The Individual and the Collective in “Global Environmental Politics”

How does one begin to take action on behalf of the ecological crisis once one has awakened to its existence? This is the question addressed in the eighth section of Global Environmental Politics, titled “Thinking Strategically.” The editors selected essays to illustrate two different approaches, one at the level of individual lifestyle change, the other at the level of large-scale systemic change. The essays argue from different perspectives, some saying that the individual actions of planting a tree or riding a bicycle will not effect the level of change needed to address the problem, while others argue that by relying on the larger political, economic, and social systems to shift without making individual changes is what “helped get us into this mess in the first place,”[1] as Michael Pollan puts it. Yet by putting together both sets of essays and perspectives, this section of the book points to what I also feel is also an optimal approach: individual and systemic changes must be enacted simultaneously.

Global Environmental PoliticsMichael Pollan concludes his short essay entitled “Why Bother?” by encouraging each person reading this to start their own garden or to participate in a community agricultural plot. Knowing how to grow one’s own food is a skill that may indeed prove essential in the future, and the immediate benefits are innumerable, from being able to connect with soil and plants, to using one’s body for meaningful work, to sharing produce and tools with neighbors and friends, thus potentially inspiring others to do the same.

A few months ago I moved to Berkeley where I now live in a little cottage. I have been dreaming of ways to lighten my personal footprint, while at the same time educating myself on how to help instigate systemic change as well. This weekend we will finally be putting in garden beds out behind our cottage, getting fresh compost from the city of Berkeley, and starting our own little garden. Even if individual changes do not have as far-reaching an impact as we might wish, they at least empower individuals to know that there is something we each can do, while at the same time nourishing the community ties needed to make real changes at a higher level.

Work Cited

Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.

[1] Michael Pollan, “Why Bother?” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 291.

Walking the Fine Line: The Ethical Divisions of Eating Animals

“There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death.”
– Gary Snyder[1]

A couple years ago I participated in the slaughter of two young, male goats on a farm in Big Sur, California. The goats were named Sweetie and Peaches, and were “culled” to keep the herd of dairy goats on this farm to a manageable size. The female goats provided fresh milk that could be consumed raw or made into cheese, yogurt, or even caramel, but after a certain age the male goats served their human caretakers most by having their lives taken and becoming meat. Participating in the slaughter of these goats, which was carried out in the most painless and respectful way possible, brought home for me in a new way issues surrounding the human consumption of not only animal flesh but also the other biological products of their fertility, from milk to eggs to even honey. To witness death in this beautiful setting also brought to mind all of the animal deaths that take place behind closed doors, in slaughterhouses where no respect or thanks is given for the life being sacrificed.

Goats at the FenceReligious and cultural traditions have provided the guidelines for the ethics of food consumption for much of human history, dictating rituals and taboos for the preparation and eating of non-human animals. Yet with the dawn of the secular age and the globalization of culture and economy, such rituals and cultural guidelines have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of economic efficiency and endless growth, leading to such cruel institutions as the factory farm that supplies cheap, abundant meat to a consumerist public. In this essay I will be focusing not on the evils of the factory farm, but rather on the ethical dilemma faced by the human omnivore who wishes to engage the question of eating from a non-dogmatic stand-point. What guidelines can we follow when making the choice every day of what to put into our bodies? Are there ways of finding deeper connection with our food, and the myriad creatures who become that food?

I am writing this essay from the perspective of an American citizen, raised in Northern California. The reason this fact is pertinent is because the culture of food in the United States is one that is constantly in flux, altering with the latest consumerist fad or medical study. Diets in this country change with great rapidity, which the food writer Michael Pollan takes to be a “sign of a national eating disorder.”[2] Such instability in a nation’s eating habits “would never have happened in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating.”[3] Pollan goes on to describe the “American paradox”: “a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.”[4] Why is it that so many Americans struggle with knowing what to eat, or more importantly, what it is right to eat? The complexity of questions surrounding food not only arises from a loss in understanding of what is healthy for our own bodies, but also what is healthy for the bodies of the organisms who we consume. Is it possible to find an ethical way to live and eat on this Earth, or must we always be compromising our moral standing with each meal? Is there one right way for human beings to sustain themselves, or a multiplicity of ways? Or could it be there is no right way at all, no pathway to ethical purity, and rather we are meant to learn from the complexity of being incarnated in bodies that must consume other bodies, of animals or plants, in order to survive?

Humans in most parts of the world have inherited a traditional culture which “codifies the rules of wise eating in an elaborate structure of taboos, rituals, recipes, manners, and culinary traditions”[5] that act as guidance when it comes to consuming other species, particularly species of non-human animals. The nutrition researcher Sally Fallon draws on studies from a diversity of traditional cultures from around the world for her book Nourishing Traditions, in which she argues for a return to a diet rich in animal products, including fats, organ meats, raw dairy, and bone broths.[6] Her argument, based on the research conducted in the 1930s by Dr. Weston A. Price, is that these isolated populations subsisting on ancient, traditional diets were far healthier—with stronger bones, lack of tooth decay or degenerative diseases, and with greater longevity—than their Western counterparts.[7] Yet while she demonstrates the importance of animals as food for human health, Fallon does little to address the impact such a diet has on the non-human animals consumed. She naturally advocates for choosing products from animals who are pasture-raised and organic, but she does not address the larger issue of killing animals, or the loss of each individual life when an animal is slaughtered for consumption.

On the opposite side of the spectrum of healthy eating is Frances Moore Lappé, who first wrote Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. Lappé is addressing, especially in the first edition of her book, the issue of feeding the surplus of grain and soybeans produced in the United States to cattle as a means of making a profit on large quantities of cheap and fatty beef while also disposing of the excess grain grown by industrial agriculture. She exposes the wastefulness of the system by giving a few shocking numbers: it takes 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce one pound of beef,[8] and while that one pound of beef translates into about 500 food calories it takes 20,000 calories of fossil fuel to produce it.[9] Lappé also quotes the famous Newsweek statement that “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.”[10] She is advocating for a turn away from the American diet built around the presence of meat at every meal to a plant-based diet that relies on the protein complementarity of grains and legumes to provide the adequate amino acids for a healthy lifestyle. Interestingly, it was the later turn away in the early 2000s from the low-fat, minimal red meat, grain-based diet that Lappé advocates that inspired Michael Pollan to write his own book on food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

A simple summary would say that Fallon and Lappé are arguing for nearly opposite diets, although both advocate for eating high quality, organic produce grown locally and preferably on a small, sustainable scale. As Lappé and her daughter, Anna Lappé, write in their book Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, eating organic and local food is a decision that is “defining of who we are.”[11] One major contrast between Fallon and Lappé is that Fallon’s dietary recommendations are focused more on human health, while Lappé’s are focused on ecological health. Yet they are at times completely at odds with each other in what foods they recommend humans should be eating for optimum physical health. For example, Lappé says that she has come to find “that human beings need eat no flesh to be healthy,”[12] and that one could completely eliminate all meat and fish and still get enough protein.[13] Meanwhile, Fallon argues that fat and protein from animal products are the essential building blocks of the human body, and that the vitamins A and D supplied by animal fats are necessary for the body to even assimilate protein.[14] Furthermore, Fallon points out that animal protein is the only complete protein, meaning it supplies all eight essential amino acids not synthesized by the human body.[15] Lappé has a direct argument against the need to eat animal products for complete protein because certain plant foods can be combined to create “protein complementarity,” when the deficiency of amino acids in one food is made up for by an excess in another and vice versa, such as with grains and legumes.[16] Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in their book The Ethics of What We Eat, have written that there is no difference in the quality of soy protein in comparison to meat protein.[17] However, Fallon describes in some detail that soybeans have a higher phytate content than most legumes and contain potent enzyme inhibitors making them difficult to digest unless fermented. Relying on unfermented tofu and soymilk as a protein replacement for meat and raw milk can lead to mineral and enzyme deficiency.[18]

Yet other ways in which Lappé’s and Fallon’s argument directly contradict each other are in the discussion of saturated fats and cholesterol. Lappé cites studies which have shown that diets high in animal protein can lead to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries caused by deposits of fatty acids on the artery walls.[19] She also writes that high blood cholesterol is correlated with an increase in the ingestion of cholesterol and saturated fats, both from animal products and in the latter case also from tropical plant oils.[20] Her recommendation is instead to consume polyunsaturated fats from plant sources, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybeans.[21] Singer and Mason point out that some studies have found that those who eat a diet low or entirely excluding meat tend to live longer.[22] Fallon argues the completely opposite case, pointing to a study in which subjects who ate more saturated fat and cholesterol were healthier overall, and that “weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet.”[23] By explaining the molecular structure of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats Fallon demonstrates how the unstable nature of polyunsaturated plant oils easily go rancid and should never be heated or cooked with because of their molecular instability.[24]

Fallon points to the high quantity of animal fats in the traditional diets of the Japanese, Swiss, Austrian, Greek and, of course, the French, among others, to demonstrate the health and longevity of these groups of people when following their traditional cultural cuisines.[25] Even in reference to the traditional diets of our human ancestors Fallon and Lappé report opposing views. Lappé writes, “I advocate a return to the traditional diet on which our bodies evolved—a plant-centered diet in which animal foods play a supplemental role.”[26] In diametric opposition Fallon writes,

Our primitive ancestors subsisted on a diet composed largely of meat and fat, augmented with vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts. Studies of their remains reveal that they had excellent bone structure, heavy musculature and flawless teeth. Agricultural man added milk, grains and legumes to this diet.[27]

Fallon also gives archaeological evidence against eating a primarily vegan diet: “Skulls of prehistoric peoples subsisting almost entirely on vegetable foods have teeth containing caries and abscesses and show evidence of bone problems and tuberculosis as well.”[28] Yet there is also much research that has been done on healthy ways to eat primarily plant-based diets, and Singer and Mason argue that a well-planned vegan diet can support the human body at any stage of life.[29] Since the time when our ancestors were living on either plant-based diets supplemented with animal products, or meat-based diets augmented with vegetation, human beings have come to learn much about the world we live in, including about the nature of our bodies and the food we put into them. Our lifestyles have also changed, for better and for worse, since our primitive ancestors lived on their simpler diets of whole, unprocessed foods.

With so many contradictions, are we any closer to solving the omnivore’s dilemma of what we are meant to eat and how? Lappé says people often find it surprising that she does not consider herself to be a vegetarian. “Over the last ten years,” she writes, “I’ve hardly ever served or eaten meat, but I try hard to distinguish what I advocate from what people think of as ‘vegetarianism’.”[30] Professor Lindsay Allen also speaks to how ideology can get in the way of conveying a more important message. In conversation with Singer and Mason she said,

“I’m not against veganism, I’m against people who, often because of an animal-rights ideology, don’t take the trouble to learn about what they should be eating. People come out with self-righteous attitudes and lots of pure malarkey about how you can get vitamin B12 from plants or from the soil.”[31]

Perhaps, while the specifics of what and who we eat is important, the way in which we approach eating it is just as essential. Lappé supports this by saying, “A ‘correct diet,’ one centered in the plant world, one based in less processed and nonchemically treated foods, is not a ‘should’ as much as a freeing step.”[32] Lappé puts the human relationship with food into a larger context, in which our diets become a symbol and practice for the role we wish to play in the world.

A change in diet is not an answer. A change in diet is a way of experiencing more of the real world, instead of living in the illusory world created by our current economic system, where our food resources are actively reduced and where food is treated as just another commodity.[33]

Further into Diet for a Small Planet Lappé elaborates on this point more deeply:

What we eat is only one of those everyday life choices. Making conscious choices about what we eat, based on what the earth can sustain and what our bodies need, can remind us daily that our whole society must do the same—begin to link sustainable production with human need.[34]

On these last two points I believe Lappé and Fallon would at last come into agreement. How we choose to eat is a profound statement about our complicity or lack thereof with the larger economic and political system. It is the most intimate way to take actions that directly affect others, because every single morsel of food that passes our lips is comprised of another species. That is interconnection, that is dependence.

Conscious eating, as Lappé says, is based on two essential factors: ‘on what the earth can sustain’ and ‘what our bodies need.’ Neither of those factors can be determined universally, because every situated ecosystem is unique and every body is unique. Thus what is best to eat within one ecosystem will not be in another; likewise, the best balance of plant and animal foods for my body will be radically different from the needs of someone who was raised in another part of the world, or who has an entirely different ethnic background than I do. Part of the human project of relearning to eat in a way that the Earth can sustain is by recognizing and respecting the unique differences between all of our needs and situations. For example, the 14th Dalai Lama, who one might expect as a Buddhist to be a vegetarian, in fact is not. While Buddhism does not prohibit the eating of meat, it does indicate that animals should not be killed for food. The Dalai Lama had been living for some time as a vegetarian but became severely ill, with complications worsened by hepatitis. The Dalai Lama’s physician recommended he begin eating meat, and within a short period of time he regained his health.[35]

The Dalai Lama’s situation is one in which he had to make a decision against the rules ascribed by the religious tradition in which he participates. Yet for many people worldwide, and for countless generations into the past, it was the religious and cultural traditions that guided how human beings ate, particularly in relation to animals. Paul Waldau writes in his essay, “Seeing the Terrain We Walk”: “Religious traditions, with their impact on worldviews and lifestyles, influences not only the way adherents think, see, and talk about the world, but also the ways they act toward ‘others,’ whether human or otherwise.”[36] This holds true particularly in terms of the human relationship with animals. Waldau also writes, “The first of the central inquiries in the religion and animals field is, thus, about matters we generally call ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’.”[37] Religion has provided the moral guideposts for millennia, but in a country such as the United States in which multiple world views and beliefs reign, no such guidelines are universal—unless it they are the guidelines of the market, which have given us factory farming and Pollan’s American paradox.

One of the rituals practiced in multiple religions worldwide was that of sacrifice, particularly non-human animal sacrifice. To focus on one religious lineage, in the biblical world sacrifice was an “unquestioned given,” according to Jonathan Klawans.[38] But as Klawans, David Fraser, and others are careful to point out in their assessments of the Hebrew sacrificial tradition, the moment of the animal’s death is but one step in a long process, beginning with a lifetime of care for the flock from which the sacrificed animal is chosen. The emphasis on care for the animals gives birth to what Fraser calls the “pastoralist ethic.”[39] The only way one can really understand what it means to sacrifice an animal, to take the life of another being on behalf of God, is to first understand what it means to be a shepherd, a loving caretaker, of those animals.[40] This sense of care is what we have lost in the industrialized food system in which farm animals are referred to as “units of production,” commodities who have absolutely no laws governing their wellbeing whatsoever.[41] According to animal welfare laws the farm animals raised for slaughter in industrial agriculture are not considered to be animals at all.[42]

Scripture dictates that “the feelings of animals should be taken into consideration” when they are prepared for food and sacrifice.[43] This is why Leviticus and other voices in the Old Testament lay forth dietary laws to guide how religious adherents prepare and eat their food. Shechitah is the Hebrew term for the kosher slaughtering of a non-human animal, and because of its strict guidelines is considered to be the “quickest and most painless way to kill animals.”[44] Although not conducted by a shochet as rabbinic tradition would require, the killing of the two goats Sweetie and Peaches in which I participated followed the guidelines of shechitah fairly closely. This specifies exactly which parts of the animal are cut and how, as Ronald L. Androphy writes:

Most importantly, the act of shechitah not only severs the trachea and esophagus but it also severs the jugular veins and carotid arteries. The result is a sudden and voluminous outpouring of blood and immediate and acute anemia of the brain thus rendering the animal senseless instantaneously.[45]

During the deaths of Peaches and Sweetie I witnessed this moment of the blood pouring forth, how quickly the life ended and how, apparently, gently. I will quote a small section of what I wrote in my journal later on the day of this process:

Swiftly she brought the knife forward and sliced into the jugular vein. Crimson blood welled from the opening, pouring and pouring forth. I came forward to catch it in a clean, glass bowl. The animal’s fading pulse seemed to pass from him to the very air itself, beating through everything. I was grateful to stand so close, to look into this little animal’s beautiful deep brown eyes, to thank him, and to recognize the moment when life left him. The eye transformed. No longer a window to the soul it became a glass bead. The blood still poured forth.[46]

Practicing the act of killing with such intimacy makes it nearly, if not completely, impossible to not have a powerful emotional connection with the animal whose life is ending on behalf of the human beings who are sacrificing him and who will be eating his flesh.

Beyond the religious significance, there are many ideas of what the Hebrew practice of sacrifice is meant to dictate in regards to the actual eating of animal bodies. Because there was only one temple in which animals could be sacrificed, this has been seen by some scholars as an imposed limit on the amount of meat that should be eaten.[47] The eating of animal flesh is also seen by some as a condition of being in a fallen state, since in Genesis humans do not eat other animals in the Garden of Eden.[48] Some scholars see this as an indication that the ideal state would be a vegetarian one. However, Klawans points out that in the story of Genesis not only were no animals eaten in Eden, no cooked food was either.[49] If one were attempting to eat a diet based solely on what was consumed in Paradise one would have to live entirely on raw foods—which our evolutionary ancestors did at one point in the distant past, although we had not yet evolved into our modern Homo sapien form.

The desire to live upon the Earth as purely as possible may have some roots in this cultural longing for a golden age, a time when humans were living in a mythic paradise. Yet our every move in this world causes some harm to other beings, no matter how much we try to prevent it. To be in denial of our own continual causation of suffering is to deny the pain of others. Donna Haraway writes in her book When Species Meet, “There is no way to eat and not to kill, no way to eat and not to become with other mortal beings to whom we are accountable, no way to pretend innocence and transcendence or a final peace.”[50] The problem lies, in the end, less in what we did not do, what we abstained from, but rather in what suffering we caused that we then denied to acknowledge. Haraway also writes, “Caring means becoming subject to the unsettling obligation of curiosity, which requires knowing more at the end of the day than at the beginning.”[51] Caring about our human place in the world and the impact we necessarily have on other species, “Earth Others,” as Val Plumwood calls all other non-human beings,[52] is recognizing that we cannot extricate ourselves from the mess of being alive—“mess” being a particularly appropriate term because of its use as a term to refer to food. Haraway refers to other species—our companion animals, the species we eat, the bacteria in our gut—as messmates.[53] As long as we eat we are always in the mess. Furthermore, the term “companion” comes from the Latin cum panis, meaning “with bread.”[54] All species with whom we eat, who we eat, and who eat us, are in some way or other our companions.

Forgetting that we can never extricate ourselves from the suffering caused, in some form, by eating may be a product of the human denial that we too can be eaten. Plumwood speaks of this in her powerful essay “Being Prey,” in which she describes her experience of surviving a crocodile attack in the bush in Australia. She says, “It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain.”[55] When arguing whether or not it is right to kill another species for food, it can be important to remember that all beings must, at some point, die. As a culture, Westerners are in active denial of this profound fact. Haraway writes, “I do not think we can nurture living until we get better at facing killing. But also get better at dying instead of killing.”[56] If there is one thing I learned from actively participating in the deaths of Peaches and Sweetie it was the importance of going through the act of taking life, of witnessing death, if we are going to consume the flesh, or even the milk and eggs, of non-human animals. With the world structured as it is today, perhaps we need not personally take life for every body we consume—although this may be the most ethical preference for some. But I do feel it is important to remember and honor that moment of death with each meal that is composed of the life of Earth Others—and that is every meal because, as the poet Gary Snyder writes, “There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death.”[57]

Biodiversity is one of the gifts of the Earth, the “iridescent variation of aspect”[58] through which our planet manifests its eternal creativity. Biodiversity does not just occur at a species level, but within species as well; one aspect of that diversity is the myriad ways human cultures have developed relationships with the species that become our food. If you find yourself facing the omnivore’s dilemma of what and how to eat, I would offer that the answer may lie in learning to listen: to the suffering of the species we eat, to the bioregions in which we live to understand what these ecosystems most love to produce in abundance, to the quiet voices of our own bodies—our intuition and our messmates—who will tell us what we need to eat and how. Food is the most daily reminder we may have that we humans are utterly dependent on the Earth because of the many species we consume. Instead of seeking spiritual or ethical purity, perhaps we might choose to sink further into the spiritual mess of embodied life on this Earth.

 

Works Cited

Androphy, Ronald L. “Shechitah.” In Judaism and Animal Rights. Edited by Roberta Kalechofsky. Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1992.

Cerulli, Tovar. “The Dalai Lama: On Meat and Moral Gymnastics.” A Mindful Carnivore, October 15, 2010. http://tovarcerulli.com/2010/10/the-dalai-lama-on-meat-and-moral-gymnastics/.

Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, 2001.

Findlay, John, “The Logical Peculiarities of Neoplatonism.” In The Structure of Being: A Neoplatonic Approach. Edited by R. Baine Harris, Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1982.

Haraway, Donna J. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Lappé, Francis Moore. Diet for a Small Planet. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1991.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2006.

Plumwood, Val. “Being Prey.” In The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Nova. Edited by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

–––––. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York, NY: Routledge,

Singer, Peter and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. United States: Rodale, Inc., 2006.

Snyder, Gary. “Grace.” Co-Evolution Quarterly, 43 (Fall 1984).

Sunstein, Cass and Martha Nussbaum, eds. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Tarnas, Becca. “Of Blood and Stars.” Essay for Hill of the Hawk course, October 24, 2012.

Waldau, Paul and Kimberley Patton, eds. A Communion of Subjects. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006.

 

[1] Gary Snyder, “Grace,” Co-Evolution Quarterly, 43 (Fall 1984): I.

[2] Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2006), 2.

[3] Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, 2.

[4] Ibid, 3.

[5] Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, 4.

[6] Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, 2001), xi-xii.

[7] Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, xi-xii.

[8] Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1991), 9.

[9] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 10.

[10] Ibid, 76.

[11] Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, qtd. in Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat (Emmaus, PA: Rodale, Inc., 2006), 140.

[12] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, xxviii.

[13] Ibid, 159.

[14] Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, 29.

[15] Ibid, 26.

[16] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 160.

[17] Singer and Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat, 232.

[18] Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, 62.

[19] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 122.

[20] Ibid, 123.

[21] Ibid, 124.

[22] Singer and Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat, 225.

[23] Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, 5.

[24] Ibid, 8-9.

[25] Ibid, 7.

[26] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 209.

[27] Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, 26-7.

[28] Ibid, 27.

[29] Singer and Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat, 224.

[30] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 13.

[31] Lindsay Allen, qtd. in Singer and Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat, 226.

[32] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, xxix.

[33] Ibid, 26.

[34] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 107.

[35] Tovar Cerulli, “The Dalai Lama: On Meat and Moral Gymnastics,” A Mindful Carnivore, October 15, 2010, http://tovarcerulli.com/2010/10/the-dalai-lama-on-meat-and-moral-gymnastics/.

[36] Paul Waldau, “Seeing the Terrain We Walk: Features of the Contemporary Landscape of ‘Religion and Animals’,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 53.

[37] Waldau, “Seeing the Terrain We Walk,” 41.

[38] Jonathan Klawans, “Sacrifice in Ancient Israel: Pure Bodies, Domesticated Animals, and the Divine Shepherd,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 66.

[39] David Fraser, “Caring for Farm Animals: Pastoralist Ideals in an Industrialized World,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 548.

[40] Klawans, “Sacrifice in Ancient Israel,” 67.

[41] Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, xxviii.

[42] David J. Wolfson and Mariann Sullivan, “Foxes in the Hen House – Animals, Agribusiness, and the Law: A Modern American Fable,” in Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, eds. Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 206.

[43] Dan Cohn-Sherbok, “Hope for the Animal Kingdom: A Jewish Vision,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 83.

[44] Cohn-Sherbok, “Hope for the Animal Kingdom,” 85.

[45] Ronald L. Androphy, “Shechitah,” in Judaism and Animal Rights, ed. Roberta Kalechofsky (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1992), 76.

[46] Becca Tarnas, “Of Blood and Stars,” essay for Hill of the Hawk course, October 24, 2012, 4.

[47] Roberta Kalechofsky, “Hierarchy, Kinship, and Responsibility: The Jewish Relationship to the Animal World,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 97.

[48] Klawans, “Sacrifice in Ancient Israel,” 73.

[49] Ibid, 74.

[50] Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 295.

[51] Haraway, When Species Meet, 36.

[52] Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 146.

[53] Haraway, When Species Meet, 17.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Val Plumwood, “Being Prey,” in The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Nova, eds. David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).

[56] Haraway, When Species Meet, 81.

[57] Gary Snyder, “Grace,” Co-Evolution Quarterly, 43 (Fall 1984): I.

[58] John Findlay, “The Logical Peculiarities of Neoplatonism,” in The Structure of Being: A Neoplatonic Approach, ed. R. Baine Harris (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1982), 1.

Campaign for Farm Service: Empower You(th), Feed A Nation

When I was eighteen years old my life was changed by a profound yet simple experience: I learned how to grow my own food. Working on a biodynamic farm in Northern California I learned how to build healthy compost piles, prepare beds for planting, nurture lettuce, garlic, cucumbers, melons, and an abundance of other crops until they ripened to maturity, to prune and train tomato plants to maximize their fullest succulent potential, to feed and care for cows who produce milk, sheep who produce wool, chickens who produce eggs, and draft horses who worked the land with us. Perhaps most importantly I learned how to work hard in the hot sun over long days, and to take responsibility for my own ecological footprint upon this planet.

Lettuce
Photo by Becca Tarnas.

The majority of food grown in the United States is not produced in the manner I have described above. The current food production system is dominated by industrialized commercial agriculture, which produces a small number of crops on large tracts of land cultivated as monocultures, fertilized with petroleum-based nitrogen fertilizers, and continuously sprayed with deadly chemical pesticides and herbicides. The bulk of these uniformly-produced crops are distributed by a minimal number of multi-national corporations. Both the number of farms and the number of corporations are rapidly decreasing as all aspects of the food system are consolidated into a few large organizations. When few corporations are allowed to amass such a monopoly on trade, smaller scale producers, such as the farmers with whom I worked, can no longer compete in the market, and consumers are given less choice in what kinds of food they can purchase.

Over the last half century the number of farmers has decreased while the size of farms has increased. In the 1960s, government policies pushed for fewer farmers working larger tracts of land because technological advances in farming equipment could make farms more efficient than human labor alone.[1] As of 1997, 61% of agricultural products grown in the United States were produced on only 163,000 farms. Of these farms 63% were contracted to larger corporations which processed and distributed their products.[2] Today the number of farms is continuing to decrease because the same policies have been pushing for greater economic efficiency on farms. The current U.S. farm system, which is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, could not survive if it were not for the support of government policies.[3] Changing government policy in regards to food production is key to decentralizing and reforming the system to make it more sustainable and resilient for both the land and its farmers.

The governing laws, policies, and world view of the United States is oriented entirely toward the health and well-being of the economy, not the ecosystems or even the human population who give the nation its substance and meaning. If the United States, along with the rest of Earth’s nations, is to survive the current ecological crises—climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, desertification, pollution, biodiversity loss, mass extinction, and a host of other issues—policies will have to be changed to recognize not only human and corporate rights, but rights that acknowledge the entirety of the Earth community as well. Such a shift to Earth-based governance is recognized as Earth Law or Earth Jurisprudence, a movement inspired by the work of the geologian Thomas Berry, and promoted by Cormac Cullinan,[4] Linda Sheehan, and others involved with the Earth Law Center.[5] Earth Law is slowly entering the legal world through the discussion of Earth Rights, and the writing of such historical documents as the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, released on Earth Day in 2010.[6] The Earth-centric perspective inherent to Earth Law gives ecosystems the right to be healthy, which translates to the right to exist, persist, and sustain itself. The importance of recognizing the rights of “Earth Others,” as the ecofeminist Val Plumwood calls nonhuman beings of the Earth community, is to begin to move away from the anthropocentric perspective that is currently degrading the health of our planet.[7] Currently all of our laws serve, first and foremost, human interests.

Food is a particularly compelling issue on which to focus because it is a symbol and daily reminder of our dependence upon a healthy Earth. The food we put into our bodies is comprised entirely of other species, whether plant, fungus, or animal, and is nourished by the complex interactions of solar radiation, the hydrologic cycle, bacteria, minerals, insects, and many other factors. The quality of our food determines the quality of our health, and in the long run our ability to survive. In terms of Earth Law and questions of the rights of Earth Others, how might food be produced if the plants, animals, soils, and waters on which we depend each had their own right to health? What if agricultural land had rights? For example, the right of soil not to be eroded, of aquifers and ground water not to be depleted and contaminated, or of land to be free of contamination by pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? What if human beings were given the right to always have access to healthy, uncontaminated food with higher nutritional value?

There are many different ways these issues might be addressed, but it seems that implementing some kind of shift to universal production of organic agriculture would be necessary in order to grant the right of health to agricultural land, and the right for human beings to have access to clean food. Organic agriculture can be a sustainable endeavor when it is designed to mimic a natural ecosystem on a small scale.[8] Examples of such biomimicry techniques include animal husbandry—using composted animal manure to fertilize fields—and intercropping—in which multiple plant species are grown together in harmonious symbiotic relationship—among many other practices employed on organic and biodynamic farms. Usually the costs of transitioning to organic production, and of acquiring organic or biodynamic certification status, are born by the producer, which can be a barrier for many small-scale farmers and open the door for large corporations to come in and take over the organic niche market.[9] Scale is an important factor because the larger the farm the less likely it is that the farm will be able to maintain ethical and sustainable practices in the long term. Land cannot be cared for if efficiency is the bottom line, and large-scale farming production tend to prioritize short-term efficiency over long-term attention and care.

In a world governed by these ideals of capitalist efficiency, the initial costs of converting a conventional farm to organic production can be quite high and discourage farmers from changing. One major drawback to organic agriculture is the need for more human labor if the practice is to be sustainable. Organic farms that try to remain competitive in a corporate market usually rely on machines to till large tracts of land and suppress weed growth.[10] To decrease fossil fuel use and implement sustainable practices, farmers would either have to pay their workers a higher salary for more labor or employ more farm hands, both of which would be a high increase in expenditure.

Tomatoes
Photo by Becca Tarnas.

Unavailability of arable land is another obstacle to organic farming, but this can partially be overcome with the use of urban plots and green roofing on city buildings. Green roofing is a method of covering the roofs of urban buildings with gardens. It is a simple and effective idea that keeps cities cooler in summer by converting much of the cities’ carbon dioxide emissions back into oxygen, and helping clean the air of other pollutants. The gardens also contribute to the food consumed by urban dwellers, which otherwise would have to be transported across the country. Green roofing would cut transportation costs and energy usage.[11]

Food is essential to all human beings in a way that no other commodity is. Therefore, reconnecting people to food production is vital to changing attitudes toward farmers and the cost of food. In order to overcome the shortage of farm workers necessary to convert conventional industrialized farms to organic agriculture, I am proposing a required civil service system that could be implemented in the United States for all young people when they graduate from high school. This plan is not dissimilar to European civil service policies, called Zivildienst, in such countries as Germany and Austria, where conscientious objectors to the required military service can opt to do community service instead. Such a solution is radical and would require a fundamental change in values, but it could also bring about the kind of change needed to fix the food system in the United States.

Under this policy, when a U.S. citizen turns eighteen she or he would be required to submit a form demonstrating eligibility for farm service. She or he would work either on a farm in a rural area, or on a green roof plot in a city. On the service form citizens would indicate their future plans, such as whether they would be attending college or university, or working at a job outside of their farm work. They would also be able to show preference for an urban or rural working environment. Distribution would be based on state, so that people would not have to be taken far from their families. If someone wished to work out of state that could also be arranged.

Each citizen would serve the equivalent of at least two years, with the time distributed according to one’s school and work schedules. A person could work full-time on a farm project and complete his or her required service in two years. Those who chose this method would receive a salary based on the income of an average job in their living area. This money would be provided by the government from the funds currently spent on crop and fossil fuel subsidies. If the farm workers already had employment to which they would be returning after their service was complete, they might also opt to be on a sabbatical salary at those jobs to secure their positions.

A part-time arrangement could be made for those currently holding half-time civilian jobs, so that they would not need to leave their work positions. On the other hand, full-time students would be able to work every summer for four years, or every other summer for eight. Those who chose to work in a rural area would usually work full-time, whereas those working in urban areas could work either full or part-time depending on their preferences and skills. If a person wished, he or she could serve one year and then spend their second year training new farm hands. After two years, those who wished to continue farming could do so on a full-time salary.

Living arrangements would be made according to each person’s lifestyle, work, familial situation, and marital status. Those who farmed in a rural area would live on or near the farms. Those who farmed in the city would have the option of living anywhere in or near that city. If possible, it could be arranged for workers to live in the building under their allotted green roof. Persons or families who have houses with green roofs or personal vegetable gardens could have the possibility of exemption from the farm service if they fulfilled a certain quota of food production.

According to Lewis Mumford, the benefits of smaller-scale agriculture, in the hands of more people, brings diversity and stability:

The small scale method of production, resting mainly on human skill . . . [while] remaining under active direction of the craftsman or farmer, each group developing its own gifts, through appropriate arts and social ceremonies, as well as making discreet use of wide diffusion and its modest demands . . . [These methods have] great powers of adaptation and recuperation.[12]

An increase in gardens and workers would make U.S. cities into partially self-contained ecosystems able to provide much of their own food. A larger proportion of the carbon dioxide and pollution in city air would be converted to oxygen or decreased, and more green spaces would be available for citizens to enjoy. Furthermore, the universal availability of organic produce would start to make the overall population healthier, and undermine the corporate control of the majority of our current food system. The generations of young farm workers would be given the same opportunity I was at age eighteen, of learning to use the skills of my body, mind, and heart in service of the Earth and a healthier humanity, connecting not only with plants and animals, but with soil, water, and weather as well.

Corn
Photo by Becca Tarnas.

A number of changes such as these over the next few decades could make the United States a country with partially self-sustaining cities and small-scale rural farms that produce organic food that is both less expensive and safer to eat. This plan would not be easy to implement within the current world system, and would have to be adjusted in many ways to fit the diversity of this country. However, major, radical changes do need to be made to change the practices of food production and the education of most citizens in regards to their food. I believe that the education provided to youth by working on farms will begin to foster a more Earth-centric world view that will help nurture in young individuals the love of our planet so greatly needed at this time.

Currently there are no policies in motion to introduce a plan such as this in the United States. However, it possible to begin to implement it on a smaller scale to test out how it works in certain areas. The San Francisco Bay Area might be an ideal location in which to attempt such an experiment, not only because the Northern California climate is ideal for growing many kinds of produce but also because San Francisco has been called “the place where new ideas meet the least amount of resistance.”[13] Furthermore, several organizations in the Bay Area are already doing work in this field, and likely would be open to experimenting with such a program: for example, the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point, a project of Literacy for Environmental Justice,[14] or the Food First organization in Oakland.[15] At a different level, the farm service proposal could supplement the work already being done by such programs as Americore or Teach for America. The slogan for such a campaign could possibly be “Empower You(th), Feed A Nation!”

Ultimately, the goal of instituting a youth farm service program would be to change the way Americans are interacting with the Earth. Food is an issue that affects every single person, indeed every organism, and indicates the interconnection between all beings on planet Earth. Introducing every young person in a country to the means by which their nourishment is created would empower them to be self-sustaining and to know that their survival is in their own hands. The education provided by such a program could literally be life-saving. But it would also foster a care for other species, for the plants and animals with which these youth would interact daily for at least two years. Learning to farm would also fundamentally change the human relationship to waste, teaching that there is no such place as “away” to which waste can be thrown. Rather it would bring ideas such as composting and reuse into the everyday rhythm of life. After a few generations of such a program I can imagine that the policies passed by the adults who have learned to grow their own food would be far more Earth-centered than our current policies today.

Biodynamic Produce
Photo by Becca Tarnas.

 

Works Cited

Cullinan, Cormac. Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011.

Earth Law Center. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://earthlawcenter.org/.

“Food First.” Accessed May 8, 2014. http://foodfirst.org/.

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. “Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth.” Accessed May 8, 2014. http://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. “Green Roof Benefits.” Accessed May 8, 2014. http://www.greenroofs.org/index.php/about/greenroofbenefits.

Kirschenmann, Frederick. “The Current State of Agriculture.” In The Essential Agrarian Reader, edited by Norman Wirzba, 101-119. Washington D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004.

Literacy for Environmental Justice. “EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park.” Accessed May 8, 2014. http://ecocenterheronshead.blogspot.com/.

Newsham, Brad. “The Spiritual Center of the Earth.” SF Gate, November 23, 1999. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/The-Spiritual-Center-Of-the-Earth-2894518.php.

Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: The Penguin Press, 2006.

Raynolds, Laura. “Organic and Fair Trade Movements in the Global Food Networks.” In Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System. Edited by Stephanie Barrientos & Catherine Dolan, 49-61. Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2006.

 

 

[1] Frederick Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” in The Essential Agrarian Reader, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004), 101.

[2] Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” 102.

[3] Ibid, 117.

[4] Cormac Cullinan, Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011).

[5] “Earth Law Center, accessed May 8, 2014, http://earthlawcenter.org/.

[6] “Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth,” Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, accessed May 8, 2014, http://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/.

[7] Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 146.

[8] Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” 113.

[9] Laura Raynolds, “Organic and Fair Trade Movements in the Global Food Networks,” in Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System, ed. Stephanie Barrientos & Catherine Dolan (Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2006), 52, 57.

[10] Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 159-60.

[11] “Green Roof Benefits,” Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, accessed May 8, 2014, http://www.greenroofs.org/index.php/about/greenroofbenefits.

[12] Lewis Mumford, qtd. in Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” 108.

[13] Brad Newsham, “The Spiritual Center of the Earth,” SF Gate, November 23, 1999, accessed May 8, 2014, http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/The-Spiritual-Center-Of-the-Earth-2894518.php.

[14] “EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park,” Literacy for Environmental Justice, accessed May 8, 2014, http://ecocenterheronshead.blogspot.com/.

[15] “Food First,” accessed May 8, 2014, http://foodfirst.org/.