase yields.  Growing industrial corn today is just riding tractors and spraying pesticides. Those pesticides have been proven to cause cancer, damage nerve cells, and disrupt your endocrine system (your hormones).  These pesticides/poisons are regularly found in non-organic produce and meat. The tiniest amount of atrazine, the herbicide commonly sprayed on American cornfields, has been shown to change the sex of frogs.  There has been no study yet on what it does to children. This chemical has been banned in Europe.    

Agribusiness needs cheap corn to make processed foods and hundreds of other products.   Since the 1980s, all sodas and most fruit drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  Agribusiness counts on government regulations and taxpayer money.  The industrial food system strips many healthy compounds to form our foods. 

The typical supermarket chicken is raised in a 10,000 bird shed that stinks.
The average life of an industrial factory cow has been shortened from 5-6 years (if fed grass which their stomachs are designed to eat) to a much shorter life of just 12-14 months because they are fed corn (which their stomach are not designed to digest) to grow them faster, injected with hormones to grow them faster, and injected with antibiotics because they are sickly from their diet and cramped living conditions.  Today’s average farmer is a link in a chain that includes fossil fuels, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, heavy machinery, feedlots, antibiotics, and processing plants.

2.  The Industrial Organic Food Chain 

Organic fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of Vitamin C.  They also had contained a wider range of chemicals called polyphenols.  Polyphenols appear to play an important role in human health.  Some prevent or fight cancer; others fight infections.   

Industrial organic industrial food (e.g.., Cascadian Farms, Stonyfield Farms, Boca Foods, Back to Nature, etc.) is a huge improvement over the non-organic food chain.  They involve no pesticides, no nitrogen runoff seeping into the watershed, no poisoned soil, no antibiotics, no government subsidies.   And yet. . . the chickens live in only slightly less cramped factory quarters, the cattle are fed organic corn but may have not had any pasture time, and huge amounts of fossil fuels are used to process and transport the food.

3.  Local Sustainable Farming 

There are family farmers that practice true/local sustainable farming.   They don’t ship their produce and meat across the county.  An example is Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA (about 150 miles from DC).  Polyface is a “grass farm” that raises chicken beef, turkeys, eggs, rabbits, pigs, tomatoes, sweet corn, grapes, and berries.  Cattle grazed on grass. Later, grass would be cut to make hay to feed animals in winter.  Grasslands are great at reducing carbon in the atmosphere and fighting climate change. The chickens were let loose in the pasture instead of fed in a coop.  The hens are the “sanitation crew.” They eat grubs and larvae (and grass), cutting down on bugs and parasites.  The chicken droppings produce thousands of pounds of nitrogen for the soil, as well as thousands of tasty eggs. All of the energy used to make food comes from the sun.  There are no pesticides, no artificial fertilizers, no pollution, and no extra waste.  Everything is recycled. Polyface grows grass and composts.   

See Recent Washington Post article, A decade after ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ Michael Pollan sees signs of hope:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/a-decade-after-the-omnivores-dilemma-michael-pollan-sees-signs-of-hope/2016/06/06/85cdadfe-2c0a-11e6-9b37-42985f6a265c_story.html?utm_term=.1cdd87628923

 

BOOK SUMMARY OF ACTIVE HOPE, HOW TO FACE THE MESS WE’RE IN WITHOUT GOING CRAZY
BY JOANNA MACY & CHRIS JOHNSTONE

“Active Hope” is a call to action to take action to address the problem of climate change and environmental decimation.  The first hurdle is realizing that our civilization has reached a crisis point with three versions of reality. In the first version, we continue to live as “Business as Usual” and see no need to change how we live.   In the second version, the “Great Unraveling,” we realize where “Business as Usual” is taking us—toward the collapse of ecological and social systems, climate change, depletion of resources, and mass species extinctions.  The third story, called the “Great Turning,” is held by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and refuse to let the second story be the last word.

The Great Turning requires mass participation, and everyone has a role to play.  Macy puts the problem in perspective in that your place is to do your part—to what you can do. Active hope includes imagining ourselves as part of a great adventure, with obstacles to face, like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.  The outcome of the task is uncertain, which means both that you have to make every effort to help, but also not despair that it is impossible to effect change. And ask for help along the way. We are stronger together.

Macy discusses the “Work that Reconnects” as an approach that helps us reconnect with the web of life and with each other.  The work is described as a spiral with four stages (coming from gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth).  She says that the spiral is something we can return to for strength and insights. By viewing things in a spiral way, not a circular way, we may come back around to the same point but, like a spiral, we have progressed.  

Macy mentions the abolition of slavery as an example of another movement that seemed impossible at the outset and for a long time, but eventually prevailed despite tremendous resistance and hurdles.  Another example cited by Macy was the regulation of tobacco, despite extreme opposition by the industry. Macy calls on us to look at time differently. It takes time to get things accomplished and there may be no movement for a long time.  However, once the momentum for change takes hold, change can happen quickly. Macy calls this momentum “the great turning.” 

Macy discusses how we (society, government, businesses, etc.) have a “business as usual” mentality and have taken a short-sighted view of managing our problems.  We do not think of the impact of our actions on future generations.  Macy says we can pull in spiritual guidance from our ancestors, as well as those living in future generations.  To make the future become present, Macy suggests that we imagine journeying 200 years from now and identifying with an individual living at that time (seven generations in the future).  Write a letter from that person to you.  Imagine what that person would say.  By giving future beings a voice, we bring them closer to us.  The group noted recent reports indicating that profound negative impacts on the planet will occur within the next 10-12 years if we do not dramatically change how we live our lives to become more sustainable.  

The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.  In the last 50 years, we have depleted more resources than in the entire life of the planet.  Our culture of affluenza and consumerism it taking us down a rabbit hole. We need to transform our values.  The group discussed the distinction between our values being centered on individualism vs. communalism. Placing your individual success above the benefits of the group at large is part of what is driving us to consume resources beyond what is necessary to exist and is dividing us into “us” vs. “them” thinking. 

 Macy includes five vows we can say and make to ourselves and each other.  I vow:

       To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings;

       To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume;

       To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, future generations, and my brothers and sisters of all species;

       To support others in our work for the world and to ask for help when I need it; and  

       To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows.