Part three of The One-Straw Revolution is wise, thoughtful, and philosophical. Much of it I’ve already read and begun to practice in my Buddhist studies, but there were quite a few gems that I had not encountered yet.
The first gem that keeps coming back to mind is, “Each person should ponder seriously how much hardship he is causing by indulging in food so expensively produced.”
The more I learn, the more I know this is true. Every mile something has to travel to get to my plate, every gallon of gas used, every pint of chemicals used, every bit of rain forest slashed, every person forced to work for pennies a day, every animal harmed must be taken into account when I decide to buy something.
Even something as simple as choosing the best looking fruit in the produce section causes economic hardship on conventional farmers that leads down a long line of chain-reactions ending in things like spraying coloring agents and applying paraffin (oil-derived) waxes to oranges so that they look more appealing. A perfectly orange orange is not necessarily the freshest or most nutritious.
I recently watched a series of documentaries named “Wildest India.” Every episode was packed full of words like “threatened,” “most endangered,” and “near extinction.”
One such case was that of organic tea farms in India’s Western Ghats that have reduced the highly threatened lion-tailed macaque’s habitat to a fragmented 1% of their former living space. That was in the last episode I watched after learning about threatened lions, elephants, blackbuck antelope, exotic birds, and so many more. The endangerment of most of the animals is mostly due to loss of habitat because of human encroachment, usually agriculture.
The five episodes (which are currently available for streaming on Netflix) ended in a half-hour crying session for me.
I follow the work of an amazing woman that works tremendous hours advocating for all animals, including insects. She is a hardcore vegan and lives as compassionately as possible. I couldn’t help remembering that in one podcast she said she drinks several pots of tea a day. Maybe she knows about these farms and doesn’t purchase tea from this area (or is all tea production like this?). Maybe she doesn’t know.
I make an effort to not purchase anything with palm oil, like many other vegans, because of the destruction of rain forests for palm tree plantations which result in extreme hardship and death for the orangutans that live there. But how many other things that we consume are causing extreme hardship and death for animals? Obviously this tea is doing the same thing as the rain forest-slashing palm oil.
But after doing a little search, I learned it’s not just the tea plantations. It’s also coffee, teak, cinchona, other agriculture, and the building of water reserves for irrigation and power generation. Then there are the roads that break up the forests, the human settlements near these activities, the fact that lion-tailed macaques rarely cross these areas and avoid humans, and that when they do they sometimes get killed by passing motorists.
But it’s not just macaques that live in the forest of the Western Ghats. The incredible amounts of rain in this area created a vast biodiversity that will continue to decline as humans destroy the area.
But remember, we can’t just put blame on those who are doing the physical destruction. Remember that every time we demand a product, someone has to supply it. And in developing countries, farmers usually need the money, so they do what they can to feed their family. That means if I go buy tea or coffee that was produced in that area, I am contributing to the decline of these animals and possibly their extinction.
It seems impossible to know all of these things. And maybe it is. This just makes me more determined to grow at least 90% of my own food (one of my life goals). If I grow my own food, I can be sure that it is nutritious, the way nature intended it to be. With permaculture practices, I plan to attain a fully cyclical environment where no outside inputs are needed. I will depend on the soil, the sun, the rain, the plants, passing wildlife, and myself. This land (my home and yard) has already been ripped clean of its original habitat, so I might as well use it to feed my family and not keep taking more and more (and restore some habitat while I’m at it). That’s the plan at least, and I’ll be documenting it here.
The other gem that I must mention here is something that I have not been able to fully grasp yet. This is something that I will need to meditate on before the full meaning becomes clear and it feels true to me. But once it does, it will change my relationship with food forever.
“People do not live dependent on food. Ultimately, we cannot know what food is. It would be better if people stopped even thinking about food. Similarly, it would be well if people stopped troubling about discovering the “true meaning of life;” we can never know the answers to great spiritual questions, but it’s alright not to understand. We have been born and are living on earth to face directly the reality of living.
Living is no more than the result of being born. Whatever it is people eat to live, whatever people think they must eat to live, is nothing more than something they have thought up. The world exists in such a way that if people will set aside their human will and be guided instead by nature there is no reason to expect to starve.
Just to live here and now — this is the true basis of human life.”
That’s a long quote, but I felt it was necessary to include all of it to aid in my own eventual understanding.
The preceding discussions in the book have argued the irrelevance and unnecessariness of science in farming. Nature is interconnected, and science is too fragmented. Humans do not have the capacity to understand something as complex as nature. Humans cannot improve upon nature.
Stemming off of that, perhaps he means that all we have discovered about macronutrients, calories, vitamins, and minerals are not necessary to know. After all, if we eat foods that are in their wild form (which are, incidentally, easier to grow), foods that have not been bred and altered from their original natural state (think bitter wild lettuce versus almost tasteless iceberg lettuce) for taste, foods that are not processed, we will be nourished and healthy.
Foods in their ancestral form contain copious amounts of nutrients. Foods in their ancestral and natural (not processed) form do not induce overeating or the desire to eat only one food. If we were foragers, we would most likely eat a wide variety of foods, even if we had a favorite, because there would not be enough of your favorite to eat only that. In fact, you would be careful not to overeat your favorite food, because if you ate all of it, you could eradicate that species in the area, and you would no longer be able to eat it. Plus, you would probably be eating a variety of foods over the year as the seasons change and plants traverse their life cycles.
So maybe if we just eat what nature wants to give us in our own specific areas, we don’t need to worry about teaching the food pyramid or “my plate.” We don’t need to worry about protein shakes or vitamin pills. We probably wouldn’t need to worry as much about many of the diseases we suffer with today.
But that would be hard for anyone who has ever tasted an Oreo, bread, or even bananas if you live in a temperate climate. So I guess that’s what he means by telling us to stop thinking about food. If I were to ever succeed in this type of diet, I would need to stop thinking about all that processed food that my body currently finds so appealing.
We’ve created an awful lot of work for ourselves because of taste. We work endless hours so that we can buy the foods that taste best to us at a store. We spend time planting and spraying and checking crops that have been weakened by centuries of breeding and selection. We meticulously nurture our tomato plants, hauling in fertilizer, killing insects and fencing out munching mammals, only to end up with a minuscule crop due to lack of summer heat.
Basically, our lives would be easier, we would be healthier, and the planet and all of its inhabitants would be better off if we went back to eating the foods that nature wants us to eat: wild or close to wild, unprocessed food. And since I’m vegan I’ll further narrow that to plants.
So why don’t we do it? Because of desire. We desire certain tastes, and desire is one mighty beast to attempt to tame. However, if you instead meditate on the fact that desires only cause suffering, you will slowly stop wanting things. If you get to this point, you don’t have to ignore or control your desires. It’s not like you are a sober alcoholic that is confronted with alcohol on a daily basis.
Instead, you start realizing that the Mercedes you so badly wanted and worked so hard for ended up costing you money for the car, the gas, the insurance, the maintenance, the licensing, the tax, and the accouterments. It may have originally made you happy for a certain span of time. But then it will either become boring as Mercedes introduces new models, it will be stolen, it will be totaled in an accident, or you will spend your time fearing these things. Eventually, you will need to get something bigger and better or replace the item in order to keep yourself happy in an endless spiral of fleeting desires and attainments.
Once you realize the desire for the Mercedes literally caused you suffering, you stop having a desire for a fashionable vehicle. This pertains to all desires, but some realizations are easier to attain than others. My hope is to continue meditating on Fukuoka’s wise advice until I can attain this realization for natural foods. I suspect that unlike dropping a desire for an expensive material item for the purpose of perceived social status, I’ll have to work harder at food.
The taste desire is particularly strong, and I will most likely have to force myself to become accustomed to more wild tasting plants and to stop craving Oreos. I’m strong like a human, but I’m also weak like a human. All I can do is recognize this and continue to study and meditate. Certainly growing my own food will get me closer. Everything tastes better from the garden than from the package.
Edit: See the post on parts four and five where I elaborate on and correct my thinking in this post.