This is the fifth in a series of six posts relating to the discussion series Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. This week, we explored the challenging and sometimes frustrating world of resource depletion and the many impacts of food production on climate change and the environment. Session Five readings included work by Lisa Hymas, George Wuerthner, Sandra Postel, Tom Paulson, Robert Kunzig, Natalie Reitman-White, Sarah Mazze and Sustainable Table.
The people drawn to participate in our Hungry for Change group (perhaps predictably) are environmentally conscious by nature and are concerned about tending this planet for future generations. We come to the discussion knowing at least the basics and with a personal commitment to live our lives in alignment with the our values. Many of us do our best to stay up to date on emerging topics like climate change, soil depletion and the exploitation of the earth’s greatest aquifers.
Is that enough?
Once again, as we talked, the answer emerged. It’s important to keep learning and take action.
As an example, we talked about how we use water in our lives. We each monitor our usage, whether motivated by a city water bill, the level of water in our well or a general sense that water is a precious gift that should be honored as such. We don’t buy bottled water, we mulch our gardens well and take short showers. We’d each argue that we use less water than our neighbors.
But as we talked, we discovered more that we could do to conserve water. By the end of our discussion, we were considering setting up rain barrels other finding ways of catching water before it heads either down the drain or down the driveway. We talked about catching wasted water in the shower (before the water gets hot, that is) and reusing it to flush the toilet. We talked about using gray water to water plants or for some other purpose. One participant articulated her practice as “never letting water go down the drain until it’s done a job.” Our eyes were opened to a world of tiny practices that together would surely save a meaningful amount of water.
We debated some of the points made in this week’s articles, often wishing for more balance. For example, the article “Is Your Cheese Killing the Planet?” made some compelling points about the damages wrought by the dairy industry, but provided no perspective on the impacts—if any—of small, farm-based cheese producers. We wanted more information. We’ve been feeling pretty good about buying farmstead cheeses directly from local farmers, and wished for a similar analysis of those production processes.
I thought of my cheesemaking adventures at Bonnieview Farm in Craftsbury, Vermont, where nothing is wasted and every step of the process—raising and milking the sheep, producing the cheese and getting it to market—is thoughtful. The sheep graze rotationally on open pastures, fertilizing as they go. Nothing is wasted from their milk, nor is any part wasted from the animals that are raised for meat. The whey fattens pigs or is made into sheep milk ricotta. Fleeces are used to create warm comforters, socks and wool yarn for knitters. Since making cheese at Bonnieview, I’ve felt good about buying and using the farm’s products and had more insight into the world of cheese itself.
Can these simple traditions really be wrong? This article, as do many in the course, seem to guide us toward a vegetarian lifestyle. In fact, many of us have moved partially or completely in that direction on our own. I’d accept that the earth would be better off (as would our bodies) if our diets were more plant-based. But I’m not ready to concede, and neither were others in our group, to a fully plant-based diet. I’ll continue to feel good about supporting Bonnieview Farm and the other small farms I support by buying milk, cheese, eggs and a little meat, now and then.
For now, I’ll remain the 90 to 99 percent vegetarian that I am and will make my non-plant food choices carefully. I’m sure I’ll make a few changes as a result of these discussions, including making a renewed effort to learn more about where my food comes from and how it’s produced.
Once again, I’m grateful to this discussion course for challenging my assumptions and getting me to think more deeply about food issues—even if I don’t always agree.
This post represents only a portion of our readings and discussion; I urge you to start a Hungry for Change group of your own! The Northwest Earth Institute makes it easy to get started and the readings lead the way to powerful discussions.