4 February 2013

Yikes! It has been three days since I’ve written. I’ll blame it on my continuing struggle to get settled into my new home and working second shift.

“The other day I wrote about climate change and the way we grow our food. I critiqued the organic movement’s focus on growing food, and suggested that they focus on the question of climate change as a political problem. Diana Donlon, director of the Cool Foods Campaign, recently wrote a piece for The Atlantic about how one should eat in order to minimize his or her impact on climate change. The Cool Foods Campaign is a repository for conventional organic wisdom. Everything is wrong with the current food system and organic is the obvious solution, if only corporations would get out of our way.

Dolon begins her piece by pointing out the obvious, but important connection between growing food and climate. She quotes the National Climate Assement’s report on how changing climate will affect agriculture. It follows from this, then, that taking steps to decrease greenhouse gas emissions is essential to maintain a stable food system. So far, her argument is solid.

It is when she moves on to her critique of industrial agriculture that things start to go awry. She quotes Bill McKibben who says that industrializes agriculture marinates our food in crude oil. She goes on to conclude herself that at every step industrial food relies on climate changing fossil fuels. This is true as far as it goes, but also true of organic food. Basically anything that requires energy is using fossil fuels.

She then moves on to why organic food is better. She cites several reasons. First, she makes the unsubstantiated claim that, “sustainable farming methods emit less greenhouse gas overall.” Second, sustainable farming methods sequester carbon. Third, organic farming does not use nitrogen fertilizer, which emits nitrous oxide. All of her points are true as far as they go, but the argument rests on the same straw man argument that gets drug out so often to prove the faults of industrial agriculture.

It seems that few in the organic movement have gone much further than the documentary Food, Inc. to investigate the problems of our current food system. Food, Inc. takes Eric Schlosser’s thesis from Fast Food Nation and weaves it in with Michael Pollan’s foodie evangelism. The portrait of our food system that comes out of Food, Inc. is one of mono-culture soy and corn going to feed chickens and beef animals for the fast food system. The alternative offered is small scale organic food.

Dolon falls into the Food, Inc. trap. After explaining how a biodynamic farm is growing food in a sustainable way, she confirms its superiority to industrial mono-cropping. It is perfectly clear that mono-culture corn going to feed beef animals for McDonalds hamburgers is a travesty. It is not however the only way to eat. It is one way that an unfortunate number of Americans choose to eat.
Changing the way someone eats is a great deal more difficult than changing how their food is grown. Rather than romanticizing biodynamic farming, Dolon could have written a piece calling for Americans to switch to fresh healthy foods, rather than processed fast foods. Indeed, her organization’s website suggests just that.

Dolon proves the point that the organic movement focuses far too much on how we grow food. In the short to medium term, it is more important to turn away from mono-culture than it is to turn towards biodynamic farming. Growing less corn and more vegetables is a reasonable goal, and one that can be achieved within the current system.”



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