Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Omnivore's Delusion: Debunked

It's been a while since I've had so much to say and I've got a crapton of posts lined up. I hate to throw this post under the Saturday bus (when readership is low), but I thought it was an important article for y'all to check out.

Tom Philpott has a response in Grist to the article, The Omnivore's Delusion: Against the Agri-Intellectuals written by a corn/soy farmer from Missouri published in The American, a right-wing journal.

Tom starts off by acknowledging the obvious issues inherent with sustainable agriculture such as these three big challenges:
1) soil fertility—in the absence of synthesized nitrogen and mined phosphorous and potassium, how are we to build soil fertility on a larger scale?;
2) labor—sustainable farming requires more hands on the ground; who’s going to work our farm fields, and at what wages?; and
3) access—in an economy built on long-term wage stagnation, how can we make sustainably grown food accessible to everyone?

He then goes on to discuss the flaws in the Omnivore's Delusion article. I'll leave you to read what Tom Philpott has to say since he's going to do a better job than I. So go check it out! And come back here and let me know what you think.


Robj98168 said...

Awww shoot. Guess I pee and make some fertilizer. Being related to subsidised farmers, I can feel for them. But then, if they don't change their ways, they are going to be in the same boat as GM and Chrysler. Even listening to my farmer relatives (and implement dealer relatives)mock a kid who came fresh out of agricukltural college on his New fangled methods (raising pigs for manure and using it to replenish his fields, organic insect control etc) and turning his small farm into a more lush piece of soil, just makes you want to shake your head and cry.

Green Bean said...

Fascinating article. I too am glad that the debate is at least beginning which shows that sustainable agriculture is making some inroads. It all comes back to subsidies though and that seems a real tough row to hoe.

Kelly said...

great debate. the crusaders of liberalism and free markets need to get real about where their support base really lies. subsidies are fine but lets look at input/output.

The Mom said...

I also think its wonderful that the debate has started. The unfortunate thing is that most of these farmers have been put in a crappy situation that they don't see a way out of. The solution is to champion that crappy situation as the best situation for everyone. They can't see a way out, so they just keep plugging away and rationalizing that its the only way to do things.

Its really sad that the ways that people farmed for millions of years is now second best. I wonder how we kept the human race alive to get to the point that Monsanto could bail us out.

Kate said...

I am glad the conversation is moving into the mainstream as well. I simply wish more actual conversation was occuring - around the dinner table between families and friends. Even on the plane between strangers. Think how different the famer's (and the business man's) encounter would have been had they sat down for coffee and talked after the flight.

Once we start doing that maybe we can get somewhere. And I do recognize how utopian than sounds.

For some reason reading these articles this morning has me singing "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends" - but oh how times have changed.

Eco Yogini said...

holy what a fantastic debate! thanks for sharing this Crunchy. I'll be honest, I couldn't get through Hursts' first essay, mostly because it was way too difficult on a saturday morning to read such defensive and attack-based arguments. Comparing organic farming to witchcraft was just too much.

I loved Tom's response- it was so well thought out, polite and to the point. very Canadian if I might say... hah.

A nice reminder that there is always two sides, back-history and hidden agendas for most of what we do. Bias is always present- we're human.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I read both articles and I think both authors make some really good points. I think there is a problem with organic agriculture being able to feed the world. However, I also think that there are some serious ethical issues with companies like Monsanto.

I'm probably in the minority here among eco-bloggers, but I don't think there's necessarily a problem with genetically modified foods. My problem is with the lack of labeling, lack of complete testing, and patenting. But when GM crops help to increase yield while also decreasing pesticide use, I think that's a good thing.

I really don't like Philpott's continued insults to the right-wing throughout his article. It's just my opinion, but if you want people to listen to your message, you shouldn't continue to bash their political choices. I'm a registered Republican, and it upsets me that people think we're all of the "drill-baby-drill" mentality. And I know for a fact that right-wing farmers, like my dad, would just dismiss Philpott as some crazy liberal who insulting them, without hearing his message.

I'd like to hear some responses from sustainable farmers, who actually are in the fields and doing the work as opposed to "agri-intellectuals." Not necessarily "certified organic" farms, as I've come to completely mistrust the government's ability/motives to certify. I've always said that these decisions are made by politicians sitting in an office, not scientists or farmers. Let's listen to the farmers and scientists for a change.

Anonymous said...

People have been farming for thousands of years, not millions, about 10,000 or so in fact. Prior to that we were hunter/gatherer (for about 1.4 million years as archaic and modern Homo sapians.)
Clarification from upthread, I think it's important. Agriculture hasn't been around long enough to really affect us genetically. We're still the basically the same mind and body we were prior to agriculture and the settling of human populations.
There are some theories out there that agriculture and civilization don't suit us very well. Dietwise and socially. I think it's worth examining but not worth throwing the baby put with the bathwater. Just in terms of making who we live now work better.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Anonymous- I disagree that agriculture hasn't been around long enough to change us genetically. The mechanism of evolution that I subsribe to, punctuated equilibrium, demonstrates the evolution can occur rapidly, along with periods without change. In fact, there are many genetic changes that have occured in the human race in the last 10,000 years (blonde hair, for example, emerged around that time). I can't think of one specifically related to agriculture, since I never thought about that relationship before. Now you've piqued my interest. I'd like to hear what Greenpa has to say about it.

Vegan Burnout said...

Nicely done! I've been an avid reader for a while, and posted about "Omnivore's Delusion" myself. Keep on cluckin'!

amazingdrx said...

Robots! Organic farming robots that take care of grain&orn fields. That's the solution. Replace oil basded farming with recycled biodigestor fertilizer applied with solar/wind electric powered robots that weed, feed, suck up pests, and water with a fraction of the water use. Directly injecting the right liquid fertilizer in the ground for each plant. And all faster than you can see. Rolling up and down the rows with sensors and tubes applying water & fertilizer.

Veggies are good crops for labor intensive organic farming, but grain crops need robots. Veggie farming could even be turned robotic to bring down the cost of organic food.

Anonymous said...

Farmer's Daughter & Anonymous -
I'm aware of one agriculture-related trait - the gene responsible for the ability to digest non-human milk has appeared in a few different populations. (Here's the first hit on Google, if you care: Here.

There's also natural selection at work as a result of our farming practices: Type II Diabetes and any cancers caused by pesticide/hormone inputs are certainly selecting for those who are fit to survive in this particular environment.

Whether it's good or bad depends on your beliefs. Are your beliefs self-centered, human-centered, earth-centered or something else?

Farmer's Daughter said...

quarteryear- Yes! Lactase. I totally forgot about that. Descendants of herding peoples are much more likely to be able to digest the milk sugar lactose.

As for the natural selection, perhaps we as a species will become resistant like the insects. Makes sense.