Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wholes and Holes and Holism

Over the last few days I have been following the Globe and Mail’s food and agriculture debate. Rolling out of bed and getting all hot under the collar reading a bunch of opinions on my livelihood and how it is perceived by so called experts is just what I need to start my day. Yeah right! I posted comments to try to make me feel better, but ended up feeling much like a prophet of old, “a voice crying in the wilderness”. One though, managed to hit the mark, as it was 5th of 194 comments. I felt there was hope yet in this world full of corn fructose syrup, artificial flavorings and “Twinkie bars”.
The trouble is we are in the age of “experts” were those with knowledge on very specific topics are able to share their findings and more often their opinion, and it is swallowed hook, line and sinker by media, reader and viewer with out question. Science and knowledge has become very specialized and compartmentalized with very little over lap between areas. This in turn creates misunderstandings and conflicts between the different fields, experts and scientists theories become more important than the truth of the matter. Then add in the needed profits for the corporations who are funding the research and you have the narrow minded, blinkers on, vision of where we are today.
The “Big picture viewpoint”, or Holistic thinking seems to be a thing of the past. Sadly this leads to Common Sense becoming an endangered species and Wisdom a thing only found in classic books. South African statesman-scholar Jan Christian Smuts coined the word holism (from the Greek holos) in the 1920s in his book ‘Holism and Evolution’. He came to understand that the world was not bits and pieces of stuff, but flexible changing patterns. He states “If you take patterns as the ultimate structure of the world, it is arrangements and not stuff that make up the world.” Thus every thing is connected and dependent on every thing else. We need to look at the big picture before making big or little decisions.
This then brings me back to the Globe and Mail debate. Containing lots of facts and opinions from many experts and journalists, with each article and video clip dealing with specific items of the food industry. The best though was complaining that many Canadian farmers were too small to compete and too many were lifestyle farmers instead of commodity producers. Over 50% of the beef in this country comes from herds of 100 cows or less, and as the powers that be say it takes 400- 500 cows for a farm to be viable, it means 50% of our beef industry is supplied by hobby/small farmers and is subsidized by farmers wives working off farm to keep the farm afloat. (Makes you wonder who is subsidizing whom?) You don’t see that in the news, but the statistics with Stats Canada bear it out. The same is true of the sheep industry and often times the grain industry. Why the Globe and mail feels these Farmers should become obsolete is beyond me. With only half the cattle most killing plants in Canada would shut down, as they would be no longer viable. This is part of the big picture; looking at all farms not just the ones an expert thinks is viable, the holistic view we talked of earlier. To look at the even bigger picture, view the rest of the world. 75% of the world eats food from farms 20 acres or less, thank goodness the economists are not closing those farmers down for being too small! As Yoda from Star Wars said, “Size matters not”. Small farmers all over the world are feeding people and here in Canada they are producing a good portion of our food and in some cases adding a large portion to the export market. At the same time most qualify for very little or none of the subsidies that are available, and most subsidize the system by working off farm for their own income. No one from the Globe and Mail mentions that good deal for the folks in Canada.
There were however some good points made in a couple of the video clips. The latest figure for the average family has it that they spend 9% of their income on food and that includes eating out! Which could mean that many families only spend 5-7% of their income on groceries, and then they have the cheek to complain about the cost of food. Many pay more HST per month than for food. By comparison folks in Moscow Russia spend 50% of their wages on food and that does not include eating out. Even if you buy organic and pay a premium for quality food you are still only spending 10-12% on food items, an absolute bargain compared to the rest of the world.
My favorite quote and a sobering thought was from a lady chef who pointed out that “we eat our future”. What we put in our mouths becomes us in the future, so we best pay attention to our food and where it comes from. If folks looked at their food in this manner every time they raised a fork to their mouth I imagine there would be some changes demanded by consumers. Small Farmers generally do a better job of caring for the soil and its fertility and fertile soil makes nutrient dense food and therefore healthier people. This is never more poignantly explained than at a funeral by the grave with the words “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. A harsh reminder of the fact we are really made up of the same stuff as the soil, therefore, plants, animals and ourselves are just different arrangements of the same stuff, holistically speaking.
A Merry Christmas to all readers and I challenge you to see how “close” you can keep your Christmas dinner, mileage wise that is. Mine will be local as it will be grown by myself, but I will have to admit I will let the side down with Bushmills Irish whiskey and some nice South African port!
Rob Fensom farms in the city at Harmonious Homestead and ewe.

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