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In this 8th installment of our deep dive into Paul Hawken’s New York Times Bestseller – Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis in One Generation, we dive into the subject of Food, the problems of big agriculture and big food, and how we can correct this global issue through wasting nothing, eating everything, localizing our food choices, the decommodification of foods, protection of pollinators, and eating mindfully from responsible, regenerative sources.
02:27 Where Our Food Comes From
04:00 Smart Tips For Healthy Eating And Reducing Waste
06:15 Eat Everything (or more different things)
08:22 The Importance of Access to Healthy Foods – The Vitamin Angels + Vitamin A Example – see episode 20: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/ending-infant-mortality-worldwide-with-howard-schiffer/
09:40 Localization and The Benefit of Eating Whole Real Foods
13:44 Decommodification of Foods
15:15 Insect Extinction & The Importance of Pollinators
17:20 Eating Trees + Regenerative Farming
18:37 Reactions & Thoughts on Jonathan Safran Foer’s Closing Essay to This Chapter (and a confession from Corinna)
19:52 We Are The Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer
23:00 The Changes I’m Committing To
25:00 Focusing On Mindful Consumption – An Optimistic Perspective On The Change We Can All Affect
Introduction to Regeneration: One Billion Climate Activists Strong: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/one-billion-climate-activists-strong/
Regeneration Interview with Paul Hawken: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-ending-the-climate-crisis-in-one-generation/
Regeneration Part 1 Oceans: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-1-oceans/
Regeneration Part 2 Forests: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-2-forests/
Regeneration Part 3 Wilding: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-3-wilding/
Regeneration Part 4 Nexus: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-4-nexus-climate-activism-tool/
Regeneration Part 5 Regenerative Agriculture: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-5-land-regenerative-agriculture-and-soil-restoration-to-reverse-global-warming/
Regeneration Part 7 Cities: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part7-cities-green-architecture-living-building-challenge/
Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation was published on September 21, 2021 and is available at all your favorite booksellers. Visit the Regeneration website for details, resources, and valuable tools for anyone interested in becoming a climate activist.
Regeneration + Nexus: https://www.regeneration.org
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Regeneration Part 8: Food
Welcome regenerators! This is the 8th installment in my coverage of Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation by Paul Hawken – and today, I hope you’ve got an appetite for learning about the impact of food! Many of you have been with me since the beginning and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the feedback I’ve received thus far. Comments like “thank you for distilling this important work” and “I thought I’d never have the time to read Paul’s book – and this podcast solved that for me” really has helped me keep going. For those that are new to this series, I encourage you to go back to the introduction. To make your journey easy, links to each episode are included in chronological order in the show notes for each Regeneration episode. You can also visit CareMoreBeBetter.com for access to the complete series simply by clicking on the Regeneration Category of podcasts. As you peruse our site, you’ll find full transcripts, YouTube videos of our guest interviews, guest bios with links to their social and contact details.
And you can even leave me a voicemail and share your thoughts by clicking the microphone in the bottom right-hand corner – or send me an e-mail note from the contact page. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and any questions you might have for Paul Hawken. At the end of this series, I’ll be submitting a list of community questions to Paul so he can answer them directly through a blog on caremorebebetter.com.
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Are you hungry yet? Let’s talk about FOOD.
As we commence our exploration it’s important to think about where our food comes from. When Christoforo Colombo came to the Americas he arrived to find a bounty of food that had not been in global circulation. From these exploits we gained access to staples including potatoes and corn, and delights like cacao, blueberries, and maple syrup. Today, corn comprises most of our grain consumption by weight, and as Paul notes:
“Most of the world no longer needs to seek food. It comes to us in an extraordinarily complex and sophisticated system that has created unparalleled abundance. However, today’s food system has become the single greatest cause of global warming, soil loss, chemical poisoning, chronic disease, rainforest destruction, and dying oceans.”
– Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 171)
We have our problem well-laid for us don’t we? But let’s not forget the lessons we learned as we covered Regenerative Agriculture in Part 5 of this series. The very practices we employ to secure food for our future can restore soil, increase its carbon sequestration capacity, draw down atmospheric carbon, and ultimately, regenerate earth.
And one thing we can all do to help support this effort is focus on real whole foods, shunning the processed, chemically laden foods that have become a mainstay in western diets. Move through the periphery of your grocery store, and limit your shopping in its interior. Reduce your intake of refined sugars and salty snacks – and your taste buds will thank you. You’ll regain a refined palate, and a plum or berry will begin to taste like the dessert it was always meant to be. As we begin eating this way and shopping this way, we will see our collective health improve. And we’ll be more aware of food waste. Cutting the tops off of carrots and skinning onions, or removing wilted leaves from heads of lettuce will happen in your home as opposed to somewhere else in the supply chain. You’ll become more aware. You might even start composting – if you aren’t already – and reducing the methane produced from food waste therefore.
Food waste is a problem most of us don’t see in our day to day lives. Sure, some leftovers may end up in the wastebin, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to where most waste occurs. Imperfect harvesting, spoilage in transport, rejection by food procurement companies, and that which isn’t sold in stores can all end up landfill waste that generates methane gas instead of becoming healthy compost for soil. It spurs on global warming instead of playing a role in reversing it. As much as 90% of food waste ends up in landfill.
“Meanwhile, 135 million people worldwide struggle daily with acute hunger and food insecurity and 800 million are undernourished.” – p. 172
Solutions to food waste in manufacturing include:
- – increasing supply chain efficiencies
- – solar-powered cold-storage on location
- – donating surplus food to food banks
- – upcycling surplus food into new products (soups, flavorings, sweets, supplements)
- – recycling food waste into renewable energy and soil amendments
- – meal planning to prevent over-buying
- – freezing food before it spoils for future use
- – repurposing scraps of food
- – cycling through food in your refrigerator, pantry and freezer to avoid waste due to spoilage
- – composting
There are over 400,000 species of plants on earth and we only widely consume 200 of them. Rice, Wheat and Corn provide 43% of the calories we consume. Did you know that edible plants include:
- 2050 mushroom species
- 387 types of fern
- 275 bamboo species
How many foods do you eat each week? How about each month? Or year? It’s good for our health to vary the food we eat. It positively impacts our gut health and the “second brain” of our digestive and nutrient transport system. Fueling our bodies in this way provides greater stores of complex nutrients, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids – you know – Omega3s – which have been shown to benefit every body system that you have.
Eric Toensmeier of Yale led a study that analyzed the potential of perennial vegetables — those that grow year after year without needing to be re-seeded, sequestering carbon and providing a each year. This includes herbs, berries, tree fruits, bushes, cacti and palms.
In my little garden and yard I have a couple of plum trees, a self-fruitful apple, citrus trees, oregano, basil, thyme, mint, strawberries, gooseberries and whatever volunteers show up from my compost, usually tomatoes and onions.
When we eat a little of everything, and when we grow some of our own food and herbs, we are benefiting ecosystems and ensuring that farming systems can be regenerative. By focusing on only a few crops and types of food, however, we limit our ability to really build a solution.
But here I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that access is a real issue. Many people simply don’t have the access to a wide variety of foods they would need in order to Eat Everything. This ultimately means that with food, we have a social justice issue. We covered part of this in our coverage of LAND when we discussed the “food deserts” or rather “food apartheids” that exist in impoverished areas.
One example can be found in the mountains of Peru, where potatoes are a staple and where not much other fresh food is available. In these areas, malnourishment is the mainstay, resulting in a cascade of negative community effects. Before The Vitamin Angels commenced their important work, children in these communities were born blind because they simply didn’t have enough access to prenatal vitamin A. Many lacked sufficient nutrients for their bones to adequately form. They wouldn’t be able to walk until the age of 3. Vitamin Angels –This incredible not-for-profit – sought to end nutrition-related infant blindness by offering a powerful vitamin – Vitamin A to communities around the globe. They have now successfully reached that goal and have upped the ante. They now seek to end nutrition-related infant mortality on a global scale. You can learn more about Vitamin Angels and their important work by reviewing my interview with their founder, Howard Schiffer, which was episode 20. I’ll be sure to include the link with show notes to make your life easy.
And we also know that fresh food and produce is lacking in many inner-city minority-dominated communities in the United States. These “food apartheids” must end.
One clear way that we can seek to end food apartheids is by supporting more regional – more local – food sourcing. If we produce and procure foods from our local environments, guess what – we have a far lesser carbon imprint. Not only is there less waste due to spoilage, there are fewer logistics, a reduced need for refrigeration and trucking. Your food will be fresher, and it will support local economies, ensuring the community that you’re in stands a better chance to thrive.
34% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the food system as a whole – and that negative impact of food can be dramatically altered for the better, if we’ll all just be a little wiser, rely less on pre-packaged and processed foods, and support local food. Big Food, just like Big Pharma has created as many problems as it seeks to solve.
“Big Good is another word for mass-produced animal foods and ultraprocessed food-like concoctions made of soy, corn, fats, sugar salt, chemicals, and starch. Also known as junk food, it makes up 60% of diets in the United States and 54% in the UK… Inadequate nutrition and disease are inseparable. Because the ubiquity, addictiveness, and constant promotion of industrialized food, nearly 75% of Americans are obese or overweight and one-third of Americans are either prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes.”
– Paul Hawken’s Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 176)
This is a big, fat truth. Furthermore, the fact that human-made fats, including partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated oils – otherwise known as Trans Fats – are similar in their chemical construct to plastic should scare you stiff. Heck, that’s what it does to your arteries and cellular walls anyways. In fact, if you leave a tub of margarine in a hot garage, no insects will go for it. But if you do the same with butter – guess what? Flies will seek it out. This should tell you everything you need to know about processed foods. Ultraprocessing turns our foods from nourishment to just plain caloric filler. In the case of trans fats, commonly found in margarine, shortening, peanut butter, and processed foods of all sorts – it turns them into a slow poison.
We don’t need Big Food to feed us, or Big Pharma to baste our bodies with a cocktail of drugs that treat a myriad of symptoms caused by Big Food. We need to change our food systems.
Common solutions to big food can come from your local CSAs – or community-supported agriculture. You can opt to receive a weekly box of fresh fruit and veggies that come from your local area. You’ll get carrots that don’t immediately turn rubbery, and cucumbers that have real crunch to them. Your body, and your community will thank you. When you nourish your body with proper nutrition, instead of a bunch of filler foods, you’ll notice a difference in your health. If you’re overweight, you’ll trim down. You’ll notice your body feels more satisfied, less hungry. As time goes on, you’ll crave less sugar and less salt – because your body will be in balance. This is the nature of eating a varied diet of good, healthy food. Unhealthy cravings subside as your gut health improves – and with it, your mood. OK. I’ve peppered in enough of my professional knowledge as a natural products industry veteran – and perhaps we can geek out on that topic more with a future guest. But for now – let’s get right back to it.
Decommodification of Foods (and beverages too)
If you’re following along with the book, you’ve likely already come to the conclusion that part of the problem with our food systems is that we have commoditized foods. We’ve reduced their value and pushed monoculture farming practices forward to shave a penny off the price here and there. We’ve subsidized farming of filler foods to feed livestock and keep our bellies full at the cost of our health and at the cost of the true value of good food. This means we’ll need to rally behind food and push for decommodification of our food system. We’ll need to advocate for soil restoration and regenerative agriculture to repair soil loss and the ravages of a farming culture that for too long has relied on the plant killer – glyphosate – also known as Roundup. Shopping for foods that are fair-trade, organic certified and Non-GMO verified are all great ways to ensure you’re part of the change. And when you seek to celebrate, chill out and enjoy happy hour, reach for a micro-brew or a local organic wine instead of a can of Coors or Two-buck chuck – because this practice extends to anything you consume.
What do you know about pollinators? Many think only of bees when we talk about this, but yellow jackets, a common pest wasp also pollinates flowering trees. Ants, also considered pests do the same for many species of plants and trees. Biting midges pollinate our cacao trees – without which we would not experience the marvels of chocolate. Indeed, we must respect insects in all their forms, even those we find less desirable than a dragonfly or honeybee.
- One out of every three bites of food we eat comes from a pollinator
- There are roughly 5.5 million species of insects on earth – or 80% of animal life – and only 1 million species have been formally described by scientists
The truth is we know very little about the ecosystems insects collectively affect – so we must be concerned about the rapid pace of extinction they face. In an earlier chapter we mentioned the need for pollinator corridors, with flowering trees, plants and bushes planted north to south and south to north – there to ensure that our insect ecosystems do not suffer from their habitat fragmentation and continue their downward spiral. The biological weapons we use against insects don’t necessarily discriminate either. This was clearly seen when Bayer / Monsanto created Glyphosate or “roundup” and released genetically modified corn that included this toxic pesticide in its genetic makeup. Entire flocks of monarch butterflies perished as they pollinated poisonous amber waves of grain. Solutions are many, but first and foremost we must preserve natural areas and habitats. And we must stop the ubiquitous use of pesticides. The extractive economy we’ve built is what has landed us in this predicament – and it has to stop.
Unlike vegetables which need to be planted each year, disturbing the soil and reducing its ability to store a maximum level of carbon, trees and shrubs produce food year after year without disrupting the soil, its microbes, fungi and critters – all of which sequester carbon – along with their branches and trunks which continue to grow over their long lives. The carbon-rich soil they help to produce is more nutrient dense and can support more life, regenerating earth. With cover crops planted, we can further improve the nutrient packed nature of current and future forest farms.
We Are The Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer
Paul closes this chapter with an essay by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Jonathan Safran Foer. He wrote the New York Times Bestselling book, Everything Is Illuminated – an incredible novelized depiction of his family’s history written with two story arcs that intersect in one of the most beautifully written pieces of prose I’ve yet read. I knew when I read this first book that Jonathan Safran Foer was a vegetarian. I am not. I’m still not. But each day I get a little closer. I bought and tried to read his work on the topic of vegetarianism, and the reasons for shifting to such a diet, titled “Eating Animals” and I’ve failed to yet read it – even though my copy was even personalized for me when he was on a book tour and I got the chance to meet him… So I guess that’s my confession for the day. I’m not a vegan. I’m not even a vegetarian. I’m part of this food problem we’ve all created because I don’t always and only consume regeneratively farmed animal products. I eat out. And I sometimes eat animals when I eat out. But I’m getting better and better about my choices as time goes on – and this work – this deep dive into Regeneration is helping me on my way. I hope it does the same for you too.
Well… Here goes. Paul Hawken opens the essay with this introduction on page 189:
“Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, from which this essay is excerpted, and Eating Animals, a New York Times best-seller, published in 2009. His focus in both books is the impact of animal food on climate change. There is no agreement in the literature about he amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the meat and dairy industry. The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization, in a non-peer-reviewed study entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, calculated it to be 18% of total emissions.”
The photographic choice that opens these pages, of a young calf staring directly at the camera shakes you. It’s soft black fur and smooth muzzle brings me back to my childhood and a moment when a young calf sucked on my fingers as it would its mother’s teat. I grew up close to food. There were many family farms where I grew up in southern Oregon. Everyone had a pasture and many took their animals to the fair to show and sell each year. We raised chickens and rabbits for food. I had a pony, and my neighbors on one side had an alfalfa field, and on the other grew raspberries and squash and other vegetables. Blackberry brambles knit well with the fences that separated our pastures providing summertime feasts. But this was not industrial agriculture. We exemplified localized food. So it’s with this grain of salt that I read Jonathan’s words. If we do it right. If we can actually create regenerative farming systems and step away from feed lot farming for our dairy and meat – we can create a more harmonious system that regenerates earth without having to give up our omnivorous heritage – the foods we evolved eating.
As I began reading Jonathan’s essay – I assumed, “he’s coming for the meager meat I have left in my diet.” I was surprised to see he didn’t. Instead I saw more understanding and maturity than I expected – and far less judgment.
“This book is an argument for a collective act to eat differently – specifically, no animal products before dinner. That is a difficult argument to make, both because the topic is so fraught and because of the sacrifice involved. Most people like the smell and taste of meat, dairy, and eggs. Most people value the roles animal products play in their lives and aren’t prepared to adopt new eating identities. Most people have eaten animal products at almost every meal since they were children and it’s hard to change lifelong habits, even when they aren’t freighted with pleasure and identity. Those are meaningful challenges, not only worth acknowledging but necessary to acknowledge. Changing the way we eat is simple compared with converting the world’s power grid, or overcoming the influence of powerful lobbyists to pass carbon-tax legislation, or ratifying a significant international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions – but it isn’t simple.”
– Jonathan Safran Foer, We Are The Weather (Excerpt from his book, republished in Paul Hawken’s Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation, p. 190)
And my first reaction. Heck, I could do that. But it will mean giving up dairy in my coffee and tea. But still. I could do that. Perhaps not every day, but most. And perhaps I would feel justified in not doing so when one of my neighbors gives me a dozen eggs from their hen house. I could live with the spirit of this recommendation if nothing else, and reduce or eliminate all animal products before dinner. That couldn’t be that hard, right? Well. It won’t be easy, and as he says, it isn’t simple – but it’s doable and I’m going to give it a go.
He ends this essay with a series of bulleted facts about our approach to animal foods and its impact on our climate. Here they are.
- The current climate change is the first caused by an animal and not by a natural event.
- Since the advent of agriculture, approximately 12,000 years ago, humans have destroyed 83% of all wild animals and half of all plants.
- Globally, humans use 59% of all the land capable of growing crops to grow food for livestock.
- There are approximately 30 farmed animals for every human on the planet.
- In 2018, 99% of the animals eaten were raised on factory farms.
- On average, Americans consume twice the recommended intake of protein.
- People who eat diets high in animal protein are four times as likely to die of cancer as those who eat diets low in animal protein are.
- About 80% of deforestation occurs to clear land for crops for livestock and grazing.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazonian deforestation.
- Forests contain more carbon than do all exploitable fossil fuel reserves.
Oh Jonathan. You started so soft, but each of these bullets is like a spear. Yes, I know, I know that our factory farming practices are hugely problematic. So where do we go from here. Do we all seek to become vegan?
Perhaps not – and that’s OK too – but the many points covered in this chapter on Food show us that we can each make a difference. One forkful or spoonful or gulp at a time. If we can be more mindful of our consumptive practices, reduce our reliance on factory farms, focus on procurement of localized real whole foods while also reducing our consumption of animal products we can begin the hard task of reversing climate change. The more of us that act in such a way, the stronger the pressures will be on Big Food and Big Ag and even Big Oil to change their ways – to shift their practices to regenerative methods – to limit their production of products we may not need so much of anymore
We can plant gardens of flowering bushes and trees that produce food for our families and support our pollinators. We can live in the beauty of nature and be part of its restoration by getting closer to our food sources. This really is a hopeful book, each step of the way.
And if enough of us really do the hard work of pushing for change – that change will eventually come from places that seemed impossible only a decade ago. Perhaps Chevron and Shell and BP will become green energy companies that help us rebuild our energy infrastructures. Perhaps Big Ag and Big Food will similarly act, jump on the bandwagon and become truly regenerative industries. It is all possible.
As we wrap up…
I want to thank you – each and every one of you – for coming on this journey. I hope you’ll send me a note with questions for Paul, or thoughts on what we can all do to support this regeneration movement. And if you have a story in mind that you think needs to be told – please share it. I’m here and I’m all ears.
I’d also love for you to share this podcast series on Regeneration with your community. You could post the link on your social pages, or send a message to a few friends that you think need to hear it. We’re all in this together, after all and it will take our collective effort to reverse global warming.
And if you enjoy this work, I hope you’ll support Care More Be Better to keep it ad free. You can become a Patreon member for as little as $2.00 a month – which both motivates me to keep going and helps cover show costs. Because Yep. That’s right. Creating quality content IS NOT FREE. Visit caremorebebetter.com/support for all the ways you can become a member and support the show. You’ll feel good doing it, and every contribution in financial support or positive action, inspires us to keep at this hard work.
Thank you listeners, now and always for being a part of this pod and community – because together, we really can do so much more. We can care more and be better. We can regenerate earth.