Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yogic responses to Eco-Backlash... beyond breathing

After leaving high school, I've really been mostly surrounding myself with healthy, supportive friends. It's really been a while since anyone has challenged my belief systems, or made me feel like some crazy naive hippie (note 'a while', used to happen ALL the time in Montreal). Funny how backlash works, and since backlash from other movements (notably Feminism) has been studied and well documented, it's much easier to recognize in the green-movement. 

An occasion of frustration occurred recently from a friend (not close). I think it's the 'sort of friends who think I'm so flaky leftist hippie' derision that strikes such a chord with my sensitive-meter. Like when they send me 'interesting links' about recent 'research' they have read, thinking that they are helping me wake up to the supposed mass delusion.

Yoga encourages us to let go of these emotional reactions. I really believe there are options to simply 'turning the other cheek' or breathing through the anger and quietly letting go. Our planet is a bit too important and I firmly believe that change will happen if our society no longer accepts this kind of backlash. 

This means an answer. And not an angry vatta-pitta response, but a calm and rational answer. Here's the latest 'interesting article': Organic Food Myths.

Yogic answers to Skeptics 'Myths' on Organic Food:
1. Buying organic food benefits small farmers and represents a blow to the big food corporations. Myth reply: Trader Joe's makes a lot of money, Organic food industry is a million dollar industry, anti-corporation has nothing to do with organic food, and starving children in Africa need Big Ag.

 Reality: I take issue with the entire premise of this 'myth'. My first response would be: 'that's not why I buy organic'. But if they really want to talk about Big Org (haha) there are some realities to keep in mind:
- Yes, there are some pretty large 'Organic' companies out there that make a lot of money. There are also quite a few smaller companies that are certified organic, and many farmers that practice organic farming but can't afford the pricey certification. I know the difference.
- Although buying organic from big companies might not be subverting the consumer culture, it IS sending a message about what consumers want in their food. Big Org may make money, but they use little to no pesticides... 

2. Organic foods are healthier to eat.
Myth reply: There is a lot of E.Coli in organic food, changing how you grow a plant doesn't change it's genetic makeup, basically there is no evidence to support this claim.
Sigh. It depends on what you see as 'healthier'. The E.Coli silliness is just that- skewed interpretations, e.coli occurs in lots of foods and unless I'm mistaken, Organic foods also have to pass through rigorous health inspections for food safety, which doesn't make them more dangerous (if we're using that as a point).
Although opinions are varied about the differences in genetic makeup of foods grown organically (having more vitamin B12 for example), there really hasn't been enough longitudinal studies on how long term exposure to pesticides will affect human health. 
According to parliamentary report, about 66% of pesticides used (by weight) are hormone disruptors, and according to the David Suzuki Foundation 58 pesticides used in Canada are banned in other countries because of their ties to cancer, reproductive disorders and acute toxicity (Ecoholic, A.Vasil 2006). The World Health Organization estimates that 200,000 people die every year from pesticide poisioning, which doesn't include all the animals in our eco-system.

But he says they've all been tested to be safe... except many pesticides were 'grandfathered' into being approved because they were already being used worldwide and in 2006 union leaders representing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists claimed that they were being pressured to gloss over testing and skip steps. Great. Although the Canadian Food Inspection Agency indicates that only 20% of residue is detected on washed produce, the World Wildlife Fund report that these methods are money saving and crude, and besides that's 20% too much (Ecoholic, A. Vasil 2006).

And yes, pesticide levels are extremely small, PER pesticide... but the standards were set (in Canada) in the 1970's and research on the dynamic interaction between multiple ingestion of pesticides (on average 12 per meal) is difficult to accomplish. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment state that 90 to 100% of us have pesticides in our tissue (CAPE). I think I'll trust the research interpretations of medical professionals when it comes to my health thank you.

3. Organic growing methods are better for the environment.
Skeptic's answer: organic methods require 2x the acreage for the same crop and directly resulting in the destruction of undeveloped land. (and a bunch of irrational name calling ensues).

Lol, ok this is a bit ridiculous. Although Big Org. is by far a 'small farmer' industry, it's also still a drop in the bucket compared to Big Ag, so who's really destroying our 'rainforests'. Here's where knowing the difference between monocrop and polycrop farming matters. Monocrops (fields and fields of ONE produce) destroy and erode soil nutrients, resulting in the need for more pesticides and fertilizers per crop. 

Since most direct farmers don't make a lot of money, they are indebted to the FDA for loans and equipment specialized for one of two types of crops. Which means they can't switch to keep soil healthy. As a result, a vicious cycle begins where soil loses it's ability to grow, they add more synthetic fertilizers and pesticides or eat up more undeveloped land. 

Many organic farmers use a rotating crop method to help keep productivity as high as possible (since they can't rely on synthetic fertilizers) and put less harmful chemicals into the soil. Also, many smaller organic farmers don't use monocrops, but treat their farms as a holistic entity, improving soil fertility and ultimately productivity of their crops.

This does not, of course, provide a solution for our ultimate global food crisis. How are we going to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050?

According to Jay Ingram (Daily Planet), perhaps we should rethink how much food waste we actually produce. North Americans throw away approximately half of all their food...

                                     (picture from Science Focus)
Finally, I would encourage many people to check out our Atlantic Ocean's wonderful dead zone. One of many around the world, miles of ocean are starved of oxygen due to nitrogen run-off from agricultural fertilizer practices. Sea creatures cannot live here... and it's not like water has some sort of invisible wall containing the chemical contamination.

Exhale. How was that for a calm, well thought out response? :)

I have a pretty firm list on how I prioritize my food choices:
- Local and Organic (or organic practices)
- Local
- Organic and not local

Choosing our foods using a holistic approach will better serve our planets and our bodies :) 


article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Smackdown! Way to go!! I was literally JUST thinking about this when I saw your tweet and logged into Google Reader. I have a lot of friends, especially on Facebook, who aren't super close friends, but whose company I have enjoyed in the past. Many are the kind of people who would make arguments against organic food like the ones you described. I love and respect these people, and refuse to end a relationship because of political differences, but at the same can be hard. (I've been mulling over a post on this one...maybe...)

    Anyway, you said it all perfectly. I think the bottom line is that we will all search for research that support what we already believe in. Some of us will unexpectedly encounter things that alter our lives forever (like any book by John Robbins).

    This being the case, I think we all need to live and let live. Post these links on Facebook, go ahead - we shouldn't hide who we are. But DON'T send me messages or emails about stuff you know I don't believe in. (That's a hypothetical "you" and "I." I don't really mean you, Lisa, and I, Yancy! Ha ha.)

    And it's awesome to have info like this to share - sometimes there's just nothing better than a smart, respectful debate!

    Ultimately, I think we have to look underneath it all. There's always something that we share with our political opposites. If we search for that, or for the reasons behind their beliefs, I think we'll usually find a belief or intention that we both share, and that makes it much easier to get along! ;)

  2. a fantastic response.. refreshing!have a great weekend x

  3. great response. you are so good at doing all the research to back up your arguments...i'm not sadly.

  4. fabulous post. and a great summary of my own feelings as i am about to start reading this book:

    a friend recommended it to me. although from the dust jacket i feel like it might challenge my own political views the way some "friends" have challenged yours. it should be interesting nonetheless.

  5. @A Green Spell... i am also in the facebook conundrum, i'm almost never on it now partly because most of my friends are old friends who i am not so close to anymore but am happy to still be connected to in a small way - makes me feel like part of a bigger community here on an island where most of my peers live abroad. But what would I say to them of yoga, of eco-living, of all of this... I was always a bit out there in high school so my occasional posts are no surprise but I don't really feel like getting into a heavy conversation online when i have a wonderful supportive group of 'real life' friends, students and family here. But like you said I;m not about to defriend someone on political / spiritual differences, that seems a bit close minded and judgemental.

    Anyway, great post Lisa, good to have all your facts lined up. There is a fine line between turning the other cheek and just giving up, I think it's all good to turn the other cheek and also give a piece of your mind.

    Personally, I;m always a little worried about being too evangelical which I think does the whole 'movement' no favours. I firmly believe that you can;t change another person by force of will but you can provide them with all the information available so that they can make up their own mind, in their own time.

    Good job :)

  6. Fantastic post. And after just watching the film "Dirt," I can add to your last point that conventional ag/pesticides are ruining our soil, making us more reliant on chemical fertilizer to grow anything. And all that transporting and processing and refrigerating is contributing to global warming, which is causing more droughts and sea levels to rise, depleting our soil resources even more. Less good soil equals less ability to grow food. So how is conventional ag feeding our growing population? By robbing us of our ability to grow anything???

  7. I just did a double take on facebook- someone has an account with the name "Eco Yogini"! But they are from Boston.

    I think it is hilarious when people "research" to prove against this kind of thing. (Reminds me of that Al Gore movie). Really, what is the harm of eating organically and locally? Or following the 3Rs? Even if your "research" "proves" you don't have to (which is BS, but anyways...), is it really putting you out to throw something in the recycling bun vs. the garbage can?
    There are always going to be naysayers.

  8. Well done! I am right there with you! :)

  9. loved this!! I am currently listening to an audio book of "Animal Vegetable Miracle" upon recommendation of a friend, and am thoroughly enjoying the discussion of local eating, whole-food consuming consciousness... Thanks for sharing your views, backing them up with research and holding fast to your beliefs.... ultimately we've got to know ourselves why we make certain choices.

  10. I find the whole 'anti-organic' sentiments so many people seem to express confusing. I totally understand not being able to afford organic and being irritated by proponents who seem unaware of this (nothing grates more than folks unaware of their class privilege). But these kinds of myths? They seem competitive almost, and I suppose that's what is really happening here; big businesses unhappy with the growing trend towards accountability.

    For me, organic appeals because it ties in with sustainability. I have nothing against genetically modified foods, mainly because their invention saved thousands (if not millions) of lives in third world countries. But the more I become aware of my direct and indirect effect on the environment, the more I am drawn to food products that demonstrate awareness of eco-friendly production and sustainability.

    I'm really glad I found your blog. :) I am greatly enjoying all of your posts!

  11. Thanks for this post. It's such a tough subject. I get stuck between trying to educate people (which I'm sure is taken as eco-evangelizing by some) and worrying that trying to do that will turn them off even further. But I have a hard time just sitting by while horrible practices go on and the general public knows nothing about it. I guess my default behavior is to try to lead by example and then do a good job answering questions when others ask me about why I eat the way I do, etc. But I'm definitely not sure this is enough.

    After reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I posted on my FB status that I highly recommended it (and why), and I got some pretty strong comments from one person who thought I had my facts wrong. I don't know if I succeeded in convincing anyone else to read the book, but there was a little bit of decent discussion. I still don't know if doing that post was a good idea, but my intentions were good. Maybe that's enough??

  12. not sure if my last comment will get to you as the internet cut out . . , trying again.

    Did you read "The Vegetarin Myth"? She addresses the "other" side of the agrument about how grain-based mono crops are NOT saving the planet, nor feeding the hunger, but is indeed, making it worse. She does a great job at explaining how soil is built, how the ecosystem works (based on eating and being eaten), just overall a good read in support of eating what's local.


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