All that’s left to ask our farmers: ‘are you growing food or commodities?

All that’s left to ask our cooks: ‘are you cooking for love or profit?’ 

It’s an exciting time to be alive. For some, life seems limitless. With enough funds, one can go around the world in 48 hours. Restaurant hop your way through Europe, slide around street food Asia, still your appetite in the Americas. If that sounds like too much effort, you can get the whole circus to come your way, by simply visiting your local supermarket. I’m sure our grandparents were beaming with excitement over the introduction of the first paprika, the new generation is increasingly harder to impress.

Just as we’re getting used to eating anything we want, that very culinary luxury is under serious threat. With our oceans estimated to be empty only a few decades from now, our soils have 100 harvests left in them and climate change getting more and more personal, we now ask ourselves the question ‘how will we feed the world over the years to come?’

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Students of New Earth School learning about soil health

How did this happen? Why does a species which has been enjoying seafood for thousands of years all of a sudden worry about empty oceans? Why are more and more people becoming allergic to our daily bread, the very life force that allowed us to thrive? What happened to the crusty gold which we ripped up in pieces to keep our families together?

Part of the answer is found in the industrialization of our food production, which has gradually happened ever since we evolved from hunter-gatherers into agriculturalists. It took a serious turn when steam and coal engines were added to the formula. It took a major leap after World War 2, when machinery, heavy chemical usage, and genetic alteration of crops became fuel for the grand feast, the unimaginable scale on which food is produced by a handful of determined players. The oil, pharmaceutical and biochemical industries are fuelling the trail of industrial-sized farms, factories, supermarkets and fast food outlets that please the majority of the modern-day appetite. At what cost?

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Sharing food forest abundance at New Earth Cooking School

Sustainability

One major factor is overlooked in the capitalistic quest for ongoing growth. The flip side of the coin, death and deconstruction. Look at a forest, in the view of mainstream business, failure is happening all the time. Leaves are dropping, plants are dying, flowers are wilting, everything that once came from the soil returns there shortly after.

Because things die and wither in a forest, humans never need to interfere with a plough and buckets of fertilizer. A healthy forest is self-regulating, abundant and ever-expanding. It thrives by dying, at least from a human perspective. One could argue that nothing dies, only life takes place, expressed in various forms. Slowing down in order to grow, economists find this hard to grasp.

External input doesn’t make sense to one forest because one would have to ‘steal’ from another forest. Harmony is what’s needed. All species support each other from there. The key to the survival of the human race is for us to realize our place in nature, rather than trying to put nature in its place. Every cell in our body wants to thrive on this planet. It’s time for our minds to catch up with this reality. Harmonize. Or die.

Patching up the problems

Malnutrition came to Africa when the balance was removed. Cattle were introduced and the medicinal plants on which tribes relied for their thriving disappeared. Most of the beef destined for export to Western steak houses. Barbed wire fences to protect those cows captured and killed the local wildlife. Vital parts of a delicate ecosystem were disturbed, people lost touch with nature in favour of a dream of financial wealth and malnutrition is a result. This story has repeated itself in one form or another around the globe.

There are many other reasons why people die hungry on a planet of abundance. This article does not aim to identify or simplify the exact causes of this. Instead, it illustrates how many efforts to combat the problems of our modern system fail because the system itself is the problem. Or perhaps more correctly, the greedy and destructive mindset which paves the way for such a system to exist.

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Input vs Output

Mono crops by default disregard the natural will of nature, hence nature puts up resistance. Through violent use of chemicals, machinery and regular ploughing we can temporarily win the war.

An example. Forest is cleared to grow enormous fields of corn. Grasshoppers come and destroy the fields. The grasshoppers are not the problem. They are there to eradicate a crop that is a threat to the eco system. Excessive forest clearing is the problem. ‘Pests’ are agents of re-balance, they may come to make way for trees so the birds have a place to live. The birds eventually will re-balance the numbers of slugs and insects. What we call ‘weeds’ are helpful plants which nourish the tired soils with nutrients and minerals.

‘Pests’ are no threat to humanity as such. Nature wants humans to thrive if we give her a chance. One reason we don’t understand this is because most farmers have stopped viewing their produce as food. It has become a commodity, a simple calculating of input and output aimed at a financial, not nutritional surplus. Humanity does not thrive in such a system. Because of soil degradation, higher inputs are needed every year, the only ones profiting are the companies who supply such goods. Although ultimately they don’t profit either, despite their financial wealth and power they are in dire need of clean water and nutritious food themselves.

Mono crop systems have never proven to supply us with more food per hectare in the long run. Small scale, mixed produce organic farms and so-called ‘perma-culture’ operations are generally more productive, with a lower input and little or no negative impact on the environment. Produce grown in rich soil without the aid of chemicals is far superior in terms of taste and nutritional value.

Even traditional mono-crop farming is more productive. Take rice farming in South East Asia for example. The introduction of hybrid rice and chemical fertilizers temporarily lifted the production, until soils became depleted. It sadly also reduced the ‘by-products’ of the rice fields, the delicacies on which the peasants who work these lands would thrive. Dragonflies, eels, frogs, water spinach and many other species reduced or disappeared because of heavy chemical usage. Those aspects are never included in calculations. Many farmers now want to convert back to organic farming yet struggle as the degradation of their land forces them to apply artificial chemicals.

So where to go from here? Wait for government legislation to support organic farming and ban unsustainable practice? Slowly this is happening, but you are the one you’ve been waiting for. Consumer demand drives the market. Awareness is the key.

Remember, you vote with every bite. Make sure you vote well. For support on your journey, browse www.newearthcooking.com.

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