Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don't Criticize the Farmer With Food In Your Mouth

This month at Green Gulch it is food awareness month.  We have events like:
  • A harvest dinner prepared by the farmers and gardeners including a lot of stuff we grow (beet burgers, baked fries, apple pies, cole slaw),
  • An apple tasting to sample our 15 varieties of apples (have you heard of Mrs. Bramley? a premier cooking apple), 
  • Fun food facts every day at our work circle (did you know orange carrots are a more recent invention? Historically they were lots of colors and our current orange ones are a blend of the red and white strains)
  • Movies like Food Inc. and The Garden
We have also had a variety of talks and discussions about food and its place in our lives.  This is an issue that is very close to home for us residents of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.  Our discussions after the TED talked (linked below) touched on many things.  For example, what Green Gulch can do to participate in taking care of the planet.  And in particular, what is our responsibility given our large presence in the northern California organic farm movement?  We asked ourselves "are we doing enough?"  We are doing our part to take care of this land.  We host school groups and a 6 month apprenticeship each year.  We buy only organic food.  But we also have common issues.  Like, we sell a large percentage of our food to restaurants and at market rather than to our own kitchen.  We can make more money selling the food to the public.  What is wrong with this picture?  What kind of example are we setting when we sell our food to other people and then buy cheaper organic produce through a wholesaler?  If it seems that the world is suffering from a food and environmental crisis, should we be practicing more sustainable, closed loop farming?  Of course it is not so simple.  We are a Buddhist training center that needs a lot of staff and short term help to run.  There are stipends, health insurance and of course building upkeep and before you know it the budget is in the millions of dollars.  As we noted, this is a microcosm of exactly what the entire world is dealing with.  

But these are the questions we ask: how do we protect the planet and try to feed everyone?  Is food science the answer (GMOs yikes!)?  Can we ever feed everyone?  Do we already have enough food to feed everyone but there's an economic/social/political problem that favors a few over the many?  What do we do about the heartbreaking amount of food wasted every day in the United States?  Why don't people care? Do people care?  Who or what creatures are most deserving of our moral and ethical efforts?  Are patriarchy and racism involved?  How does no one see the link between immigration policy and the produce that comes to our table (just in case you're not sure, much of our food is still harvested by illegal immigrants)?

Maybe I'll stop here for now while I continue to ponder.  Below are some good reads from recent mainstream publications.

Follow up reading*:
  1. Edible Marin did an article about us as a farm and place of spiritual practice.  
  2. This article in The Atlantic "How Junk Food Can End Obesity" discussed the issues of obesity, conventional food, techno food, and popular conceptions about eating organic and local among many other related topics.  It was very difficult to read the article when it challenges some of the most basic tenets I hold in my heart in regards to food and its nutritional and environmental value. But maybe I have to open my eyes wider?
  3. This article was in the New York Times Magazine "Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest".  I have to commend it's originality to propose a contest such as this, something that would touch a wide audience.  They asked readers to submit essays in regards to the ethics of eating meat.  They had a panel of "judges" to pick the best essay, which was then published.  There are also some great responses questioning things like the all white male judges panel to the moral judgement included in the proposal.
  4. This video from TED, called The Other Inconvenient Truth was used as a discussion starting point.  It is similar in a way to the Atlantic article in that it approaches the food crisis from a fundamentally different perspective than many organic farmers.  It is a good summary of the serious threat to and by agriculture on the ability of humans and the planet to survive.  His "factual" statements are questionable.
* Please note that very often published material is delivered in a provocative way (ie. that will piss a fair number of people off) or attach big names in order to garner readers.  So there is often a conflict of interest and ethics in how and what material is presented. 

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