This week’s post will be the first part of a three part series where I discuss the philosophy that makes up the core of my business.
Week 1: Protecting and enhancing the environment and human health
Week 2: Building a local economy
Week 3: Creating a community of entrepreneurs
Although these three points are interrelated and there will inevitably be some overlap, I’d like to begin this series with a discussion about the environmental impact of a global vs. local food system.
Before I get into it, I’d like to mention that this discussion is working under the assumption that climate change is real and that it is caused by humans. But, I need to say a little more about this topic before diving in: I don’t actually “know” that climate change is real and that it is caused by humans. I haven’t done the research, and I honestly can say that I don’t understand the science. This stuff is complex, and I don’t have the scientific mind for it. However, what I can do is apply Pascal’s wager to the whole thing. Pascal was a 17th century polymath who came up with a philosophical argument concerning the existence of God. But let’s apply his logic to climate change. There are four scenarios.
Scenario 1: We make no effort to do something about climate change, and climate change ends up being false. End result: nothing different
Scenario 2: We make an effort to do something about climate change, and climate change ends up being false. End result: we create a new industry, create new jobs, save people from air pollution deaths. It would be expensive to implement, but nothing really bad happens, and there will be mostly good that results in my opinion.
Scenario 3: We make no effort to do something about climate change, and climate change ends up being real. End result: we are doomed.
Scenario 4: We make an effort to do something about climate change, and climate change ends up being true. End result: we saved the world.
In the scenarios that involve taking action, the results are either positive or extremely positive. In the scenarios the involve not taking action, the results are either extremely negative or just neutral. I think that this logic is much more convincing than having absolute “knowledge” or “certainty” on the matter, and I think that if this logic were to be employed by more media outlets, the air surrounding climate change would be less controversial. Anyway, this is convincing enough for me to dedicate much of my life to addressing climate change.
So, having written this long preamble, I’ll now get into how a non local food system impacts the environment and human health.
Best to use a specific example. Over 60% of the garlic sold in the United States is grown in China. China is by far the largest producer of garlic in the world, accounting for 80% of sales worldwide. Before harvest, Chinese garlic is irrigated using untreated sewage water that contains lead and sulphites, fertilized using synthetic fertilizer, sprayed with dangerous pesticides/herbicides/fungicides. After harvest, it is soaked in bleach to remove blemishes and fumigated with methyl bromide (a known carcinogen and ozone depleter) to kill any bugs and to prevent sprouting. The garlic is then shipped via air or sea freight all over the world, eventually making its way to the shelves in a conventional grocery store, changing hands dozens of times in the process. Since it takes a long time to import, allicin, the major component of garlic that is responsible for its health benefits, depletes and is almost absent. And, when it finally gets onto your plate, it tastes metallic anyway.
Compare this to a local food system: last week I got garlic from my friend Max. He uses nothing but locally produced compost and some woodash from his wood-burning stove as fertilizer. These inputs aid the soil’s microbial life, which sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. We were going to hang out anyway that day, so he just brought along the garlic, which I now have on my stand. That’s all. It’s pretty simple. No chemicals, healthy, minimal fossil fuel burning (actually no fossil fuels, Max drives an EV which is powered by solar) and a net positive impact to the environment.
Chinese garlic is just one example. Similar things can be said of most non-local sources of food. Don’t even get me started on Atlantic salmon from Chile or some of the huge mono-cropped lettuce farms in California (ok I actually did start writing about them but realized I don’t have to write a book to get to the point…you can talk to me if interested).
From beginning to end, this is a continual process of compounding destruction: the agricultural practices kill the microbes in the soil that are responsible for carbon sequestration; the chemicals used on the farm and the fossil fuels used in transport get into the atmosphere where they contribute to air pollution and climate change. The resulting climate change makes it difficult to grow food in certain regions of the world, which then results in farmers clearing more land elsewhere and so on. It’s a chain reaction.
This is going a little bit into part two, but I’ll mention it briefly here: the only seeming advantage to nonlocal foods is lower prices. Chinese garlic costs around $1.49/lb, compared to $11.99/lb from me. Atlantic salmon costs around $10.99/lb in Acme, compared to $18.99/lb for wild Alaskan sockeye from me. Californian lettuce costs a dollar compared to $3 from me. While the costs for nonlocal food are not immediate, they are much more significant in the long run: healthcare costs, the costs of environmental degradation, etc. Instead of asking why local, organic food is so expensive, I try to ask myself, why is conventional, non-local food so cheap. The answer to this question in fact negates the question itself: it’s not so cheap after all.
Supporting businesses that are doing good things for the environment is central to my business philosophy: mushroom farmer Brian from Mycopolitan uses sawdust from a local saw mill, which, after it is broken down by the mushrooms, is returned to the soil where the tree was capturing carbon before it was cut for wood. Cheese maker Stefanie from Valley Milkhouse gives her whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking, to a local farmer who feeds it to his pigs, reducing the amount of higher footprint grain feed. When I harvest microgreens, I feed the roots and potting soil to earthworms and work in the resulting vermicompost into the garden. Small, local producers are much more likely to do environmentally positive things like this. And what’s best for the environment is also what’s also best for you and your family’s health. This is the type of food production that I will always support.
Thank you for reading!
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