Why you can have your steak, and eat it too!
If this is such a promising solution, why don’t we see an immediate, worldwide adoption of such agricultural practices? What roadblocks remain?
There is of course, the status quo. Current, conventional approaches have a track record of success both in the production of foodstuffs and in terms of economics for large-scale producers and industrial suppliers. For many, and understandably so, there is a mindset of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem with this perspective, is that from a sustainability point of view, the system is broke.
Another issue along those lines is the risk for the producer. As Kelly Lozensky confides,
“It doesn’t cost more to produce regenerative grains, but the RISK during transition is very high. No Tillage, No synthetic fertilizer, no pesticide, no fungicide and no preharvest desiccant.”
The transition to regenerative farming involves a rehabilitation and reestablishment of a natural ecosystem. The length of time required as Kelly recounts, can be years. Starting in 2014;
Our soils tests were calling for various degrees of fertility based on soil type. We were also trying to manage input expenses by applying only what each soil was ‘needing.’… Some of our soil types called for no Nitrogen on ground. This began a shift in our mindset where we began to consider a “more is less” approach when it came to synthetic fertilizer applications. We observed that the soil types that didn’t receive fertilizers, actually had less disease and pest issues. We were very surprised by this and began to consider what was going on under our feet was way more complex than we had known. We began to ask questions: why are our plants more resistant on soils with no synthetic amendments? Could our other soil types be capable of this same resilience? The answer was yes, but it took us 5 years to wean off the “junk”. Our soils were addicted, and we slowly took away the “drugs” until we were completely free of synthetic fertilizer in spring of 2019.
A final, but perhaps the most significant obstacle is the 300 pound soybean sitting in the room. Worldwide agribusiness is a huge and sprawling enterprise. As mentioned previously, many of these companies and concerns provide the raw materials, the technical expertise, assistance, and financial support for many of the world’s farmers and growers. This is particularly true, as was mentioned, in many Secondary and Third World countries and economies.
Many of those governments simply don’t have the resources to support their farmers and producers, and thus multinationals fill that void. However, these businesses have deep and strong roots even within First world economies. In India, for example, many poor farmers were forced as a result of economics to give up the farming of native heirloom species (which were purchased by agribusiness entities) and grow GMO crops with conventional methods and techniques. So disruptive were these interventions, that there was national concern due to the number of the small farmers who ended up committing suicide as a result of the distressing circumstances.
Such enterprises have zero use for solutions that don’t involve their products. Regenerative approaches, by any name, embrace the use of modern technologies to assist their efforts. Where they differ is in their independence from, their lack of dependence upon, artificial chemical additives in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. There is still a market for GMO plants.
However, the genetic modifications might be ones like those used in the creation of “golden rice.” Here the genetic modification was to add a beta-carotene producing gene to rice. This provides the large portion of the world that uses rice as a staple grain to add beta-carotene (the substrate for humans to produce vitamin A) to their diet. What there is not a need for, are the current proprietary GMO plants that are engineered to withstand a chemical maelstrom and make it to market.
Shifting our perspective to embrace and actualize positive solutions, to empower us as individuals in our relationship with the food we eat, is what Culinary Medicine is all about. So what are specific steps that we as individuals can take?
Give a damn about sustainability. That means eating foods that sustain you, and not in the “food as fuel,” or “food as medicine,” approach. That narrow, nutrition only perspective robs us of one of life’s great experiences: the fantastic flavors and textures found in eating real food. You’re not an automobile to be filled up and driven until your engine no longer works. You’re a human being, put here for a purpose and with an opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures and genuine happiness that comes from enjoying authentic food with friends and family. That turns out to be a powerful antidote to the many challenges – and diseases – of our modern lives.
Sustainability also refers to the larger planetary collective that is been the focus of this series of articles. Here are three simple steps to help get you started. Ultimately, the path is yours, the choices are yours alone. Our relationship with food is exactly that, our relationship. It is an individual experience that only you will ever know. Make each one the most joyous it can be.
- Eat less meat. We are inundated with advertising and messaging designed to convince us that quantity is value. But if each chicken nugget is costing us $0.15 (as they are obviously making a profit), it is not difficult to extrapolate to the quality level of the product. Shift your perspective on the value of the food you eat from how much you get to the quality of the comestibles. You might eat less meat, less often. But by substituting quality over quantity, and creating an environment to truly enjoy your meal, you can have a far richer experience.
- Eat more plants. Most people in the United States and other industrialized nations subsist on a handful of plant varieties, most of them conventionally produced GMOs. Try experiencing or creating dishes that feature authentic ingredients or heirloom varietals. Local, responsibly grown fruits and vegetables might be ugly, but they have character. And in the kitchen, character means flavor.
- Know your food. Whatever you are sourcing, whether it is meat, poultry, fish, seafood, or fruits and vegetables; taking the time and effort to connect with your food is the fundamental first step in establishing a positive relationship with the food you eat. It’s a basic instinct of all great chefs. When you go to purchase your ingredients, just ask and answer these three questions:
- How was it bred? For example, is this an heirloom varietal or GMO crop?
- What was it fed? For example, i this grown without fertilizers and pesticides on a regenerative farm or was a grown using conventional, industrial agriculture?
- Where was it led? For example, was this simply packaged after harvesting or was it ultra-processed into the final product?
Red meat – essentially all or none – is where this discussion started. All too often, the answers are presented as an oversimplified “yes” or “no” choice. All too often, that is the result of ignorance born from limited viewpoint, or from purposeful misdirection as a consequence of undisclosed agendas, or some combination of both. Yet if we take the time, if we are willing to take a step back and shift our perspective, engage in dialogue, and entertain other possibilities; new opportunities can arise. I believe this is such a moment.
As an epicurean adventurer for all things edible, no doubt I have a very real ‘steak’ in the outcome. Feeding the world and feeding ourselves in concert with nature and the planet may seem an elusive holy grail. But the choices and the grail are very real. It is up to us. But as the ancient Guardian warned Indiana Jones, “You must choose. But choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life, and the false grail will take it from you.”
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