Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Green Dilema / The Omnivore's Dilema (A Book Review)

Happy Earth Day! I have been trying to wrap my brain around the Green trend for the past few years. I care very much about lasting sustainability. Indeed my entire career as a UX designer is all about trying to make the interfaces of software work well, for people, over a long period of time. When I look at the world around me I see a lot of UNsustainable systems which shout to me how obviously unusable they are, and suddenly I feel an urge to log a bug somewhere to get it fixed... before the software crashes... but there's no good place to log those bugs...

The truth about being green is that it's not very easy being green. Trying to be green is like trying to use Microsoft Word to edit a photograph. The world around me is just not set up to let me be green. Think about it, how many excuses can you come up with to NOT be green? Do you Recycle? Drive less? Compost? Use compact fluorescent light bulbs? Buy local? Fertilize your lawn organically? Save water? Purchase electricity from 'renewable' sources? Remodel with green building materials? Blah blah blah...

It took me, a foodie, a long time to figure out that being green starts with what you eat. The book, The Omnivore's Dilemma has brought to light for me the complete picture of how food is interconnected with the American environment. In the book Michael Pollan explores one simple question, "What should we have for dinner?", really extensively. I had no idea that the former Soviet Union had an underground black market for home grown produce, because their "highly efficient" industrial agricultural system just did not work. I never knew that spring mix salad was so resource expensive. I did not know that mushrooms live underground for decades. Nor did I know that pasture (grass) raised beef (and milk) literally has more nutrients in it than industrialized corn fed cattle. I feel like I've woken up after eating the fruit from the tree of knowlege!

The Omnivore's Dilemma is a fun, interesting read, but it does have some scary moments. The entire first section alone, the part about industrialized agriculture, is enlightening in a depressing kind of way. You are corn. Later in the book, Pollan describes a 100% sustainable, highly productive farm, Polyface Farms, in Virginia. I don't know why ALL American farms aren't like Polyface? Well, yes I do, Wall Street can't profit from farms like this.

Being green is way more than just what you eat, of course. It's really about economics and how one chooses to spend their money. The next time you hand over your money for something, you might consider where your food comes from, who gets your food dollars (Monsanto executives?), how food is produced, how far it travels, how it's stored, plus how and why it's marketed to the many. Everybody, the entire Earth, has to eat every single day. An entire economy built around ignorance of food is... unsustainable.

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