When you hold strong convictions about something, it does no harm to study the views of someone who does not agree with you. If you are strong in your faith, you may end up even stronger. Or you may modify your ideas. Most of us who believe strongly in organic growing have read many books and articles which reinforce our convictions, but too many of them are simply preaching to the converted. Demystifying Food afrom Farm to Fork by Maurice J Hladik is different and challenges many of our convictions. It tackles just about every controversial aspect of growing food, and I strongly recommend it to organic enthusiasts because it will make us think.
Hladik begins by presenting his credentials, which are impressive. Instead of flaunting his degrees and scientific papers, he claims descent from a long line of farmers and lists the backyard gardens he has cultivated in many parts of the world in his travels as a Canadian diplomat. His book covers just about every aspect of food production.
The main claim of this book is that what they call conventional farming” and we call “chemical farming”, works–and works spectacularly well. Our supermarkets are brimming with every possible kind of food, and we should be grateful. But then, astonishingly, Hladik switches right around and argues that what we are eating is killing us. He takes particular aim at soda pop, calling it “junk water to accompany junk food” and believes that drastic government action is needed to alter peoples’ diet. He says that Norway puts a tax on soft drinks to help pay for the health care costs they engender. He proposes abandoning the ridiculous “Nutrition Facts” that nobody reads in favour of warnings like they put on cigarettes: “This product has no nutritional value and could lead to obesity, diabetes, etc.” Hladik states that “society has long accepted the government’s role on how we drive, drink, smoke, can display our body in public… why should something as important as how we eat… not dictate some form of government intervention.”
You will see from the above that his central theme is, that while consumers are killing themselves by accepting everything the TV adverts tell them, farmers are doing a great job. But not all farmers are the same, and he sees a major division between arable farmers and animal farmers. He says that contrary to popular belief, family farms are not disappearing, because only long-time farmers who grow food from the ground have the experience to deal with the vagaries of weather and the market. On the other hand, livestock farming can be, and is, managed by large corporations who produce meat on an assembly-line basis. But he is not prepared to dismiss this as all bad, and has some interesting arguments.
Take egg production. Are you horrified by the image of great rows of battery hens in intensive production? Hladik has a striking response. Hens, he argues, actually like being in close quarters with their neighbours. An unhappy hen will not lay, and if battery hens were not happy they would not go on producing an egg a day for months at a time. That certainly made me think.
On the subject of meat, he places more blame on the consumer than the farmer. He says “unfortunately prosperous people in most societies are seemingly on a never-ending path of increased meat, poultry and dairy intake that is neither healthy nor a prudent use of finite resources necessary to feed the world”, and presents a host of statistics to prove his case. None of us could disagree with that.
I can only touch on a few of the things that this book discusses. It is well researched and well written; but it is just one man’s worldview. So let me, as a lifelong organic growing enthusiast, end with the way my world-view differs from his.
Hladik believes strongly that genetic modification of plants and animals is the way to go. He uses the astonishingly naïve argument that man has always attempted to improve strains by cross-breeding, grafting and so on, and that injecting foreign genes is no different. This is plain silly.
Nature soon tells you when cross-breeding doesn’t suit her; this is fundamental to how we all evolved. Learning that a genetically modified organism doesn’t work takes a little longer, but eventually Nature reasserts herself. Weeds slowly develop resistance to the poisons designed to kill them, and so on. There is no space here to argue this one further, but I would refer anyone interested to a couple, Brewster and Cathleen Kneen, who have devoted their lives to exposing the handful of giant corporations that dominate world food production, and describing the countless examples of failed and abandoned GM trials. You can find them at www.ramshorn.ca.
Finally, the big one for me has always been that modern farming is unsustainable. Yes, it is true that the use of artificial fertilizer and other chemicals are helping farmers produce huge quantities of food for the time being. These chemicals are all synthesized from the oil and gas, which man is pumping out of the ground with absolutely no thought for the morrow. When this fool’s paradise comes to an end, people will turn to organic farmers and say “Please help us relearn how humanity fed itself for ten thousand years before it struck oil?”
If you would like to read this book (or many others on similar topics), visit the COG library–Canada’s organic lending library!