There are all kinds of wonderful things happening in the world of farming and food, but this latest decision by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsak approving Monsanto's GMO Alfalfa, a move that fundamentally undermines all of the organic feed crop, is not one of them.
The night this decision was made I sat at the 92nd Street Y listening to Joan Dye Gussow (former Chair of the Nutrition Program at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of "This Organic Life" and most recently "Growing, Older," Chelsea Green Publishers). She was talking about her early environmental essays, saying that she could take thirty years worth of topics covering ozone depletion, climate change, the rise of processed food, food safety, and add a few sentences to bring us up to date, and we'd see that sadly nothing much has changed. Gussow, who calls herself an optimist, is dubious that the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) movement, which has grown 50-80% in number nationwide both in urban and rural areas, will not feed us all, at least not in this country.
Gussow also claims, as does Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Eric Schlosser and others, that bio-tech is not the answer to feeding poor people, that there is no evidence (according to Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute) that there is any increase in crop yield with GMOs; and that organic crops are just as efficient as conventional, if not more so, when one looks at the questions and answers of soil preservation (read Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels).
But the good news is that Joan Gussow is encouraged by the number of young farmers, cooks and food activists who are actively involved with good food and spreading the word of that food in their lives and their work. I agree with her whole-heartedly. In fact, I have spent the last four years traveling from coast-to-coast interviewing over 150 young people in the food world. My newest book, Growing Roots: The New Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists (Chelsea Green Publishers), highlights the lives of over 50 of these young people who are deeply rooted and represent thousands of others around the country who are involved in healthy agriculture. They are urban beekeepers like Andrew Coté in Connecticut, intent on raising bees without antibiotics or pesticides. They are heritage pig, cow, lamb, and goat farmers like, Mike Yezzi in Shusan, New York, Becca and Dan James in Durango, Colorado, and Eliza Jamison from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. There are food activists taking issues of child nutrition and better school lunches to Washington, like Josh Viertel (his about for President Obama about government supporting processed food rather than the real food, can be seen on YouTube). Anna Lappé (her latest book is Diet for a Hot Climate), Bryant Terry in Oakland, California, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney filmmakers who are taking their latest film and farm truck around the nation introducing children to farming and healthy eating -naming only a few who are profiled in the book.
The photos in Growing Roots are beautiful and the 150 recipes from all the profiles are simple and delicious.
Mark Bittman's "Food Manifesto For the Future" states at a glance what we all need to know:
- End subsidies to processed food
- Start subsizing small farmers who sell actual food for direct consumption
- Break up the bureaucracies at the USDA and the FDA
- Ban factory-farm style animal feeding
- Encourage and subsidize home cooking
- Institute a junk food sales and marketing tax
- Encourage recycling while reducing waste
- Require truth in labeling
- Invest in sustainable agriculture research
It is crystal clear that we all need to choose ways in which we can help. Go into your children's school, see what they are eating. Help start a farm-to-school program. There are 50% more farm markets in towns across the nation than there were five years ago, shop at one near you and get to know your farmers. If you don't already know the terms local, sustainable, free-range, grass-fed, organic and biodynamic, familiarize yourself with them.
Every day the newspaper is filled with what's happening in the world of local and sustainable food and the healthy possibilities and choices out there for you and your family. It's not just a fad, eating healthy is here to stay.
Be a voice in your community.
Katherine Leiner's latest book is Growing Roots: The New Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists (facebook.com/growingrootsbook)