Humans overcomplicate everything. Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than with food and diet. To hear the experts talk about it, you’d think we humans invented the entire food system in the past 100 years and that our continued existence is a mere fluke.
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What we ignore in both cases is the idea of regeneration. The earth knows how to grow food without our intervention. Likewise, our bodies, using the sound scientific principle of homeostasis, learn how to adapt to keep us alive. The fact that both animals and plants are eventually destined to die does not make cheating death our life’s goal.
It is by looking at our food and our bodies as inherently flawed systems that we become satisfied with side effects induced by chemical assaults. We say, “Sure, I have heart disease, but at least I didn’t get the flu this year!” and similarly willfully ignorant statements.
This is the same as the current push to remove grazing animals from the land due to an abundance of free fertilizer, while ignoring the elephant in the room — expensive damaging industrial fertilizers which account for 50% of the fertilizer runoff poisoning everything! As former vegan Lierre Keith discusses in her brilliant book, The Vegetarian Myth, the earth will heal itself and produce food, if we simply get out of its way. In our interview, she notes that after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of the mid-1980s, only a handful of grandmas stayed in the area, growing small gardens to feed themselves. Everyone else left. Within two decades, not only forests, but wolves returned too.
This week in the garden, I began listening to Mark Shepard’s book, Restoration Agriculture. Published in 2013, this book lays out the route to a hands-off system of permaculture the way earlier humans learned to live harmoniously with their environment. Instead of the labor-intensive, back-breaking work of raising annual crops, Shepard provides us with a logical plan to establish food forests that will feed us for generations whether or not we tend to them. As one of my mentors used to say — Food is free in the forest.
YouTube simultaneously began promoting the video below. I half-expected it to be similar to another documentary about the Americas before Columbus. Instead, it contains a lot of information about how the indigenous tribes on the North American continent learned to live in or establish similar agroforestry systems alongside growing annual crops such as corn.
To some extent, this shift in agriculture may require changes in what we eat. If you now eat coconut, kale and avocados, but didn’t 20 years ago, you’re no stranger to this kind of change. So we’re gonna have to just suck it up and use perennial hazelnuts instead of annual soybeans to make tofu — if you eat that.
Indigenous peoples the world over rarely, if ever, starved, as they had systems of food preservation and autonomy to hedge against years with suboptimal growing conditions. It was only when colonial powers drove them off their land, established artificial planting systems and forcing them to buy food, that feeding people became a problem.
Retrogressive Agricultural Policies
In Oneness vs. the 1% (another great listen), author Vandana Shiva outlines how agricultural policies in India, which dictate the use of expensive industrialized chemicals amongst other environmental horrors, have led to widespread starvation, impoverished Indians and farmer suicides. Yet this is precisely the type of policy being proposed throughout the rest of the world. Expanding failed policies that kill off biodiversity, while making more factory food hardly seems like the right course of action, if the objective is to help people and clean up the environment.
Sri Lanka recently made headlines worldwide after claims that a sudden ban on chemical fertilizers halved the production of rice — a staple food there. To a soil farmer, it is obvious that people using synthetic fertilizers couldn’t simply stop using them with the same results because the soil in question was too dead to support life. The factory inputs would’ve stopped working soon anyway, as they always do.
Synthetic fertilizers are like the Tammy Faye Baker (yes, I’m old enough to remember!) of the gardening world, focused on covering up the end result of poor nutrition in the soil. Soil is the foundation that will make plants flourish, just as a healthy gut is the foundation that keeps you from getting colds and flu. As for Tammy Faye, let’s face it. If she had great skin — a sign of a healthy gut, she would never have thought that much sloppily applied make up to be an improvement.
Most large scale organic growers unfortunately use the same flawed thinking as chemical growers. Besides the fact that those inputs are expensive, they also solely look at end results and employ strategies focused on killing pests instead of establishing balance.
Healthy Soil and Food Security
Both Shepard and Shiva stress the importance of healthy soil to grow healthy plants. While Shiva focuses on annual crops such as pulses and grains to which we have become accustomed as staple foods, Shepard encourages us to accommodate perennial plants that once established will continue to feed generations to come with little to no interference from humans.
You can get started with building healthy soil by checking out my old podcast episodes with [Chris Trump, Will Harris, André Leu and other organic/Savory network growers]. Also check back periodically as I post new articles about my little operation here. Isn’t it time we end this economy of extraction in favor of one that works in harmony with the ecosystem?
We can either reestablish what has been known to work the world over for millennia, or we can double down on what has brought us illness and misery for generations. The choice is ours. What do you choose?