For the Good of Everyone

August 13th, 2013 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on For the Good of Everyone

factoryFarmingIn the past 20 years, organic food consumption has increased dramatically. That’s the good news. What’s not nearly as encouraging is the fact that recent studies have shown that the primary reason people are choosing organic food is for their personal health and wellbeing. I know, it sounds strange to find that a discouraging bit of news. But twenty years ago, the motivation for eating organic foods was pretty much a 50/50 split between those who wanted a healthier lifestyle and those who felt compelled to do more for planetary health – our environment. Today, the split is about 80/20 in favor of those wanting a healthier lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, I think taking care of our bodies and personal health (an enlightened self-orientation, if you will) is vital and should be commended. After all, we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, people are far more sedentary than they were twenty years ago, diabetes (even amongst younger ages) is a significant health problem, and fast food has become a regular part of the American diet. So, without question, a self-orientation towards clean, healthy eating is not only desirable, but should be encouraged and rewarded.

What I’m lamenting is the fact that we’re losing our focus on what I call our “commons” – the collective community that we all share and rely on, not only for our own well being, but because the health and sustainability of these commons will play a significant role and have a tremendous impact on the lives of future generations.

If we want to tackle the collective issue of personal health, then eating organic would not even make the top 3 steps that we would initially need to take as a community. That’s how poorly we have managed our food intake over the past few decades. Choosing organic isn’t even a necessity at this point; it’s more of a refinement step, because we have fallen so far out of alignment with healthy eating. Far more critical would be to: 1) Reduce our sugar and fat intake by 50%. This may sound dramatic, but it’s really not at all. What’s dramatic is how much of these we actually ingest! For many Americans, simply reducing their intake of sodas and burgers from fast food restaurants will pretty much do it. 2) Irrespective of what we eat, eat less. Americans tend to overeat. When you are full – stop eating. That simple rule alone would save lives! 3) Exercise; move around; stop sitting all day. Activity and exercise cures many ills, and our entire being likes it – body, mind and spirit.

But we need more people to make the connection between eating organic foods and the environment. It is without question, the most compelling reason to eat a sustainable diet. Here are some pretty powerful numbers to keep in mind:

Conventional farming focuses on maximizing output – growing as much food as possible as cheaply as possible. And fossil fuels play a very large role in producing this cheap food. In fact, 20% of all fossil foods used by all sectors of our economy come from our food system. And further, our food system produces just shy of 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This makes agriculture the single largest contributor to atmospheric pollution. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are petroleum-based products, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere causing greenhouse gas.

So, if life were playing a little trick on us, and we were only allowed to participate in one activity that would benefit our environment, without question, eating organic foods would have the largest impact. That impact would be greater, for example, than all the recycling efforts by everyone in this country combined. That’s pretty staggering.

Climate change is real. And climate change is going to have consequences that are pretty challenging and that we can’t even begin to imagine if we don’t begin to take it more seriously. But not facing it, not dealing with it because it may involve a few sacrifices is not the way to go. Changing the way we eat and grow our food seems like such a tiny sacrifice, in order to make such dramatic improvements. It seems like a pretty impressive return on our investment. How we respond to the issue of climate change; whether we are willing to make changes and sacrifices will tell an enormous amount about our spirit.

Ask yourself this question – why do people who raise the issue of climate change do it? What is it that they gain? What’s their agenda? People focused on climate change are not just screaming at the rain. It really comes down to one word – caring. It’s the only reason to be concerned about climate change. Someone like me, at the age of 59, will probably not be too terribly affected (and maybe not even too inconvenienced) by climate change in my lifetime. I’ll probably squeak by. But, it can’t be about what’s in it for me – that can’t be the attitude or we’ll never move forward with solving this issue. This planet is a wonderful habitat for all of us, and our greatest responsibility is to keep it that way for future generations. In the end, our response to climate change will show us what kind of people we are; it’s about the soul of our generation. Do we care? Are we a compassionate people? Can we expand our definition of community to include generations to come? These are serious questions and how we choose to answer them with our actions will determine what future generations will experience on this place we call home.

I’m actually betting on us. I think we do care. I believe we are an incredibly compassionate people. I’d recommend taking a page from the Native Americans. They believed that every act should be weighed against how it will impact the next 7 generations. Now that’s caring… and that would go a long way towards responding to the issue of climate change.

Every time someone asks, why eat organic food, our answers should begin and end with a very simple question . . . why not?