Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts on the book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (part 2) - The organic debate

One of the major issues I have with the book is the author's view of modern agricultural. I find her to be narrow minded in this area. Reading on the Internet, I have discovered that there is definitely an anti-ag movement out there. Unfortunately most of it is fueled by presenting the extremes of modern agricultural practice as the norm. The author obviously believes organic is the only way to go. The author's husband, is a secondary author in the book. He writes little boxes of "factual" information in many of the chapters. He makes what on the surface looks like a good argument for small organic farms being the best way to feed the world. And, if conditions were always stable, he might have a case. However he neglects to consider anomalies, such as blight and mass infestation. We rarely think of these nowadays, because modern farming practices (including those nasty "chemicals") have mostly eradicated them. However before modern farming practices those were real threats, and famine and food borne illness were common concerns.

Of course I come from my own bias. I am surrounded and even somewhat financially supported by those very corn and soybeans the book so demonizes. There is a lot of emphasis on the evils of all the corn and soybean based products in our food supply. I actually agree that as a society we overeat the corn and soybean food products available. But a lot of corn and soybeans go to products as replacement for petroleum. Decreasing our petroleum consumption is a major premise of the local eating movement. Of course a lot of corn also goes to livestock feed. The book gives the impression that this is a bad thing, that grass fed is the only way to go. But livestock have been part grain/part pasture fed for thousands of years. Feeding grain to chickens is not a recent phenomenon. And in many areas of the world (including the fertile Midwest) there is just not enough pasture to provide enough livestock a complete diet.

I also know plenty of non-organic livestock farmers. This is where I see the book as biased toward the extremes. The book gives the distinct impression that farms in the commercial food industry all keep their animals confined in small spaces standing in their own waste being fed only corn. I made it a point to drive by 2 near-by dairy farms yesterday. I saw something amazing, cows grazing in the pasture. The truth is all the farmers I know feed their livestock grain and put them to graze on pasture. I know there are some extreme mega farms where the cows live in bad conditions, but it isn't necessarily the standard. Even many large "confinement" operations pasture their cows. This is a great post about what a real confinement operation is like.

My point in all this is that where the author seems to have one view, that allows for only organic agriculture, I think we can use modern ag practices wisely and in moderation without sacrificing our health or ethics. Yes modern ag has it's problems. But, even though I appreciate much of the "real food" movement. I don't believe that real food must be all "organic". I think there is just as much biased anti-modern ag propaganda as pro-modern ag propaganda. As usual the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I still have one more post to go on this book. I know my "review" has been long. But that is why I would actually recommend this book to some. If you have the inclination and time to dissect it critically, it really makes you think. My last concern is my biggest heartbreak in reading this book, the one that left me sad at the be continued.

1 comment:

Getting My Words Out said...

I wonder if the author of this book has any ideas on feeding the masses?

You're exactly right-the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Based on the snippets of information in parts 1 & 2...I'm already saddened before reading part 3 because I know what's coming next.