What is Normal?

April 15th, 2014 | Simcha Weinstein | 1 Comment »

normalAs a citizen of the earth, there are many things that I care about deeply, as we all do. Topping the list for me is seeing that our food system is clean, healthy and sustainable for generations to come. After all, food is what nurtures and sustains us, and if our food supply is weak or threatened, then it’s fair to say that our very existence is threatened; no species survives without proper food and nourishment. Maintaining and preserving the earth as a natural habitat for humans and all other life forms who currently know earth as their home is also at the top of my list.

I feel that these concerns are pretty reasonable, and that our working towards them should be universal. They’re not extreme. They’re not unnecessary. And achieving them really benefits everyone.

Ironically, if one sets out to actively participate in addressing these cares and concerns, then one runs the risk of being viewed as radical or extreme. Now granted, I have no actual statistics to back this up, but as one who has been eating organic foods, participating in the organic industry, and caring for the environment since 1976, I have experienced and witnessed so much anecdotal evidence to support this observation, that if I ever chose to write about it, the volume would rival War and Peace in length. So, while I understand that it could be challenged from a scientific and data driven perspective, I am willing to hold confident to the following premise:

That our model of what we consider normal vs. radical, as it pertains to protecting our food system and our natural habitat, needs to be turned upside down.

It seems that our paradigm is completely backwards. I cannot begin to cite how often I have heard people in conversation about the organic movement say something similar to this:

“I think it’s good to eat organic foods, but I also believe in moderation and balance, and don’t want to be extreme about it”. I actually heard these very words from my dentist during a visit to her office last week.

My interpretation of that sentiment is that our current conventional food system is the model for normalcy and balance and that to completely adhere to a food system that is mindful of the earth and of its inhabitants is extreme. To be clear, our system of conventionally grown food uses what we politely call chemicals. More accurately, they use poisons. This is not extreme language at all… it is simply accurate. Pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are all used to poison or kill bugs, weeds, or anything else that we see as problematic or inconvenient to the growing of our food. And these chemical inputs are not used sparingly and they are not used just once during the growing process. They are typically applied multiple times. And… they are not necessary to successfully or healthfully grown food.

Now, we can debate whether or not, according to different standards, these poisons are harmful to us (as we have been doing for years) but we cannot debate their use. I believe that most sensible people would conclude that the long-term use of poisons in any situation is not healthy, and this would be especially true when applied directly to the raising and growing of our food. And yet, our baseline for normalcy is our current conventional farming practice. The further we veer from it, the more extreme we appear. So, if our diet is exclusively organic foods, it’s fair to note that many (and yes I’m generalizing) would consider such a diet as extreme and probably unnecessary. After all, we’ve been doing just fine for years with what we have, right? Why be an alarmist? Why be so radical?

I find this perception rather baffling. Why don’t we view a growing method that relies on poisons as radical? Why isn’t that considered extreme? Choosing to eat food that is grown in harmony and in balance with nature is considered extreme, but eating food that is grown using chemicals and poisons is the more balanced and normal approach? It really is time to reevaluate our baseline model of what we consider normal. Right now, normal is not serving us well, and it certainly doesn’t bode well for future generations.

The same paradigm of normal vs. extreme exists when we consider the health and well being of our environment as a sustainable habitat for us and for the myriad of life forms that currently live here. The iconic image of a young woman hugging a tree is typically seen as laughable and a model of extremism – “those tree-hugging hippies”. But an image of a burly man wearing a hard hat on a huge oil rig is celebrated as typifying the ideal of a hardworking and resourceful country. But just to clarify, oil is a resource that fills our atmosphere with carbon (which creates greenhouse gas), is problematic to harvest, and is not sustainable. It takes tens of millions of years of decomposition to create oil. The growing method, if you will, is not sustainable or enduring. Ninety eight percent of climate scientists agree that if the earth warms 2 degrees Celsius or more before the year 2100, the changes that we will experience will be dramatic and life threatening to millions of people across the planet. Currently, scientists report that we are on track to well exceed the 2 degrees and our reliance and continued use of oil is a significant part of the problem.

And yet, oil is considered our norm, while using what we naturally have in abundance – wind, water, and the sun – are considered extreme. It’s what those crazy environmentalists are trying to push on us, right? Being mindful of every part of our ecosystem is considered radical and unnecessary, and as blocking and impeding progress. Once again, our model of normal vs. extreme is upside down. We see that which will diminish our habitat as reasonable, acceptable and normal, and what we can do to literally preserve our way of life and sustain us for generations to come, is considered radical.

Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jesus, and Buddha were all considered radical in their time, and what they believed in and fought for was viewed as extreme. Today, we honor their passion, their beliefs, and the norms they have helped us to establish. Their versions of reality have become our mainstream. I truly believe that one day, the same will be true with how we care for the earth as our source for food and as our beloved habitat.

In the meantime, we all need to be a little more radical… a little more extreme. It’s the only way we’ll become normal.