Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 12, 2007

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Big Organic

Filed under: books — codesmithy @ 7:59 am

I am currently reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. I thoroughly enjoy the book. Although, it does give the reader plenty to think about. One point I think is clear is that, today, “organic” is merely a label applied to food. What the book makes clear, is despite the fact that pesticides, artificial fertilizers, etc. aren’t used. It doesn’t necessarily mean that “organic” produce is a more sustainable. Invariably, large “organic” producers utilize fossil fueled technology to bring together disparate mono-cultures to form an artificial ecosystem that contain, what we feel are the essential contributions of each.

This reductionism of complex ecosystems weakens the system, because by understanding the parts, we think we understand the whole. In the case of the earth and life, I don’t think it is wise to invest in that type of hubris. Life on earth is a product of 3-4 billion years of co-evolution. Even things that we think of as pests can play pivotal roles.

Capitalism and the industrial era with its love for conformance is directly at odds with evolution and the logical repercussions. Nature does not prefer mono-cultures, for the simple reason that without genetic diversity, an overzealous predator might wipe out the mono-culture because they all share the same flaw.

Evolution and capitalism are competing. Agricultural capitalism strips away natural buffers as means to achieve greater efficiency. This is reckless. Thinner buffers increases the likely-hood of an exploitive predator wreaking havoc and bringing disaster.

The important duality here is that capitalism and evolution here are really the same thing. Humans, by nature, are driven to protect and adapt certain species for our exclusive exploitation. This is something that evolution taught humans how to do. But, the second step, and one that every cognitive, enlightened individual must realize is that by driving efficiency for our own exploitation, we are also making it easier for other organisms. Therefore, there is a limit to the efficiency that can be safely achieved.

That limit is the balance between efficiency and risk of disaster. The risk is tough to measure. But, we must recognize that unabated capitalism will push us towards disaster in the name of efficiency. And I feel that is what “organic” rightfully means is a robust, sustainable ecosystem. One that doesn’t just substitute inputs, chemical fertilizer for manure, but rather compose an actual environment in which animals and plants can co-exist indefinitely.

I don’t feel that these ecosystems can be achieved on one large scale, but rather, they need to be a large number of small scales. I agree with the conclusion reached in the book, that “organic” and big are mutually exclusive.

Also, I feel that history teaches us the folly of continued subjugation. In this case, we are trying to subjugate all other organisms on this planet. The solution is to make concessions. But, the first step is admitting there is a problem.

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