Beyond Tomato Cages

I've wanted to save the world since I was in third grade. Save it from what has always been hard to pinpoint; until I discovered the eat local movement. Then I wanted to save the world from manufactured food and the unnecessary use of fossil fuels. I still do.

I read an article today that broadened my perspective though. It was a moment of ah-ha. The article argued that even if everyone in the U.S. tore out their lawns to plant gardens it wouldn't make a significant difference to world hunger. The people rioting for food don't want cucumbers, they want rice; wheat; commodity crops grown in monocultures. The article went on in that vein repeatedly making the point that we can't get sedated in our gardens but must press for policy change in the world beyond tomato cages and bean poles.

I'm not in a position to debate world hunger but I do believe that tearing out our lawns or planting a backyard garden makes more of a difference than the author gives voice to. And he does give voice to it. He tore out his own lawn several years ago.

It's my experience that something bigger happens when we begin paying attention to our food, where it comes from, how it's grown. Read any of the bloggers in my sidebar. They garden, eat local food, but they do not have their heads stuck in a gopher hole. They're writing letters to Washington. They're canning, reading books to learn more. They're questioning where their water is going, biking, building community, connecting their kids to the natural world, teaching themselves and others how to live with a lighter step. They are talking about how to make a difference.

Saving the world or not I was going to have my local dinners and call it good. I had no idea. Now I want to save the oceans and save the world from Monsanto. I want to ban plastic bags, plastic water bottles, halt mountaintop removal for the mining of coal. I worry about water and the people in Haiti, the farmers in India, tomato pickers in Florida. And I continue to make changes at home to be more respectful of the world around me, to learn beyond sound bytes what the hell is going on in the world. I'm not alone.

All of which began with a meal grown within 100 miles of home. From there bigger change can and does happen.

Hopefully change big enough to sustain and feed the world.


Sam said...

I had read that article a few months back and the point the author made, made me think for awhile. Then I read Theresa's attempts at growing wheat and thought that maybe lawns could grow some grain in addition to the usual fruits/veggies.

Its true that by the sheer act of settling down from a nomadic lifestyle, humans have chosen to rely on a select set of crops that today are priced based on what happens in the commodities markets, but I feel that the reason the problem is exacerbated is because of overpopulation. A small town with a few farmers could very well feed its entire population with a decent variety of crops, but in a crowded city or suburb, it might be more of a challenge.

Also, what is with these people picking on the local food movement? The benefits far outweigh the negative aspects of eating locally (the main one being the one the author raised in the article), but supporting a local economy, paying attention to where the food comes from, cooking from scratch are all worthy goals worth pursuing.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have wanted to "save the world" since I was very young. And I spent far too long in school (racking up horribly debt in student loans!), searching for the perfect way to save the world... So far I've settled on blogging and documentary filmmaking - we'll see...

Anyway, I think growing our own food is a good entryway, a starting point. It is something we can remember our parents or grandparents doing. It is something we see in our local nurseries, even in big box stores. It's mainstream, so it's easy to begin doing.

And once we start gardening, a whole world opens up to us. We see the natural world and have a new relationship to it (if we're organic gardening!). And then we begin to wonder why bees and butterflies aren't coming to our gardens like we remembered in our childhood. And we notice how good a home-grown vegetable tastes and wonder why they all don't taste like that. And we understand in a fundamental level that you really don't want pesticides going into your body, and you begin to see the point of view of farmers just scraping by because this isn't easy or as cheap as you'd hoped (though still worth it!), and we think about other people around the world who are farming in their yards... And so on... Awareness grows, as our gardens grow.

At least that's what I've been thinking & hoping!

Canyon P said...

I think you make a difference; Environmentally and, personsmentally (you make a difference in people's lives, a good one). Canyon and I have free access to John and Ginger's nice crop of apples. We want to start with making some apple pie, then canning some pie filling, applesauce, and apple butter. We'd love to share and love any tips.
p.s. Sorry this doesn't really relate specifically to the said article. Sounds like something Canyon might read though.

Green Bean said...

Beautiful post and photo (I'm so happy apple season has come!).

I too have wanted to save the world since forever.

I think growing our own food is huge. So is all sorts of personal environmentalism. Will any of those save the world, feed the hungry, reverse global warming? Probably not. They may make a dent though. They also allow us to feel like we have some control, like we are making a difference AND, importantly as you point out, they get us thinking in the right direction.

I never thought about US foreign policy with regard to the hungry or undeveloped countries. I never thought about global cooperation, about what we can accomplish . . . until I started growing my own food, hanging my laundry to dry, push mowing my lawn, etc. Personal environmentalism is helpful, it is not the only solution, though. Rather, it is a door to a new awareness and way of being.

Great post.

Dea Anne said...

What a great post. This reminds me too of the Michael Pollan piece "Why Bother?" that ran in the New York Times magazine in April. Part of his point is that yes, personal choices do matter and they matter as a force for real change. I think that any action that opens the door to changing our daily patterns cannot fail to make a difference and that includes growing some vegetables or starting to buy from local farmers. Thanks again, Katrina, for provoking thought and discussion.

Kale for Sale said...

beany - Thank goodness no one is dependent on me to grow grain though. The peppers on the back deck are only mildly successful. But I've got ideas for next year. Next year, will be better. (That sentiment has surely been echoed by a few farmers.)

As far as the getting picked on, every movement has its backlash so the eat local one is no different. But you're right, the benefits, however small or wide, are completely worthwhile.

melinda - I'm hoping right along with you. And I have a new appreciation for your garden challenge as a starting point for broader awareness. You're clever! Thank you.

Hannah - Good score on the apples. Will you share apple pie? I dried some apples in the oven a few weeks ago and they are holding up great in a jar. Well, the three that are left. I can't stop eating them once I start. You can comment about anything. I love hearing from you.

green bean - You said it. So did Beany and Melinda. Those tomato plants in the front yard grow more than fruit.

dea anne - I loved that article by MP. Thanks for the reminder of it and the nice comment.

J said...

I actually read this article myself awhile back and was very moved by it. It helped reinforce the "you can't do it all by yourself" mentality that I have been trying to fight off these past few years. But it is true, no matter how much we can provide for ourselves via victory gardens, we will still have to rely on others for cooking oils, wheat, beans, rice, other legumes, and those foodstuffs that require a large amount of land to acquire the needed quantities. Does this necessarily have to be done via monocropping? I don't think so, but it is going to require a great shift in our "fence post to fence post" farming mentality. Permaculture "food forests" offer the potential to provide many of these goods in a manner that is not hard or bad for the environment, that can, in fact enrich it. However, with that in mind, this type of agriculture takes time, and a lot of effort, and even still, having a "food forest" in ones back yard is not cure-all, I still believe that we will have to have interdependent relationships with others who can provide us with necessities we can't ourselves and vice versa.

Haha, we DO need to save the world on Monsanto, oddly enough, I just wrote a piece relating to globalization, corporations, and food, with Monsanto being my biggest focus. Why? Well, I hail from St. Louis, home of Monsanto, and a lot of the material I've read is in regards to this particular company. I don't know how to link to a particular post in a comment, but it is the most recent one on our blog.

I think that Malcom Gladwell had it right, there comes a "tipping point", when enough people are doing things like eating locally, living more sustainably, writing letters to Washington, donating money to good causes when it allows, that some of these other problems might start to be addressed. Perhaps I am naive, but I prefer to call it hope. Thanks for the great piece!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you, by us starting to turn our lawns into raised beds, its does make us think more about the food we eat and where it comes from. And that makes us in turn think more broadly about where everyone's food is coming from.

Plus, by us growing a portion of our own food, maybe that will free up some portion of vast farmland that can be used for growing rice etc. I don't know, but maybe.

Kale for Sale said...

jennifer - Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I hadn't heard of food forests before but I'd sure like one. -- I'm on my way to read your piece about Monsanto. And great reminder about the tipping point. I may put that somewhere I can see it every day.

kendra - Yes, just by having the conversation about where our food comes from ignites more conversation on the subject. I'm with you in that I don't know but I keep moving forward with my fingers crossed that being aware makes a difference.