Why God Wants Me to Grow Tomatoes

21 03 2012

One of my goals in life is to become completely self-sufficient. I want to grow, raise, and gather every part of my diet, make all of my own food, clothing, and household goods, and produce my own clean energy. While this sounds straightforward on paper (or a computer screen), it is going to be difficult, and sometimes my thoughts, or the comments of others, make me wonder if it is even worth it. As with so many other difficult decisions, however, the Bible has offered some applicable and interesting pieces of wisdom that I feel are reason enough to pursue such a goal, for me and for anyone who wants a happier, more natural life. Here are a few notable quotes, and a little of my own analysis (all verses are from the New International Version):

  • “To Adam he said,…’Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’ ”     ~Genesis 3:17-19
    • It was, in fact, punishment for original sin that we were made to engage in agriculture, in order to provide for our earthly needs. That being said, it was commanded by God that we do this. Though we had disobeyed him, it was his intention for us to take advantage of the natural system he had put in place, disturbing it as minimally as possible and working to live off of the land because, physically, the soil is our body’s origin and final destination.
  • ” ‘ “Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell…” ‘ ”     ~Numbers 35:34
    • The context of this quote specifically references bloodshed (i.e. warfare) in Israel as being one thing which defiles the land. It does, however, establish the importance of one’s homeland, and the nearly spiritual connection that we have with the land, both the location and the soil itself, from which we draw sustenance. This was one of the first verses I understood to have a deeper environmental meaning.
  • “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.”     ~Ecclesiastes 6:10-12
    • Here, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes establishes the importance of real, laborious work, and dismisses the idea of an economic system in which expansion and growth (of money, not plants) is the primary motive. The accumulation of wealth for its own sake is meaningless and futile, and the quote suggests an economic system primarily consisting of labor (which, drawing from other quotes in the Bible, undoubtedly means agriculture) leads to a better life and allows for a metaphoric “sweet sleep”, likely a conscience free of the guilt associated with miserliness and usury.
  • “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate–bringing forth food form the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.”     ~Psalm 104:14-15
    • This is a joyful reminder that, even in the work and toil we must do to sustain ourselves, the Hand of God is present. It highlights the interconnectivity between God all of the earth, among the living creatures on Earth, and between the biosphere and its ecosystem, and reaffirms the integral part that human beings play in sustaining and living off of this system.
  • “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.”     ~1 John 2:15-16
    • Here is a quote which has been used in strong opposition to the “back-to-the-land” and environmental movements, yet is actually, in its true meaning, supportive of these fundamental mindsets. You see, the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The word used here, “world”, in Greek is κοσμος, pronounced in English “cosmos”, and is a very broadly defined word, meaning some combination of “people/the population”, “society”, and “secularism”. The meaning has nothing to do with the Earth itself nor with environmental or nature-related concerns; the word Γη (“gee”), meaning earth or soil, would have been used to convey such a meaning. Therefore, this command is not against naturalism, but rather, against becoming too tied up with sinful and secular activities (as listed: carnal cravings, lustful eyes, and boastfulness) – that is, those things which society has created which serve to separate us from God. I believe consumerism and materialism are perfect examples of the behaviors condemned by this verse.
  • “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”     ~1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
    • This is the verse that, in this regard, is closest to my heart. I happened upon it a month or two ago, and saw in it a welcomed justification for the self-sufficient life I aim to live. Very bluntly, Paul tells the Thessalonians to live a self-sufficient life (in the time before such a phrase needed to be coined, in order to describe an “alternative” lifestyle) through agriculture and homemade goods – what is meant by “work with your hands”. Moreover, he explains that the reason for this is to provide for the security of their (our) Earthly life – “so that you will not be dependent on anybody”.

It saddens me to see almost none of the wisdom contained in these verses being practiced in our society today. The blame does not lie with just one party, but with the trends, accelerated by economic growth, which have formed our world’s current political and economic systems. Most of us (myself included), if it came down to it, would not know how to provide our own food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment without the Wal-marts, grocery stores, and electronics stores there to provide for us. In just a few generations, we have almost completely lost the inherited wisdom, collected by our species through all of human history and deemed to be of the utmost importance by the Word of God, that would keep us alive if the unstable system we have created faltered or fell. I personally take these verses, with special attention to the last one, as a challenge to reawaken that knack for self-sufficiency and living off the Earth that human beings were once, and could again be, bestowed with. What do you think?


Let’s Get the Ball Rolling – Individuals and Society in an Unstable Equilibrium

20 03 2012

Picture a metaphoric ball resting precariously atop a steep, metaphoric hill. The ball represents our modern society – a “collective mind” of sorts, comprised of all of the basic assumptions we make about ourselves, about others, and about our relationship to the social and natural world we live in; the hill represents progress, specifically the industrialization and technological progress of the last hundred or so years, since the Industrial Revolution, which have brought us further from our roots than almost any other period in human history.

Many paths lead to the bottom of the hill – an infinite number, speaking mathematically, but for our purposes, we’ll say it’s 3 or 4 – and at the bottom of each path lies one of the many traditions, values, and institutions that we have left behind in the name of progress. Among these are the traditional religion and spirituality of our parents and grandparents, the rural and agrarian structure of society, and the tight-knit community, home, and family of our ancestors.

As it would turn out, these paths all ultimately lead to the same place. That is, these ideas, traditions, and values, though distinct in nature, have traditionally complemented one another, and have existed more or less simultaneously throughout much of human history. And thus, it would follow, the paths all point in the same direction: backward. They lead backward, away from the industrialization, capitalization, and technological advancement that have shaped our modern world; against the tides of change, of progress, which, for the sake of its own propagation, has become the perpetual driving force of so many decisions, political and even private, made by our species today.

You may ask, then, why I have chosen a ball perched atop a steep hill to represent the very foundation of contemporary society. I make no claims of any great knowledge in neurology, psychology, anthropology, or sociology, but there is one characteristic of our society that my own observations have repeatedly led me to: this hill, this very foundation, is unstable. At any point, a small amount of force applied in the right direction can start the ball rolling back down, back to stable ground, to the agrarian, community-based economics practiced for so much of human history. A small shift in day-to-day life, or the rediscovery of a older, simpler tradition that, in the hustle and bustle of modern life, we didn’t realize we had forgotten – these little events on a societal or, more likely, personal level, can start the ball rolling. Moreover, if strong enough, they can completely derail all of the artificiality, materialism, and vice which have been forced upon us (by whom?: that is a whole discussion in itself), in order to separate us from our roots and keep us in a state of near-subservience.

So much of our time is spent in front of a computer screen, playing video games, watching TV, or working in a cubicle, and for those who live in some cities, it is often (but not always) impossible to experience the natural world. Yet, as if none of this matters, when a child touches the dirt, chases a butterfly, picks a dandelion, or watches a bird flap around in a tree, her eyes light up – she understands, though in much a transcendental manner, beyond the scope of anything she could possibly comprehend, the fundamental virtue and “rightness” in this interaction with the natural world. When a young boy (this was yours truly) realizes that food comes from plants, and a whole new world opens in front of him, in which “the Outside” means so much more than it did before, something subtle changes in his psyche – one might say, the ball starts a steady roll.

It cannot be denied that there is a connection between us and the world in which we reside. It is much greater than any Industrial Revolution or technological advancement, much more powerful than what, in reality, amounts to a small blip in the history of our species and our Earth. When the very basis of our lives is manufactured and not inherent; when we, without realizing its significance, hope and pray for some basic, real experience that would help to define what it means to be human; when we long for something more – that is because there is something more, some subconscious sense of our natural roots, present because of literally thousands of years of human tradition ingrained in our human instinct, that cannot simply be weeded out (pun intended) by a few generations of corporate, technological power-mongering.

There are two bible verses which I believe summarize everything I have and could possibly say regarding the necessity for this shift in our way of thinking. The first is from Psalm 24, Verses 1 and 2: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,/ the world, and all who live in it…”. The second is from Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Chapter 4, Verses 11 and 12: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody[emphasis added].”

The next question is: Where do we start? However we try to return to our roots, to remember that which we have unconsciously forgotten, the most important thing we must keep in mind: Just start the ball rolling.

Monsanto, the bane of my existence

5 03 2012

Since Monsanto, the multinational chemical turned biotechnology company, has done more harm to the world in their 100 year tenure than any other person or company in history, I feel it fitting that my first post be a tribute of sorts to them. (All company history comes directly from Monsanto’s website, http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/Pages/monsanto-history.aspx)

Monsanto, originally a chemical company, was founded in 1901 by chemist John F. Queeny. In the hundred years between its founding and its conversion to a biotechnology company in 2000, Monsanto was responsible for quite a few well-known inventions:

  • saccharin and aspartame – artificial sweeteners that are believed to cause cancer and other health defects
  • 2-4D – a major ingredient in Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War to kill not only the enemy, but also innocent Vietnamese farmers and, yes, our own troops
  • Roundup – a powerful herbicide that, according to recent studies, causes cancerous tumors and effectively stops the body from fighting them
  • bovine growth hormone – rBGH, rBST, or Posilac; whatever name it is called, it increases cows’ milk production and gives them mastitis, polluting the milk with somatic cells (puss) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF, a human growth hormone)

And then, in the year 2000, EVERYTHING changed. Early in that year, Monsanto merged with a few other companies, and changed its name to Pharmacia Corporation. A few months later, Pharmacia Corporation spat out a subsidiary named – you guessed it – Monsanto, a primarily agricultural biotechnology firm that happened to have the same corporate structure, be staffed by the same people, and operate toward the same goals and products, as “the old Monsanto”. This was “the new Monsanto”, the self-proclaimed messiah, completely disconnected with the shady activities of its past.

Thus, we come to modern day. The Monsanto Company mainly produces what are called genetically engineered seeds. That is, plant organisms which have genetic material from another species, possibly from another taxonomic family entirely, forcibly inserted into their DNA, and that are only minimally tested for safety. Since around 1994, when the company first put its foot through the door of agribusiness, it has specialized in two major “products”, as they insist on calling the living creatures that they mutate and sell to the unknowing public – the Roundup Ready™ and Bt traits:

  • Roundup Ready™, as the name would imply, is a line of plants (mostly soybeans) that have been genetically modified to survive being liberally sprayed with the plant toxin glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup brand weed killer). What it does not say on the label is that glyphosate bonds to soil molecules, is taken up into the plant through its roots, and is consumed by innocent people like you and me, where it increases our risk of cancer while blocking our cells’ natural defenses against carcinogenesis (the formation of cancer).
  • Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, is a soil bacteria whose genetic material is inserted into the DNA of plants (mostly corn), so that the organism will produce a toxic chemical, thus making the plant act as its own pesticide. The toxin is present in every bit of the plant, including the part we eat, and studies have shown that it is not as narrowly “targeted” to specific pests as the company would like us to believe.

At this, one might ask: “Well, what do I have to worry about? I eat corn on the cob a couple of times a summer, and I never eat soybeans. This stuff really doesn’t affect me, right?” This, my friends, brings us to the pièce de résistance, if you will, of Monsanto’s invisible corporate empire. According to recent estimates, upwards of 75% of processed foods in the US contain at least one genetically modified ingredient. Through a clever game of intellectual property rights, manufacturing demand, and the “revolving door syndrome” with the US government (issues I will address, in due course, at a later time), Monsanto has unilaterally ensured that some form of its products, especially processed extracts, of extracts, of corn and soy, manifest themselves in most of the things we eat every day. When you start to think about it, the list goes on and on: (high fructose) corn syrup, soy lecithin, citric and lactic acid, dextrose, soy protein concentrate, soybean oil, soy meal and corn flour, soy isolate, mono- and diglycerides, “natural flavors”, of course, and many, many others.

With such a presence in our modern world, your next question might be “Why have I never before heard of Monsanto Company?” To this, I can only say, you – all of us – were never supposed to. In the past decades, Monsanto has spent huge sums of money fighting citizen and government initiatives to label food that contains the company’s products. There is no “fine print” mentioning that the ingredients in any of the processed foods in the United States comes from Monsanto, and there is definitely no indication that they are derived from genetically modified sources. With the help of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with whom the company shares quite a few employees, Monsanto has constructed a system in which the public has absolutely no idea, unless they adamantly look for it, that the food they are eating is different than that eaten by their grandparents. The desire, the ultimate goal, of this shadowy entity seems to be a presence in every house, and every human body, in the world, while ensuring that its name never leaves the tongue of those destined to bear the effects of its unsafe creations. Forgive me, because I recognize that the way I say these ideas, they sound like conspiracy theories. I assure you, however, that they are far from that. Money and power make people to disturbing things, and the Monsanto Company is a perfect example of, in the paraphrased words of a blogger whose piece I read more than a year ago, “a company that is bat-s**t crazy with power”. Though it seems unreal, there is, in fact, a company that holds quite a bit of control over your life, and which takes great pains so that you have no idea that this is the case. What I have discussed here has only scratched the surface. There is a world of lies and deceit, both from this and other entities that feed you their poison and regulatory agencies that allow it to happen – and this is a topic I plan to cover at great length on this blog. At that, I leave you with a quote:

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”     George Orwell, 1984