Omnivore's Dilemma...Discussed Yet?
Location: Washington, Puget Sound Corridor
Posted: Aug-14-2007 at 11:11am
Has "The Omnivore's Dilema" By Michael Pollan been discussed? I just read it cover to cover in two days. I could not put it down. I have now found myself in the "stream of (gardening-landscaping) history." I grew up in a family that shared the same beliefs as the "hero" of the book, the sustainable farmer. I did not fully appreciate this until now.
Wow what an incredible book. Okay, I dropped out of the Pierce County Master Gardeners Program because one of the Vetran MG's put weed and feed all over the garden. (I was taken aside privately by Vetran MG's who told me that originally much of the area where the demo garden is located was so toxic due to chemicals...nothing would grow there.) My protest was met quietly with respect from the older "organic" gardeners (none of whom protested) and with disdain and almost hatred from the status quo gardeners. I do not really seem myself as a protestor or a radical but a mom who is concern about our children's health, and a frumpy middle aged woman who is terribly concerned about getting breast cancer like many of my friends have. The thing that these stubborn Master Gardeners do not understand...the Weed and Feed is just the "tip" of the iceberg (or lack there of now...)as far as pesticides and herbacides are concerned we eat them every day in our food supply. Pollan in fact does not really talk about Weed and Feed but he does show how much "lawn" we have in supply as opposed to farmland, and our lawns are contaiminated and so are the farms.
I was very perplexed by the Weed and Feed going on the Demo garden (and the MG's defense of it -- one of them is a water shed guy) because I had been educated by Master Gardeners in King County, Rainyside Gardeners, (for years) and doing my own research over the years and watching my own family farm. The text we were given in the 2007 class said "Sustainable" on it. I wanted to be a Master Gardener to basically spread the word of environmental health and safety in our home landscaping if not just for us for our children who are suffering from record numbers of nutritional and environmental ailments in my opinion stemming from food sources that are contaiminated to environments that are toxic (and I include t.v. and video in this)
So I was VERY shocked by the Weed and Feed incident and then I was shamed by fellow MG's for being outspoken about it. I really went through a weird time. The death of a friend put the lid on my "happy camper, all is well with the world" attitude. In the past few weeks I have travelled all over going to organic farms, talking to fellow MG's in different counties and thinking about things in a new ways. Namely what do I really believe? Why did the Weed and Feed incident upset me to the point of an identity crisis? This book explains the gaps in my education and I am sorry to all of you, all of you who have perservered to spread the word of sustainability over the years for being a coward and of not standing up even more forcefully.
As a parent I have compromised so many times so my son would fit it...giving in to McDonald's fast food, buying video games...planting lawn (and watering it) all for the purpose of trying to fit in to "main stream" America, or what has become our culture. Reading this book has made me understand that counter, counter culture thinking is really due to the marketing machine that will persist in making a profit on Americans through chemicals, drugs industrialized farms and even through a war to support all of these above.
In our current system we need oil not just to run our cars but to survive on our nutritionally meager chemically enhanced diet. As things stand...we won't survive without oil but we also won't survive due to the global warming that comes with it. My family was not really counter culture, they were really supporting the American ideal of thrift and economy by protecting the land and water.
I really did not understand my family's passion until now. The heroic famer in this true story by the way is a Republican Christian. My family is made up of moderate democrat Catholics and Jews but our belief systems are pretty much the same as this farmer. "Take care of the land and each other and it will take care of you."
Organic gardening and landscaping is in essense a form of "Homeland Security." I am beginning to see those of us who stand up against routinely poisoning ourselves are in fact pretty damned patriotic. Who was I to go to the Epi-Center of Agricultural Research and say "no" to chemicals? After all it was probably these same researchers or their forefathers that convinced farmers and the public that using chemical fertilizers and the subsequent need for pesticides was a good thing, and in fact they were "good" in a certain way of thinking. They increased yields and the farmer's bought into it and so did the public. Their intentions all in the name of increasing food production.
However, looking at this now, with multi-national corporations, who control our food supply and farm policy, the high yield at the expense of the land and farmer is killing us. The problem is...the overall system is not in synch with the earth and the people it supports. I was opposed to Weed and Feed and chemicals because of the danger to my family, my friends and pets...now after reading this book I am opposed to it because I see it as an adjunct to the industrial farming system that has poisoned us and is failing to feed us nutritionally and we the taxpayer subsidize it. Pollan draws this out very clearly in his book.
I knew things were bad, and as a systems persons I could trace things, but Pollan's book spells things out in black and white...we are funding our own demise. I have been reluctant to stand up, partially due to the fear of retaliation, but also due to the real simple need of "wanting to fit in." Growing up as a kid...we were the "weird ones" eating brown bread and organic food. I joned the PCC Coop almost 30 years ago but when I sent my son to school here in Pierce County I still met so many people who thought we were strange for wanting to opt out" of fast food and safeway food and for not creating a lush lawn using chemical means.
I was absolutely floored by the Pierce County Master Gardener Training. It seemed so out of synch with what is going on in the world, our economy and simply what gardeners are about. (this is before I read Pollan's work.) The younger generation that can read and think are not going to be impressed with researchers who do not take a stand on their behalf. Of course the people I met at WSU are wonderful... there is a culture shift or rather a paradigm shift in progresss... it was very confusing to participate in this...but I did wonder "are they funded in part by chemical companies?" Why are they afraid not to really talk about things? Mary Robson did come and give a wonderful lecture but when the Weed and Feed incident came up the Vetran MG who did it said "Mary can go to hell." Why is Pierce County so different? Is it because of the proximity to the miltary bases?
Pollan does draw a direct line from war/chemicals to our current food supply. I recall discussing this on this very website... several years ago when I was a new mom. Sharing with Debtt my own experiences as a chemical gardener; shocked that we were using chemicals in our yards that came from Nazi Germany. (I am from a Jewish family...this horrified me) It was a Jewish researcher (who won the Nobel Prize) who according to Pollan changed the world of agriculture as we know it by discovering how to capture nitrogen during the first world war (as opposed to planting plants in the legume family which is less efficient) He really is a hero in some terms but due to helping the German War Machine (his wife committed suicide) he died isolated, penniless and alone his achievements not respected because of his associations. As we know research and morality sometimes do not go hand in hand.
In order to change things we have to educate ourselves and the public. We have to "change" our behavior. It starts with what we do in our homes and with our families and our gardens and our decisions as "consumers." This is an industrial term...we are no longer people. Dr. Craig Cogger whom I respect immensely, a noted soil scientist at WSU (spoke for a second on "philosophy") admitted in a public forum that he "knew very little about nutrition," again this was commentary that floored me.
I am not a scientist or even very smart...but I do know intuitively that nutrition comes from the soil and feeds the plant material and the animals that we eat and what we do with it. I got in trouble for talking to the "public" and making the statement "nutrition or lack of nutrition has a big impact on how our body deals with heavy metals and toxins." (I feel pretty confident talking about this having been trained as a Master Home Environmentalist, working for a nutrition company, reading and going through my own difficulties with mercury poisoning from my teeth. ((This was a lecture in Pierce County where we were being educated about the "arsenic in our garden soils" and what to do about it...I did not glean alot but namely get the hell away from it...which is a rather poor answer))
Michael Pollan's book while it does illustrate our confusion about the chemicals in our yards/farms is a very hopeful look at how we can change our behavior and make a difference. I get it, I really get it and I am not going to apologize for protesting. I just had no idea what I was doing...I am protesting on behalf of my child and all children; my friends with breast cancer...and for the loss of small farms and farmland and farmers connected to the earth; and clean simple living, and most of all for American Homeland Security, the thing is...at least in Pierce County these are the values that once the people here understand the big picture they will be the ones to most support it.
I hope in the future as we evolve due to necessity for our very survival that researchers can use holistic thinking as well as their "reductionist thinking" in tandem. The "organic" people that gave life to me probably had very few science classes but they understood "things are connected," "We are connected" and we are connected to the soil...why we are the soil. I think my new bumpersticker will say "Microbes For President"
Sorry this post is so long. It is just a major light bulb went on, and I hope everyone reads the book!
Location: Puget Sound corridor
Posted: Aug-14-2007 at 2:38pm
Gosh, SB, I think that's the longest post I've ever seen. I'm still trying to absorb everything you've said. I did just check the book out from the library because someone else here suggested it. I may have more to say once I've read the book
Location: Washington, Western Cascade Foothills
Posted: Aug-14-2007 at 2:45pm
Sunny, I did read this book, but I had come to similar conclusions about industrial agriculture long before that. Unfortunately, in corporate America, there is a vested interest in the status quo. After all, the chemical companies are major political donars, and cheap food keeps the masses quiet. In our household, we have made a committment to grow as much of our own food as possible, and to buy what we can't from local growers, and if we have to go further afield, it must be organic. This commitment actually ended our many years of vegetarian eating as we decided with our land, it made sense to raise some poultry for eggs, and by extension for meat. But I can feel good about the food we ate- we know exactly what went into producing it.
Location: Washington, Puget Sound Island
Posted: Aug-14-2007 at 5:07pm
Terry is exactly right - the change must come from us, and a good start is seeking out those local organic growers. My wife and I have been shopping at the food co-op in Mount Vernon for a good portion of our fresh produce for some time now. Not only do you get to buy from local growers there, but there is a sense (I know an old hippy when I see one) that most of the other people shopping here share your concern for the earth.
Location: Washington, Puget Sound Island
Posted: Aug-14-2007 at 6:44pm
We had a related discussion about this book in December of 2006 on the UBC forum that may be of interest:(Conversations & Chat - this section requires membership to access) http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=21605&highlight=omnivore%27s+dilema
Location: Oregon, Greater Portland Metro
Posted: Aug-15-2007 at 9:27am
Very interesting, SB. But I am a little confused how Michael Pollan's book changed your ideas. I know you already were dedicated to organic growing before. Why can't you be a scientist and still be an organic grower? I am. Science is, as one dictionary defines it, "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation". Isn't that what you are doing with your research?
I have always liked reading Michael Pollan's books. I'll have to check this one out.
Location: Washington, Puget Sound Corridor
Posted: Aug-16-2007 at 10:31am
Hi JeanneK, well, I was dedicated to the concepts of organic in the sense I was exposed to them but I think honestly for me I did not see the whole picture. I have shopped at the coops bought local farm foods, avoided chemicals, been criticized for being "weird" but unlike many people who truly understood what "Sustainable" means I had not connected all the dots until I was confronted with the MG who threw Weed and Feed down where kids were going to be. I had to truly face my own value system...my own inner self. Fit in or protest. It is a tough choice and trust me, I am a weanie.
I have thought I guess the two ways of behavior could exist side by side and now I see they really cannot. No I am not saying you cannot be a scientist and still be an organic grower/supporter. I am just saying that you cannot be a "reductionist" researcher and think that the outcomes may be all good. If researchers are funded via people who may not use their research for the "good of the people" then you really have to be somewhat more leery of the research. This is what has lead us to the pickle we are in today with global warming and environmental damage. (Hey it was a Jewish Researcher who ultimately came up with the receipe for the gas that killed his own people how is that for irony?) How do we do both; that is have research that works for us and the environment? Understand that every action is connected and will have a consequence.
I guess we need to bring ethics back, and in truth good common sense. The heroic farmer in the book did not go to Harvard. He just understood that all his actions were "connected" This way of thinking is sometimes not applicable in research. We are on the brink of global disaster right now. There were researchers who stood up and said "wait" "stop" "change" but we the people have to be constantly vigilant about what research is for and how it is being used and most importantly who funds it. Does WSU get research money from the chemical companies? The Weed and Feed suppliers? If so we need to be cautious as "consumers" I prefer to say "people." We honestly need to create a research system that looks at "systems" not "parts." I guess we need to reward "Sustainable" research and those farmers and people who are working so hard to make it happen. This is actually a plug for WSU and its research not against it.
By the way WTC and many of us in Washington State campaigned for the Sustainable AG bill, for WSU. but I did not know what that meant until I read this book. The factory farms are in fact subsidized heavily...heavily indirectly. I would rather subsidize sustainability.
By the way Pollan is not advocating simply for organic in fact he demonstrates that we should be "critical of the organic industrial model" but he does say it is far less harmful to the earth. It is impossible to deliver the promises of "organic" using an industrial model. He is in favor of sustainability. You can be a sustainable farmer and still you may not be certified organic. The two main buyers of the "cheap corn" have paid immense amounts in research this research is for profit making. I am not saying either myself or Pollan is against research...I am not against WSU. I am just saying in a volunteer program that deals directly with the public where we can have the most impact to help our country get back on track...to make the paradigm shift...Let us practice what we preach; moreover understand where our practices fit in to the big picture.
I am proud that WSU has a Sustainable Ag program but I was SHOCKED when we put Weed and Feed in the Demo Garden. What can the lowly researcher do? Nothing really, he/she really is at the mercy of the market and who comes up with the dollars. It is up to US to change things. I would like to see WSU and its researchers with MG's leading the charge to American Sustainablity. This starts with educating MG's in a slightly different less confusing way...and I would argue it means not compromising. We can't have it both ways.
Look, I am just a simple person. A mom, a potential breast cancer victim...a person who does care about other people and the earth, including those people in third world countries who may be supplying our food where there are no environmental laws to protect their food supply, their health their children and the food they produce for us. "Cheapness" and what is expedient is not the way to go and as "people" we need to question more and demand more accountability.
I am being critical of the WSU MG program because of the confusion that is caused by trying to "please everyone." If you give lip service to IPM and then don't practice it; many of the Vetran MG's use Weed and Feed in their own yards. This confuses people. Look at me I am a perfectly good example of that... Honestly I have not met King County ones that do. This is what brought me up short.
I elected to step down from the Pierce County MG program and protest because many of my friends and people I respect who want to be MG's for some of the reasons I do would protest to and would probably be uncomfortable in the culture of the Pierce County MG program as it stands. Change can come from outside but it really best to change from the inside.
As I have done...Thanks to everyone who helped me along the way. I am no longer going to apologize for being weird...for eating my rice cakes and brown bread...for fighting with my son's school for giving him sugar, and soda pop or for saying no to Weed and Feed. (even to my husband!) It is all connected...
I hope everyone reads this book.
Location: Washington, Long Beach Peninsula
Posted: Aug-16-2007 at 9:07pm
I had a very hard time in the Clatsop County MG classes about ten years ago because they were oriented at the time toward recommending, for example, Monsanto products to cure most garden problems. Two organic gardeners dropped out because of hostility toward their organic methods. We were told that to do our volunteer time, we would have to recommend the solutions offered by the MG manual, even if we personally would not use certain herbicides or insecticides. I have heard through the local grapevine that organic methods or at least "integrated pest management" are more accepted in that MG course now, but am disheartened to read of your experience. A friend who took the course in Seattle around the same time I took the one in Astoria said the Seattle version was very "green". Someone at the time opined that agricultural counties are more likely to have MG classes that advise the more, shall we say, toxic methods because they produce more product.
Location: Oregon, Greater Portland Metro
Posted: Aug-17-2007 at 8:52am
Oh, I get it now SB. Thanks for clarifying. It is a shocker to me to that Pierce County was not advocating more "green" approaches to pest management. In Portland, the message I always hear and repeat is to use predators to control pests, to allow some damage to plants and try to take a less is more attitude to manageing pest and diseases. But this is for my home garden. I am sure it easier for large scale agriculture to use the products. I agree, SB, we need to support sustainable agriculture for it to become mainstream.
Location: Washington, Puget Sound Corridor
Posted: Aug-17-2007 at 3:30pm
Well everyone, we just need to let WSU know what we think. WSU will respond to the market place. Personally I was very disheartened and I also take responsiblity for being an "outsider." I had no idea there were a schism in cultures between King County and Pierce County. Carrie Little of Mother Earth Farm told me "well I washed out of the program in 1983" now she is running an operation growing food for the food bank. She is heroic to me. We can cast a vote for sustainabiity by letting WSU know how we feel and by supporting local farmers, practicing true IPM in our landscapes and home gardens. Thank you for everyone's comments.