Saving the world is supposed to be difficult. Lessening our impact on the planet, painful. A bike ride up a hill towing two boys and a week's worth of groceries. Turning compost with a too small shovel as soldier flies swarm your face. Emptying a lukewarm bath, bucket by sloshing bucket, onto a dead front lawn.
Fighting global warming is not supposed to be pleasurable. It is not supposed to feel like the sun on your cheeks as you wander through the brimming stalls of a farmers' market. It shouldn't taste like a just picked cherry tomatoe or offer the peace of homemade soup bubbling on the stove as autumn's chill creeps in.
Eating locally was one of the first steps I took toward lighter living. It was the easiest. I first "went green" in California's spring time. It was the most enjoyable. It took me a full year to liken hanging laundry to meditation but only one visit to the farmers' market to revel in the bounty, the flavor, the connection. Because voting with my fork has always been so wonderful, it never really felt like an environmental act. It never seemed like it could make a true difference. But after two sessions at Slow Food Nation, my green superhero costume is changing. I'm ready to toss the cape for the plate.
I attended two Food For Thought Sessions. The first, Building a New Food System: Policy and Planning, featured Andrew Kimbrell (an amazing speaker, founder of the Center for Food Safety and editor of Fatal Harvest), Marion Nestle (NYU Professor on Nutrition, Food Safety and Public Health and author of What to Eat), Paula Jones (Director of San Francisco Food Systems) and A.G. Kawamura (of aerial pesticide spraying fame and the Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture). The second session, Re-Localizing Food, featured Michael Pollan (like he needs an introduction!), Dan Barber (Director of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture), Winona La Duke (Native American activist, Vice Presidential candidate under Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000), and Gary Nabhan (founder of Renewing America's Food Traditions and author of Coming Home to Eat).
Here are some of the things I learned:
We could sequester up to 40% of current carbon emissions by transitioning the world to organic agriculture, which makes use of compost and cover crops.
30% of global warming is attributable to industrial agriculture. (Kimbrell)
Only 5% of health care dollars in this country are allocated to preventative measures. (Kawamura)
National security advisors have long urged that we decentralize the food supply which is exquisitely vulnerable to terrorists. Local food systems are the answer. (Pollan)
An official in the United States Department of Agriculture opined that we should grow no food in the United States. Our land, this person thought, should only be used for homes and recreation and our food should be grown in third world countries because it is more economical. (Nestle)
Although 90% of people want labels for genetically modified foods, it is simply out of the realm of possibility due to corporate influence. Without labeling, for GMO, organic, humane, fair trade, though we cannot know what we are buying and therefore cannot vote with our forks. (Kimbrell)
Andrew Kimbrell challenged us to become "paradigm warriors". He relayed a story told by a Native American chief. Native American women were sitting by the river working when a baby floated down. They rushed in and rescued it. Shortly thereafter, the river brought two more babies by and they, too, were promptly rescued. This continued with ever increasing numbers of infants bobbing down the river. Instead of simply pulling babies out of the river, though, the women needed to find out who was throwing them in. The story reflects our current ecological predicament. We need to stop the bleeding but also get to the root of the problem. Kimbrell presented a choice - between the industrial paradigm or an ecological one. One that asks the question: what is the true carrying capacity of the Earth? what is the real environmental bottom line?
The panelists were as concerned with losing farm land as with losing the knowledge base behind farming - which can disappear in a single generation. We need to get youth enthused about farming if we are going to have a long term impact.
To adapt to climate change, we must preserve diversity, which is where old heirloom varieties come in. Dan Barber told of being sent corn seeds from a variety once grown by Native Americans many many years ago. It is a strain no longer grown on the continent. Dan reluctantly planted the corn seeds - in a traditional Native American three sisters garden. 100% of the seeds germinated. The crop resisted disease, rot and pests and produced the most delicious corn he had ever eaten. Heirloom varieties evolved over time to adapt to a particular place, to withstand local pests and disease. When we plant in our own gardens, we should reach for the oldest variety possible.
Three hours of sitting in a too hot, too crowded theater taught me a few more things. I haven't read enough books on the food system by a long shot (and I've read alot). The fork is a mighty powerful utensil. And a superhero's job is never done. I've got a locally baked baguette smeared with farmers' market cheese and homemade strawberry hot pepper jam to devour right now. I'm just doing my environmental duty.
Kindly hand me my plate . . .