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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, BC, Canada

 

February 18, 2010

 

Anna Blythe Lappé: Food and Climate Change - Making the Links

 

Producer/Host - Jon Steinman

Transcript - Dawn Hancock

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia, and heard on radio stations around the world including CKLU 96.7 FM, Sudbury, Ontario. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

For regular listeners of Deconstructing Dinner, the connections between the food we eat and our rapidly changing climate are clear, and well understood. But beyond the many stories covered here on the show that address these connections, has been a relatively slow uptake among the general public, the media and policy makers of this new reality; a reality where every food we consume carries either a positive, neutral or negative impact on our local and global climate and ecosystems. In October 2008, Anna Blythe Lappé of the Small Planet Institute spoke to an audience in Stockbridge Massachusetts, her talk was titled: 'Food and Climate Change - Making the Links.'

 

increase music and fade out

 

Anna Blythe Lappé is the daughter of well-known food security and human rights advocate Frances Moore Lappé - perhaps most well known for her seminal book, 'Diet for a Small Planet.' In 2002, Anna and Frances collaborated to author a follow-up to that book titled, 'Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.' Just prior to the launch of the book, the mother-daughter team founded the Cambridge Massachusetts based Small Planet Institute. An international network for research and popular education about the root causes of hunger and poverty. As they state, the organization was founded to, "further a historic transition, a worldwide shift from the dominant failing notion of democracy, as something done to us or for us, toward democracy as a rewarding way of life, a culture in which citizens infuse the values of inclusion, fairness and mutual accountability into all dimensions of public life."

 

They believe that hunger in the world is not caused by scarcity of food but scarcity of democracy. Anna's second book, published in 2006 was titled, 'Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen' and her third and forthcoming release, 'Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.' In 2008, Anna Blythe Lappé was invited to speak at the annual E. F. Schumacher Society Lecture Series in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The E. F. Schumacher Society promotes the building of strong local economies that link people, land and community. Anna's talk was titled: 'Food and Climate Change: Making the Links.'

 

Anna Blythe Lappé: Today what I wanted to talk about is, as Jessica mentioned, this new work I'm doing about connecting food and climate change. And both looking at how the food system is connected to the crisis, but also how farming and the food sector is connected to the solutions. So I'll be talking about that today; but to do this work I'll also be talking about how the messaging is getting out there about these themes, getting out there in the media, getting out there through advertising. And so it's both about trying to talk about what are these ideas and core facts, but also about these messages and the framing that we're experiencing. So that's a bit of overview of what I wanted to talk about today.

 

As I was thinking about this, I was reflecting back to this moment I had a few weeks ago when I got back from one of my most recent research trips - where I had gone to South Korea to meet with farming activists there. And I arrive home being completely inspired by all these people that I met. And I pick up the most recent issue of 'Fast Company' magazine. And I don't know if any of you saw this issue, but in the issue they profiled seven people who are involved with, "making the food supply cleaner, greener, and healthier." I open it up curious to see who these people are going to be and the first picture I come to, is of a man in front of a thicket of a grove of bamboo trees. And behind him you can sort of see this sunlight bursting through, so it's this beautiful image of the sun sort of coming through the leaves, and there are also glinting off of the glass of the Coca-Cola bottle that he has tilted back and that he is drinking out of. This is an image of Jeff Seabright, who's the Vice-President of Water and Environment for Coca-Cola, and he was being presented as one of these heroes of the planet. And so that image to me, and I'll circle back to some of the what the food industry is doing to frame the message, but that image to me, I think, was a striking example of how the food industry is positioning themselves as part of the solution, and a critical part of the solution, around the environment.

 

To get into these ideas about framing, I thought I would do this little, short thought experiment with all of you. Don't worry it's painless. I recently heard a talk by [a] professor at Princeton named Melissa Harris-Lacewell. I don't know if any of you have seen her. She's been talking a lot as an expert on race in America. She's been talking a lot about the challenges that she sees Barack Obama facing running as an African-American for President. And her argument is that the challenge's not necessarily one of racism in this country, but that you don't have to necessarily be a racist to have a hard time mentally associating the word "President" and "African-American." She was arguing that this is essentially a new "schema" for our consciousness to put these identities and associations together.

 

To explore this challenge of wrapping our mind around new frames, Harris-Lacewell did this little thought experiment and I think it illuminates the challenges that we face accepting any new idea. So I'm going to say a word, and when I do, as I do, I want you to close your eyes and let an image of that word appear in your mind. Don't say what comes to mind; just let it appear in your mind and think it quietly. So is everybody ready? Close your eyes, and the word is "apple." Now open your eyes. Okay, by a show of hands, how many of you saw a green apple? How many of you saw a green apple? Interesting. How many of you saw a red apple? [pause... reaction: chuckle] I think we might have a tainted control group here, seeing as there were baskets of these outside. Now, if I had it up here I would hold this up, but I don't, so use your imagination...How many of you saw an Apple computer? [pause... reaction: crowd reacts with laughter] We got a couple Mac users out there, alright.

 

Harris-Lacewell said when she did this thought experiment she said, 35 years ago, of course, not one of us could have conjured that "Apple" computer. There was four, I think, over there on this side of the room, for some reason a little more computer focused. So what she was trying to argue is that our capacity to imagine new ideas is limited, to a certain extent, by these schemas in our minds. And of course schemas can be useful - they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting vast information; but these mental frameworks also can cause us to exclude really pertinent ideas and instead just accept those ideas that confirm those pre-existing beliefs that we're holding in our minds.

 

In her case she was arguing that this is one of Barack Obama's challenges in his run for President - that to put together these identities that historically the identity of President, for instance, has only been associated with white men. But I also would argue that we can pull this metaphor - pull this idea - over to our conversation about food: in the sense that I think that partly it's this understanding of our limitations of our schemas that help us understand why it has been so hard for us to, even though we've had an evolving understanding of climate change, to still be collectively so far away from understanding the connections between food and climate change.

 

Now the first step (or one of the steps) to transform these schemas in our mind is to be exposed to new information - you can't get a new idea if you don't have some new information. So let's just start with a little bit of a refresher about what we've come to know about climate change, and also what we're starting to understand (and really coming to collectively agree consensus on) about the food systems' role. I was going to say we've completely gotten beyond climate change denial, except I recently had a very personal experience of an affront by the climate-change sceptics. I published an op-ed in the 'Seattle Post-Intelligencer' a couple of months ago. Before it even hit the newsstands the on-line version of this op-ed, that I had published, was posted on their website. And I happened to check it and within fifteen minutes (I don't know how these people are organized, I don't know how they do it) within 15 minutes there were more than a dozen posts, ranting about the idiocy of someone suggesting that there is manmade climate change. One of these posts said: "Of course climate change has happened every few decades for six thousand years. Get real, people! Start worrying about something that has real consequences." I thought that one was funny thinking, "Yes, what could have more real consequences than climate change?" But despite these few holdouts, what is it that we know about climate change?

 

We know that from the temperature record that the hottest years on record, in the history of keeping temperature records, have been in the last 10-15 years. We know that ice caps are melting, that sea levels are rising - if you're looking at the evidence that is coming out, these things are happening even faster than we had predicted.

 

At a presentation I went to by someone from NASA [Cynthia Rosensweig] who is really focused on the impacts of climate change on agriculture. I went to this lecture she was giving mainly to farmers in upstate New York. And you could hear the audible gasp in the room when she said that if emissions continue at this rate by 2080 farming in New York State will feel like farming in Georgia.

 

So, we know this. We know that climate change - what we used to call global warming was really a misnomer, because this isn't about warming temperatures; it's about more extreme weather events. We know all this. We can also see with our own eyes. I'm sure you each have your own personal stories, personal experiences, of witnessing this change. I remember, I think it was last year in January near my apartment there were daffodils blooming in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in January. So we know all this, but when asked to think about: What are the major sectors driving climate change? Who are the real climate change bad guys? I think that most of us are still conjuring industrial smokestacks or thinking about oil thirsty planes and cars - and of course those are major contributors to the crisis; but the global industrial food system (from seed-to plate-to landfill) actually accounts for an estimated one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector alone - mainly from the industry's dependence on synthetic nitrogen-fertilized feed, but also its land-hungry rainforest destruction, is responsible for one-fifth of all the world's emissions. So that's more than from every single plane, train and steamship on the planet. So 33%, a very significant contributor to climate change the food system is. So let me just break it down a little bit to remind us what the major factors here are to be looking at.

 

The first big factor is that 18% of the sector's emissions come from what are called "land-use changes," which to me always sounds kind of innocuous: "land-use change." That sounds kind of nice; but actually what it refers to, as probably most of you know, is the destruction of rainforests, of wet-lands, of these sacred places that are such an essential part of climate stability and creating the carbon sequestration that we need to create that carbon stability.

 

I was just out in California working with some people that are working specifically on one of the biggest drivers lately behind that deforestation, and that's the palm oil industry. When you go to the grocery store and you're looking at the boxes of Oreos and Cheese-Its, you're probably not thinking climate change; but what is the key ingredient in processed foods? Palm oil. And demand for palm oil, which is found not only in those Oreos and Cheese-Its, but also in soap and cosmetics, has more than doubled in the last decade, much of it driven by the increased demand for processed foods. In fact, palm oil is now the most widely traded vegetable oil in the world. Where is it coming from? Well nearly all of the palm oil imports into the United States are coming from just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. Today, as a result of this massive deforestation to make way for palm-oil plantations, Indonesia is one of the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitters. Okay so 18% from land-use changes and obviously I'm very much glossing over all the details - each one of these we could get into in detail. But just to paint in a bit of the picture and sort of picture the pie-chart here. An additional 12% comes from methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the food sector. These are primarily, for instance, methane emissions coming from ruminant animals. Not just from their process of digestion. You might have heard about methane coming from cows. You might think it comes out of the backend; it's mainly out of the frontend. It's mainly burping. It's a natural process that ruminants go through as they're digesting.

 

Another big factor is as we have moved more toward industrial livestock production. What do we know about an industrial livestock production? It totally breaks that natural cycle of taking manure - and having manure be part of the system; and instead, manure becomes a waste product - and that waste product emitting enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.

 

We know that one of the reasons why this is such a big factor is that the industrial style of livestock production that we have really championed here in this country is now spreading overseas. If you read the 10K's or the annual reports of the biggest meat producers - which I can say from experience is not gripping reading - but nevertheless it is interesting. It's all publically available. You can all read them. Almost every single one of them was talking about how they are expanding overseas and they see production outside of the United States as the best opportunity for greater profit. So they are expanding into Bulgaria, Poland, other countries in Eastern Europe, as well as developing partnerships with Chinese companies to expand into that country.

 

So finally an additional 1-3% of the sectors' emissions are attributed directly to fertilizer production and distribution - so nitrogen fertilizer, for instance, requires enormous amounts of natural gas to produce it, and of course to ship it, an also gases that are emitted in the use of those fertilizers. So that was taking us a quick romp through some of the statistics there. If you had been counting, I don't know if anybody was adding those all up, but if you had been counting you'd know that we had reached about 31-33% there.

 

Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner. You're listening to Anna Blythe Lappé of the Small Planet Institute speaking in October 2008 in Stockbridge Massachusetts. Anna was recorded by the E.F. Schumacher Society. Today's episode is archived on-line at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the February 18, 2010 broadcast.

 

In this next segment from Anna's talk, she continues outlining other sectors within which the role of food contributes to climate change and she asks why is it that the food/climate change connection appears to continue to be such a hard link to make among the general public, media, and policy-makers.

 

Anna Blythe Lappé: But if you'd also noticed, I didn't mention a couple other sectors which we all know food is involved in too. I didn't mention transportation; I didn't mention waste; I didn't mention manufacturing. So if you look at the ways that a lot of our scientific bodies that have been helping us make sense of climate change, those categories: transportation, waste, and manufacturing are separated out from land-use change and from agriculture sort of in that pie. But of course we all know that within transportation, within waste, within manufacturing the food system is involved in all of those emissions as well. So you could argue that it could be even more - but so far I haven't seen any solid numbers to help me nail down just how much more.

 

At the beginning of my talk, I mentioned Professor Harris-Lacewell and her work on the schemas we have in our mind. She also talks about what happens when two competing ideas come together. What she says happens is "cognitive-dissonance." I would argue for many of us "dinner" on the one hand and "global warming" on the other are two ideas that we don't put together. That for some of us it might cause that cognitive dissonance to happen. So I want to explore for a moment now why is it that for so many of us it's been so hard to see those connections.

 

First, I would argue, there is a very simple reason. And that very simple reason is: for most of us we simply do not have these facts at hand; we simply don't have this information. Even if we've been reading the newspapers and watching the global warming documentaries, (How many of you have seen "An Inconvenient Truth?") Did "An Inconvenient Truth" talk about food? I would argue that most Americans have gotten most of their information, for better or worse, about climate change from that film. For many people that was their wake-up call. It was the fourth highest grossing documentary film in U.S. history. It's been watched across the U.S., across the world, it doesn't talk about food.

 

But it's not just "An Inconvenient Truth" that has missed this. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University looked at the 4,582 newspaper articles about climate change that have been published in the sixteen most commonly read newspapers in the United States, since just before "An Inconvenient Truth" until earlier this year. Of those 4,582 articles on climate change only 2.4% of them even mentioned food and agriculture at all. What's even more important about this study is (not only, I mean 2.4% that is very little), but actually, the people that were conducting this study looked at all of these articles and read them for the thoroughness with which they're talking about these issues and when they did that, they found that only half of 1% of the total number of articles had what was coded as a substantial focus on the issue. Half of 1%. In other words, that 2.4% could have had an article that said, "Oh in food and agriculture - it's important too." Or any kind of line where those words were in there.

 

You might be saying to yourself, "Okay, but that sort of begs the question: Why aren't we hearing about it in the media?" We're not getting these facts; but let's even go back to another deeper why. Why is it that there has been this hole in the conversation? And I think that there are probably many reasons - some of you may have your own. I'll just point out a couple that I think are particularly powerful.

 

First, I would argue, I think there has been a bit of a carbon bias, one could say, about how we think about climate change. We've been really focused on carbon dioxide emissions as this terrible greenhouse gas, and while that's true, of course, the majority of the carbon warming effect is from carbon dioxide. There are two other of the six greenhouse gases that are very important and those are: methane and nitrous oxide. And the biggest contributor of those two is the food system - it's the food sector. So I think our preoccupation with carbon dioxide has made us miss this a little bit.

 

But the other thing, going back to cognitive dissonance, is that I think our perception is that dinner doesn't seem dirty. I was talking somebody [Helene York,] who has been working on these issues for a long time and she said to me, "You know, when you look at plate of macaroni and cheese that's sort of steaming, you don't picture the greenhouse gases that are emitting from it."

 

An additional barrier for people talking about it is possibly this feeling that food is off limits. We all need to eat. We can't possibly talk about changing how we conduct food or farming because it's so essential. But it's also essential for us to transport things places, transport ourselves places, fuel our homes and power our cities. There are lots of essential things that we are rethinking. So I think that that isn't quite a strong argument.

 

The final reason why I think this has been so missing from our collective consciousness is that I think there is this fundamental disconnect between food and the environment. I was thinking about this the other day when I was speaking to some students in Florida at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was speaking to an Environmental Studies class. And I began by asking the students to think about their last environmental experience. Here they are in this environmental studies class - I asked them to think about their last environmental experience.

 

It was a shy class, but I persisted, and one of the students raised her hand and she said, "Well, I was running on the beach the other day." And I said, "Yeah, that's an example." And another student raised her hand, and said, "Well, I was hanging out in the hammock on the main-green." And then another student raised his hand and said, "I was kayaking recently in the bay." Meanwhile I'm thinking to myself, "This is very far, far, away from my experience as a college student in Providence Rhode Island," but anyway... So those are three things this group of about 40 students said. And then there was just dead silence. And I said, "Any other environmental experiences?" Awkward silence. But that's important with students sometimes. So then I said, "Well how many of you have eaten today?" Of course, everybody's hands goes up.

 

And I think that it's so true that for most of us the food we eat feels that far removed from nature. Eating no longer feels like this environmental experience, because, of course, for so many of us the food we eat is so far removed from nature. But I would argue that most food, (I'd have to deeply look into the ingredients of say a Twinkie to really stand by this argument), but most food, even highly processed food, had at one point this connection back to the environment - to nature. So I think that part of this shifting consciousness to bring in the conversation about food into our conversation about climate change is about shifting these frames and about reconnecting our associations with food with the environment.

 

So if you're following me, you're getting at one of my points here is that it's not only important for us to learn these new facts, (so some of the facts that I just shared with you about this connection between food and climate change); but it's also important for us to understand what are the frames we have in our mind about food, and farming, and the food system, that might either help us embrace a new paradigm or that might be stopping us from seeing it. If you have ever heard George Lakoff [cognitive scientist] speak, or read his work, or read some of the other work from cognitive scientists who have done work on framing, they make this point that all of us are so programmed by these frames that we have in our mind that, as George Lakoff said, "If the facts don't fit the frame, our brains simply reject them."

 

So as I've been traveling this past year to research these food and climate connections, I've also been travelling to food industry conferences - curious to hear how they're talking about these issues. And what I have seen in these conferences, as well as in a lot of the trade journals I have been reading, is what seems to me a deliberate framing of the food and climate change connection to put themselves ahead of the curve -sensing that there is going to be a global and a national awakening to these connections, to put themselves ahead of that curve as part of the solution.

 

And I'll just give you a couple of the frames that I have heard that seems to me so striking: The first is essentially what I've heard in these industry conferences is a sense that: "Don't worry, folks, we've got this under control. We're on this task." So I went to the Grocery Manufacturers' Association's first-ever Environmental Sustainability Summit. Now the GMA, (Has anyone heard of the GMA? Okay so some of you, but you've probably all heard of Coke, and Pepsi, and Unilever, and Kimberly Clark, and Cadbury Schweppes - basically every single food and consumer products' company that you can imagine - all the big ones are members of this trade association). So they put on this conference at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C. and throughout the entire day-and-a-half of workshops I was so struck by this common messaging. We heard from John Brock from Coca-Cola, he said, "The whole concept of sustainability-that's where we touch the world and the world touches us." Which seemed a little bit creepy to me, but... And then another one of these getting-the-talking-points-down moments: Kevin Hadlock from Unilever said, "Environmental stewardship is in our DNA." Now this also particularly struck me because, some of you know, Unilever has been one of the companies that is most pushing nanotechnology, which are those superfine particles that concern many public health advocates about how that might affect our genetics. (So another slightly apt comment). So this frame of: "We are right there with you"; "We are on the job"; "We're ready to roll up our sleeves and get involved with this sustainability thing." And so related to that is this other theme of: "We will be your partners in environmentalism, but environmentalism defined as what you as an individual should do. That the solutions are going to come from you as an individual and us companies - we're going to help you do that.

 

So for instance, I was at another industry conference and I heard Mary Dillon speak, she's the Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer at McDonald's. She was talking about how proud they were that their Happy Meals "deliver a positive message about the environment." And she described partnering in Europe with the McDonald's there to develop a Happy Meal initiative called "My Pledge."

 

"My Pledge" is an initiative where within your Happy Meal there is a worksheet where you can get involved with pitching your own: what is your individual eco-action going to be? Last fall, in Japan, McDonald's partnered with the government there to give away half-priced Big Macs to anyone who downloaded a list of 39 ways to reduce their personal greenhouse-gas emissions. I imagine not eating at McDonald's was probably not on that list.

 

Now, I might be inherently a little bit cynical, but I also think that it doesn't take a real cynic to scratch your head when you look at what McDonald's did just a year and a half ago with their Happy Meals. What did they do a year and a half ago with their Happy Meals? In partnership with General Motors, McDonald's gave away 42 million Happy Meals that included what were called "fun-fuelled miniature Hummers." If you were really lucky, you could get the Metallic Sand Hummer, with a "free-wheeling vehicle with retractable winch," or you could get the Laser Blue Hummer, which "offers a truly enlightening ride." And of course if you were a girl, you wouldn't have to get the Hummer. You had a different choice; you were picking from among eight different Polly Pocket dolls. To me this contrast between McDonald's today and McDonald's a year and a half ago - and how they're presenting themselves with their marketing is a striking one.

 

Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

On today's broadcast, we're listening to a lecture delivered by Anna Blythe Lappé of the Small Planet Institute. Her talk was titled: 'Food and Climate Change - Making the Links.'

 

Anna is the daughter of well-known food security and human rights advocate Frances Moore-Lappé perhaps most well-known for her seminal book, 'Diet for a Small Planet.' In 2002, Anna and Frances collaborated to author a follow-up to that book titled, 'Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.' Just prior to the launch of the book the mother-daughter team founded the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Small Planet Institute - an international network for research and popular education about the root causes of hunger and poverty. As they state, the organization was founded to "further an historic transition: a worldwide shift from the dominant, failing notion of democracy - as something done to us or for us - toward democracy as a rewarding way of life: a culture in which citizens infuse the values of inclusion, fairness and mutual accountability into all dimensions of public life." They believe that hunger in the world is not caused by scarcity of food but scarcity of democracy.

 

Anna's second book, published in 2006 was titled, 'Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen' and her third and forthcoming release, 'Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.'

 

In 2008, Anna Blythe Lappé was invited to speak at the annual E.F. Schumacher Society Lecture series in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The E.F. Schumacher society promotes the building of strong local economies that link people, land, and community. Anna's talk was titled: 'Food and Climate Change: Making the Links'.

 

More information on the E.F. Schumacher Society can be found on their website at www.smallisbeautiful.org. You can also learn more about the Small Planet Institute at www.smallplanet.org and today's episode is archived on the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.deconstructingdinner.ca.

 

As Anna continues, she further describes and deconstructs big industry's response to climate change.

 

Anna Blythe Lappé: And the third message that we're hearing - and we're hearing this message in (some of these quotes I'll give you are from the 'Financial Post', 'Time Magazine', 'Forbes') mainstream and widely read magazines. The third frame we're hearing, from biotech and industrial agriculture messengers, is that biotech/industrial agriculture is our saviour in the climate-change crisis. And that they will be helping us feed more people on less land. And maybe some of you have seen some of these quotes. To me they all seem to be speaking from the same memo. These first two quotes I'll read you were published, one in the 'Financial Post', and one the next day in another journal. We heard, for instance, from Martin Taylor at Syngenta, which is one of the world's largest agricultural and chemical biotech companies, that: "The world has to choose between technology and deforestation and hunger." That is the trade-off, that's how he presented it. And he said, "I can't see another way." From Dow AgroSciences, we heard: "The world will have to accept biotech crops, especially if we all agree that we cannot keep cutting trees to increase farmland." So again, what's the frame there? It's this trade-off between farms and forests - which you'll hear in a few moments is really, I would argue, a terribly false trade off. The third quote from the head of agriculture at Monsanto: If we were to move toward organic agriculture, "we would have to burn down the rainforest. We would have to eliminate all the wetlands and tax the environment in a way that would be totally unacceptable." So these are the new frames - or let's say re-furbished frames - that are getting out there. So if these are some of the dominant frames we are hearing, (and again: these are quotes that were mentioned in the 'Financial Post', 'Time Magazine', 'Forbes' - these are getting out there), how do we learn ourselves to incorporate a new more life-serving frame? And what role can we play in getting that frame out there?

 

In her lecture, Harris-Lacewell explained that cognitive scientists have discovered we are more able to accept new frames when we are "motivated processors." Now what does that mean? It means, very simply, that we are most able to square those dissonant ideas in our mind - most able to bring in a new frame - when we are feeling positive and hopeful. She used this to suggest [that this is] exactly why Barack Obama's Hope message has been so effective... that essentially his campaign is creating a nation of motivated processors. But this is also, I would argue, why talking about food and farming and climate change, and questioning those dominant frames (that we've been hearing from everyone from Monsanto to McDonald's)... why having the conversation is so exciting - because it is the conversation that to me offers the most hope in the conversation about the climate crisis. And let me offer you some of my reasons why I think that's the case.

 

First, when we talk about food and climate change why does it provide us so much hope? Because unlike many of the other climate-change challenges we face, we already have many of the solutions up our sleeve to reduce emissions from the food sector. We already know today - right now - exactly what it would take. Secondly, these strategies, that we already know right now, to reduce emissions from the food sector will also - at the very same time - create more resilient farms, create more resilient crops - that are going to be better able to withstand those weather extremes that we know are coming. So in climate-change wonky terms in other words: mitigation is adaptation. What we are doing to reduce emissions from the sector is also what's going to help us adapt to this extremely erratic weather future. Third, why this is so hopeful to talk about this - is that implementing these climate-friendly solutions has enormous, positive ripple effects: preserving biodiversity; addressing hunger and poverty; and improving public health. So those are just three of the reasons why when we talk about what the food sector can do to be part of the solution it is so hopeful and so positive. And so I will briefly go through some of those reasons - some of the reasons to give us hope. And the first one is that we have now more than ever the evidence that small-scale sustainable farms can reduce emissions from the farm and kick our reliance on fossil fuels in the food sector. And I'll just take you to one farm that I visited in Wisconsin, which was a farm a couple of hours west of Madison, Wisconsin - in this really beautiful region, rolling hills of western Wisconsin.

 

It was a farm that looked unlike any farm that we have in our mind as what's the typical American farm with these hundreds of acres of straight lines of rows. This farm, where Mark Shephard farms, was completely made up of winding rows that followed the natural curves of his farm. It was an agro-forestry operation, so in other words: there were not just annuals, but there were also perennials. There were trees throughout his farm, clustered around each other and beneficial plants clustered around each other.

 

His work day was unlike any typical farmer's. There was no meeting the vet to get antibiotics for his animals. The few animals that he had on the land were totally healthy. There was no fuelling up a $250,000 tractor with fossil fuel. And Mark had moved onto this land just thirteen years earlier, taking it over from a corn grower. And as we were standing up on a ridge in his farm, which if I had a PowerPoint I could show you - the humming of life that was on his farm was literally audible, but you could also smell it, and you could touch it, and the soil was rich and healthy. And from one of the crests of one of the hills of the farm, you could see all of his neighbours that still had their rows of cornfields that were still being covered with herbicides and pesticides. And he was explaining to me that in just thirteen years he'd been totally able to rehabilitate the soil. And he was also able to explain to me that on his 106 acres that he was able to grow thousands of pounds of food every year and not just food but fuel as well. The day I was there he had just finished digging the ditch he was making for the wind turbine he was going to put on his farm so that he could power his own apple cider mill - and not have to rely on a single drop of fossil fuels. And so farms like Mark's, we're learning, emit significantly less carbon dioxide, in part because they rely on nature, rather than on chemicals and fossil fuels, but also because we're learning these farms' healthy soils sequester carbon.

 

The Rodale Institute has been one of the leading institutes researching this. And they found that in a multi-year study of organic farming that soil carbon was increased 15 to 28% on these organic farms. And when comparing it to the same conventional systems, there was not a single percentage point increase in the amount of soil carbon or nitrogen in those conventional soils. And Mark was telling me (proudly boasting) that when he had dug this ditch with some friends in the area (to build the wind turbine, you had to dig really far down) that these friends were so amazed by the soil health that far down that they called some local geologists who had just visited his farm that morning, because they couldn't believe that you would see all of the oxygen in the soil - you would see all of that healthy soil that far down into the earth.

 

So, secondly I mentioned this adaptation piece. When I arrived on Mark's farm, it was just a week after that torrential flooding in Wisconsin. Do you remember the summer - the terrible flooding in the Midwest? And on my drive on the way to visit Mark, I saw farmland after farmland still covered in water - lakes that had been created where there were farms. And when I got to Mark's farm, I saw these other neighbouring farms - and you could literally see the ditches that had been created - the complete erosion of these corn crops from this torrential downpour. And I asked Mark, "Well how did you fare? This sounds terrible." And he said that because of the way he farmed, because his soils were so healthy they were essentially these huge sponges that were able to soak up the water. He did lose a little bit of his crop: the few percent that he kept in annuals, and the few percent that was in a certain area of the farm - he did lose that; but he said that the rest of the farm was doing great - and that, as he said, his hazelnuts had never looked better.

 

Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner. You're listening to Anna Blythe Lappé of the Small Planet Institute speaking in October 2008 in Stockbridge Massachusetts. Anna was recorded by the E.F. Schumacher Society. Today's episode is archived on-line at www.deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the February 18, 2010 broadcast.

 

Anna Blythe Lappé: The third hopeful element of the news about food and climate-change is that what's really exciting is that there is no trade-off - this idea that we're hearing from the Monsanto's of the world that there is this trade-off between sustainable practices or forests, for instance, is a complete fiction. Just look at Mark's farm, where he had enormous amounts of trees growing - that were food producing trees - that were sequestering carbon. There's no trade-off, necessarily, between farms and forests. We're also seeing that there's no yield trade-off in moving in this more climate-friendly direction. And one of the largest studies of sustainable farming looking at more than 200 projects in 57 countries - primarily many countries in Africa - covering projects involving 12.6 million farmers. Researchers found that the yield increase of moving towards sustainable organic production practices increased yields 79%, and for some crops 100%. Said a study author: "Sustainable agriculture practices: they reduce pesticide use; increase carbon sequestration; they use less water; and they do not decrease yields - and even in some cases they have increased yields." And what about that all-important biodiversity? Well, again, back on Mark's farm there was one moment when he took me to this patch on his farm (that was maybe as big as this whole stage up here) and it was filled with trees and bushes and all kinds of plants and flowers. And he pointed to this area and he said, "We have identified at least 137 different species of plants growing right here on this land - on this one plot of land." So this change of frame of seeing this connection between food and climate change - seeing the role the food system is playing in the climate crisis - need not leave us feeling numb, because at the very same time we can see these incredible solutions that are emerging. As we change this frame, as we become these motivated processors, that at the very same time what happens is that we see new opportunities that we were blind to before. So I will close on this note on these new opportunities. First and foremost we see that one thing we have to do every day - which is eat (well there is probably many other things we have to do every day: breathe, and I could name some others, but eating is also very important, right?) So that one thing that we have to do every day allows us to align ourselves with the climate-change solutions. All the things that this community here is doing: to create a local food-system; to support organic farmers; to help people eat less processed foods; to cut-out the Oreos and the Cheese-Its - now that is part of the climate-change solution. And I don't know about you, but up until now a lot of the environmental messages that I've been hearing about what I can do as an individual have been (What have we heard?) Drive less; buy a hybrid car; change your appliances - get energy efficient appliances; change your light bulbs. Well I don't know about you but I live in the city. I don't want to buy a car. I already don't drive. I've already changed all my light bulbs. And I really don't want any new appliances. So those messages leave me pretty much at a standstill in terms of my individual action. So reframing this food and climate-change story allows us to see how our plate is part of the change. But more importantly, this change of frame allows us to rethink how we look at policy - and where the policy solutions lie. So let me tell you what I mean by that. A few months ago Al Gore was speaking at a bloggers' conference and someone asked him this question (which I was so glad he was asked) which was simply why has he not stressed more of this food-and-climate-change connection. And the person in particular was asking about the connection between the climate crisis and factory-farmed meat. So what was his answer at this conference? He said, "It's true it would be healthier for us if we consumed less meat." And then when prompted about why meat hasn't been more prominent in his pitches about the solutions, he said: "I myself am a meat eater, and perhaps that has something to do with it. None of us is perfect." Now what's surprising to me is not that Gore acknowledged that eating less meat might be a good idea, or that he admitted that he is a carnivore, but that he chose to answer in that way - that he chose that his response suggested that the only approach to this global warming challenge is to transform what we put on our plates, when Gore of all people should know that our individual choices are just this tiny part of the solution. He should know that the other powerful way to make a difference is to transform our agricultural policies - transform our trade policies to look at what are the mechanisms that are fuelling this destructive system and to look at how much we currently are subsidising this industrial meat system that we know is getting us into such a bind.

 

So what do we know about this subsidising of the industrial meat system? We know that there is direct payments to the livestock sector from the Farm Bill; we also know though that the farm bill benefits livestock producers in many indirect ways as well. We know that soybean producers received $2 billion in subsidies and corn producers another $17.6 billion in subsidies between 2003 and 2005. With half of corn and two-thirds of soybeans in the United States going to feed animals, not people, these commodity subsidies should really be considered industrial livestock subsidies. In fact, thanks to many of these subsidies factory farms saved a total of $35 billion between 1997 and 2005.

 

This is just one tiny example of how we can see now, with this change of frame, that we should be talking about the Farm Bill - not just as food policy - but as climate-change policy. Imagine-and people are starting to work on this, so we might not just have to imagine it; it might be what we could actually be stepping up to the plate for in 2012 - but imagine if we started doing things like paying farmers to sequester carbon. Imagine if we started doing things like subsidizing communities to start urban farms and calling it part of our climate-change strategy. You know we've been hearing a lot about this push for green-collar jobs. Now with this new frame, we can say, "Wait a second - farming is the original green-collar job." Imagine if we really were to embrace this new frame, we can imagine a kind of new movement like Teach for America, that put teachers into schools across the country; but to do a Farm for America, where young people spend a year, or two, working somewhere in the food-system to create a sustainable food system - and to see it as part of our climate-change solution.

 

So in closing, I would argue, in my attempt to make us all motivated processors, that finally this change of frame to see how small-scale sustainable farming is part of the climate-change solution. The other reason why it is such a powerful reframing is because what it does is it puts nearly half of the planet at the heart of the solution to climate-change. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that more than two billion people on this planet still live in rural communities, and many of them are farmers. And by suggesting that small-scale farming - by arguing that small-scale farming - has this role to play in the climate-change solution, we are saying how much we value those small-scale producers. And there is now a movement that we can rally behind of small-scale farmers around the world who are trying to take this reframing and use it as a way to support their movement.

 

I was just in South Korea, where I was visiting with some of the farmers that are part of this movement, called La Via Campesina, that now has 129 different movement organizations in 56 different countries - representing millions of these small-scale farmers. Their slogan this year is, "Small Farmers Can Feed the World and Cool the Planet." So I will end with those words from La Via Campesina, which I think the more we hear these messages coming at us from Monsanto and the other Monsantos of the world, we can remember this message from La Via Campesina again: that small farmers can feed the world and cool the planet.

 

Thank you.

 

Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner and that was Anna Blythe Lappé of the Small Planet Institute speaking in October 2008 in Stockbridge Massachusetts. Among her role co-founding the Small Planet Institute, Anna is also an established author of books such as her 2002 release, 'Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet' her 2006 release, 'Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen' and her third and forthcoming, 'Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.'

 

More info on her work is at www.smallplanet.org and a thanks to the E.F. Schumacher Society for hosting and recording Anna. More information on the society is at www.smallisbeautiful.org.

 

Ending theme

 

And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan. The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident, Adham Shaikh. This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support from you, the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at deconstructingdinner.ca or by dialing 250-352-9600.


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