Modern Zen macrobiotics was created by the Japanese leader George Ohsawa. His leading apostle was Michio Kushi. Kushi died in December, leaving the macrobiotic movement leaderless for the first time in its history in the West. In any belief system there is always the potential to confuse the messenger with the message. The Ten Commandments ban worshipping graven images and Islam prohibits images of Mohammed. This prevents believers worshipping a fellow human who connected with the universal spirit of love and peace (or ‘health and happiness’ if you prefer) instead of seeking that connection themselves. In macrobiotics the tendency to follow the man rather than the practice has been a marginalising factor that has kept it as a cult instead of the universally popular diet that we once thought it would become. Yet macrobiotic principles are now the guiding principles of the renaissance in nutritional awareness that is gathering pace worldwide. It looks like we’ve won, just not under our flag.
The Zen Macrobiotic diet originated as a reaction to the introduction of American food in Japan. In 1907 The Shoku-Yo-Kai association was formed to educate the public in healthy eating and to encourage a return to the traditional Japanese diet and avoid the meat, dairy products and sugary refined foods introduced from the West. Japanese were beginning to succumb to hitherto unknown diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The President of Shoku-Yo-Kai was George Ohsawa in the 1930s. He was jailed and nearly executed because he opposed Japan’s militaristic and imperialistic adventures that led to World War 2. One of his students was Michio Kushi, who took the message to the US in 1949. He was not the only one. Another was a Hollywood-based Shoku-Yo-Kai practitioner called Dr Nakadadi, who in 1947 cured my father Ken, who suffered debilitating intestinal disease for years after fighting as a Marine in the Pacific war. But it was in the 1960s that Ohsawa’s book Zen Macrobiotics lit the fuse under the macrobiotic rocket. It married the Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang to diet and lifestyle. Taoism, like Zen, ideally seeks to achieve states where you transcend earthly day-to-day worries and become a mover and shaker while playing and staying in a state of constant bliss. This is why macrobiotics appealed so much to the Sixties hippie generation, who experienced those states temporarily and sought something that could bring them there without having to rely on psychoactive substances.
Ohsawa died suddenly in 1966, leaving the macrobiotic movement leaderless.
Michio Kushi on the East Coast and Herman Aihara on the West Coast, took up Ohsawa’s mantle. Kushi set up the East West Institute in Boston. It was a mecca for burned-out hippies who would make the hajj to Boston and work in the study centre or the associated restaurant and food wholesaling business Erewhon, while learning the philosophy and how to cook the food. Kushi’s lectures to his followers were published in The East West Journal and the Order of the Universe magazines, reaching more than 100,000 subscribers worldwide. His students became the missionaries of macrobiotics beyond Boston. Many of them came to London, where we welcomed them and gave them jobs in our restaurant, bakery and shop. We rented them a house in Ladbroke Grove where they could promulgate Kushi's message, give shiatsu classes and teach cooking. They disdained our free and easy approach to macrobiotics and advised us to go to Boston to study with Michio. We thought they were too ‘straight.’ They wore suits, smoked cigarettes and drank Guinness and coffee just like Michio. But the rest of their diet was much stricter than ours, allowing little in the way of sweeteners or dairy products. It was a bit alienating, but we thought 'each to his own' and were grateful to be introduced to shiatsu and to have active missionaries spreading the message.
A few years ago I wrote here about our macrobiotic sea cruise. It included late stage cancer sufferers who had, thanks to Michio Kushi's teachings, been clear for five or ten years. It was moving to hear their stories and their gratitude that macrobiotics had given them life beyond their doctors' expectations.
Will macrobiotics thrive in Kushi’s absence? The philosophy is now everywhere, the basic principles of making healthy diet the foundation of your physical and mental well being; eating whole unrefined cereals; exercising actively; always choose organic; avoid sugary refined foods; prefer sourdough over yeasted breads; avoid artificial preservatives and colourings; no trans fats; eat locally and seasonally… these were once quirky macrobiotic precepts but are all now well-established and the stuff of Sunday newspaper supplements. George Ohsawa once commented that as long as you were in a state of bliss it didn’t matter what you ate, you were macrobiotic. Kushi’s messaging was more prescriptive, but it reached a lot more people. These great men are no longer with us, but thanks to their teachings the quality and variety of food we can easily obtain is better than it has ever been in human history. There is no excuse for eating crap any more. For this we should be eternally grateful.
GOOD AFTERNOON. AND MANY THANKS FOR INVITING ME TO SPEAK HERE THIS AFTERNOON.
AS THE FOUNDER OF WHOLE EARTH I’D LIKE TO DISCUSS HOW WE TOOK OUR VALUES, WHICH FOR MANY YEARS HAD BEEN A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE, AND TRANSFORMED THEM INTO A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.
FORGIVE ME FOR DRAGGING YOU BACK INTO THE DIM AND DISTANT PAST, BUT TO OFFER ANY COMMENTS ON THE FUTURE FOR WESSANEN ORGANICS IT HELPS TO KNOW A BIT ABOUT ITS HERITAGE AND THE STORY OF THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND HAS BEEN WOVEN INTO IT FOR AT LEAST 34 YEARS.
IN 1965 I TRAVELLED THE ‘HIPPIE TRAIL’ JUST A FEW YEARS BEFORE IT ACQUIRED THAT NAME, HITCHHIKING, WALKING AND TAKING TRAINS AND BUSES FROM LONDON TO INDIA VIA SYRIA, IRAQ, KUWAIT, IRAN AND PAKISTAN.
EVENTUALLY I WAS IN NEW DELHI, WHERE I SPEND A NIGHT IN THE GENERAL HOSPITAL WITH ADVANCED AMOEBIC DYSENTERY AND INFECTIOUS HEPATITIS.
REALISING I MIGHT DIE IF I STAYED IN THE HOSPITAL, I STRUGGLED ON TO KABUL, WHERE I RESORTED TO THE SIMPLE FOLK REMEDY OF UNLEAVENED WHOLEMEAL FLATBREAD AND UNSWEETENED STRONG TEA TO TREAT THE DYSENTERY.
THE LIVER PAINS SUBSIDED AND I WAS FIT ENOUGH TO TRAVEL BACK TO LONDON. HOWEVER, I HAD LEARNED THAT DIET AND HEALTH WERE INEXTRICABLY INTERLINKED AND, BACK AT UNIVERSITY IN PHILADELPHIA LATER IN 1965, I ADOPTED THE MACROBIOTIC DIET.
ON GRADUATION IN 1966 I DECIDED TO OPEN A MACROBIOTIC RESTAURANT IN LONDON, SOON TO BE JOINED BY MY BROTHER GREGORY.
- Organic - Sustainable
- Local and Seasonal
- Zen/Japanese (Miso,Nori)
- No Additives, hormones
- Avoid sugar
- Eat only when hungry
SEED RESTAURANT WAS A SUCCESS, IT WAS THE LEGENDARY HIP - AND HIPPIE - MACROBIOTIC WATERING HOLE OF THE LATE 60S, WHERE BROWN RICE AND ORGANIC VEGETABLES DOMINATED THE MENU. OUR RESTAURANT ROCKED, BOTH WITH PROGRESSIVE MUSIC AND A GROOVY CLIENTELE DRAWN FROM LONDON’S ALTERNATIVE SCENE OF MUSIC, THE ARTS AND FASHION.
JOHN LENNON WAS ONE OF OUR REGULARS AND HE GAVE MY BROTHER GREGORY A LITTLE CARTOON IN GRATITUDE FOR OUR FOOD AND FOR HARMONY, THE PIONEERING MAGAZINE GREGORY PUBLISHED.
WE ESPOUSED A DIET THAT PRESCRIBED WHOLEGRAINS AND ORGANIC FOODS THAT WERE LOCAL AND SEASONAL – AND PROHIBITED ADDITIVES, COFFEE, SUGAR, FACTORY FARMED MEAT AND YEAST. WE THOUGHT MACROBIOTICS WAS THE ESSENTIAL FOUNDATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE IN A WORLD RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES, WITH A GROWING POPULATION AND INCREASING DEGENERATIVE DISEASE. I STILL DO.
THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION RATHER ALARMINGLY SAID THAT THE DIET WOULD ULTIMATELY LEAD TO DEATH. THEY WERE OF COURSE, ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. I HAVE FOLLOWED A MACROBIOTIC DIET FOR 49 YEARS NOW AND, MUCH AS I HATE TO ADMIT IT, IT’S A MATHEMATICAL CERTAINTY THAT I’M CLOSER TO DEATH THAN I WAS IN 1965
BUT I FEEL HEALTHIER THAN I DID THEN AND I’VE NEVER FELT BAD ENOUGH TO NEED TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP OF ANY KIND, FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL.
MY BOOK, ABOUT MACROBIOTICS, WAS PUBLISHED IN 1972 AND HAS BEEN TRANSLATED INTO 8 LANGUAGES, IS STILL IN PRINT IN PORTUGUESE AND HEBREW.
I WROTE A FEW OTHER BOOKS, THE LITTLE FOOD BOOK COVERED FOOD ISSUES FROM A 2002 PERSPECTIVE AND THE GREEN & BLACK’S STORY INCLUDED SOME OF THE STORY OF WHOLE EARTH FOODS
WE SOON HAD CERES (LATIN FOR DEMETER) - EUROPE’S FIRST NATURAL FOODS STORE - GOING FULL TILT ON THE PORTOBELLO ROAD, IN THE ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY’S THEN HEARTLAND. THEN OTHER BUDDING RETAILERS WHO WANTED TO DO WHAT WE DID CAME TO US FOR SUPPLIES, FORMING THE WHOLESALE CUSTOMER BASE FOR HARMONY FOODS.
WE WERE KNOWN AS THE BROWN RICE BARONS, BECAUSE IF YOU BOUGHT BROWN RICE IN THE 1970S IN BRITAIN OR IRELAND IT CAME FROM US.
WITH OTHER RETAILERS, WE FORMED THE NATURAL FOODS UNION, PROMISING EACH OTHER NEVER TO SELL PRODUCTS CONTAINING SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS, THUS DEFINING THE NATURAL FOODS MARKET.
WE ALSO MADE PEANUT BUTTER UNDER THE HARMONY BRAND.
IN 1977 I CREATED APPLE JUICE SWEETENED JAMS THAT WERE THE FIRST PRODUCTS IN THE ‘NO SUGAR ADDED’ CATEGORY. THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WE ALSO STARTED TO SUPPLY SUPERMARKETS, BREAKING THE BRAND BARRIER THAT STILL INHIBITS RETAIL SALES OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS IN MANY EUROPEAN COUNTRIES AND MAKES THE DEVELOPMENT OF NATIONAL BRANDING MORE DIFFICULT. WE HAD DEVELOPED THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND TO BE OUR SUPERMARKET BRAND BUT THEN DECIDED TO USE WHOLE EARTH TO BRAND ALL OUR PRODUCTS AND MIGRATED OUR HARMONY PEANUT BUTTER ACROSS TO WHOLE EARTH AND THE HARMONY BRAND WAS RETIRED.
WE WERE THE FIRST WITH ORGANIC BROWN RICE, SOURDOUGH BREAD, NORI SEAWEED, MISO, BREWED SOYA SAUCE, ADUKI BEANS, NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER, NO SUGAR ADDED JAMS, ORGANIC BAKED BEANS AND CARBONATED FRUIT JUICE DRINKS - BUT THERE WAS ALWAYS SOMEONE BIGGER AND STRONGER THAN US WHO WAITED UNTIL THE CATEGORY GOT BIG ENOUGH, THEN DID WHATEVER IT TOOK TO GET RID OF US. OFTEN THEY WERE OUR OWN DISTRIBUTORS AND IT WOULD BE UNREALISTIC NOT TO MENTION DISTRIBORG AND NATUFOOD, BOTH OF WHOM BUILT THEIR BUSINESSES ON EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENTS OF WHOLE EARTH JAMS AND THEN LATER SWITCHED CUSTOMERS TO THEIR OWN LABEL VERSIONS, NATUFOOD AND BJORG, FRUSTRATING OUR HOPES OF BUILDING A EUROPEAN BRAND IN PARTNERSHIP WITH OUR IMPORTERS.
NONETHELESS, BY THE LATE 1980S WE MANAGED TO CREATE A VERY SUCCESSFUL AND MUCH-LOVED PRODUCT IN WHOLE EARTH PEANUT BUTTER. IT HAD A RESPECTABLE 20% OF THE BRANDED PEANUT BUTTER MARKET. THEN NESTLE TOOK OVER SUN PAT. THEY COULDN’T ACCEPT OUR EXISTENCE AND TOOK STEPS TO ELIMINATE US.
IN 1989 NESTLE SUN PAT LAUNCHED WHOLENUT – THE LABEL ARTWORK LOOKED LIKE OURS, THE NAME SOUNDED LIKE WHOLE EARTH EVEN THE RECIPE EMULATED OURS. VISITING A SUPERMARKET BUYER WAS LIKE SEEING YOUR OWN FUNERAL REFLECTED IN THEIR EYES – THEY KNEW THAT THIS WOULD PROBABLY BE YOUR LAST VISIT – THEY’D SEEN THE STORYBOARDS FOR THE £5 MILLION TV ADVERTISING LAUNCH THAT NESTLE WERE PLANNING. WE MANAGED TO SEE THEM OFF, SHOWING THE POWER OF THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND. THEY COULD HAVE BOUGHT OUR BRAND AT THAT TIME FOR £2 MILLION AND SAVED £3 MILLION BUT EGOS DON’T WORK LIKE THAT. NESTLE’S WHOLENUT LASTED JUST 4 YEARS.
WE ALSO LAUNCHED THE FIRST NO SUGAR ADDED SOFT DRINKS IN 1984 – SWEETENED WITH APPLE JUICE
THESE WERE THE FORERUNNERS OF THE WHOLE EARTH SOFT DRINKS RANGE
REPLACING SUGAR WITH APPLE JUICE WAS THE BACKBONE OF THE WHOLE EARTH RANGE IN THE 1980S BUT THE FUTURE FOR THIS CONCEPT OF NO ADDED SUGAR IS LIMITED – UNLESS THE CALORIE CONTENT IS LOWER THERE ISN’T REALLY MUCH DIFFERENCE.
AT WHOLE EARTH’S 20TH BIRTHDAY PARTY IN 1987 I MADE A HERBAL BREW BASED ON OUR WHOLE EARTH COLA BUT WITH ADDED GUARANA AND CHINESE HERBS. IT REALLY PEPPED UP THE OCCASION. WE COULDN’T LAUNCH IT AS A WHOLE EARTH PRODUCT AS IT WAS EDGIER THAN RED BULL – NOT RIGHT FOR THE BRAND. SO WE NAMED IT GUSTO.
MY SON AND DAUGHTER LAUNCHED GUSTO IN 1990 AND IT BECAME A £500,000 BRAND.
IN 1999 WE SOLD SHARES IN WHOLE EARTH FOODS TO A GROUP OF INVESTORS AND THEY MISTAKENLY REFORMULATED GUSTO AND LAUNCHED IT IN NEW PACKAGING, ON THE ADVICE OF A WAITROSE SUPERMARKET BUYER. IN 2002 WE SOLD WHOLE EARTH AND GUSTO TO WESSANEN AND I OFFERED £100,000 TO TAKE GUSTO OUT OF THE DEAL. I WAS REFUSED. A YEAR OR SO LATER WAITROSE DELISTED GUSTO AND I BOUGHT THE BRAND BACK FOR £2000. MY SON WENT BACK TO THE ORIGINAL FORMAT, MADE IT ORGANIC AND IT IS NOW A £300,000 BRAND AND GROWING
IN 1989 WE LAUNCHED THE FIRST ORGANIC PEANUT BUTTER. TESCO GAVE US A LISTING.
THEN A SHIPMENT OF PEANUTS FAILED OUR QUALITY CONTROL AND IT TOOK 7 WEEKS FOR ANOTHER CONTAINER FROM PARAGUAY TO REACH US. SO WE STARTED LOOKING FOR A SUPPLIER WE COULD RELY ON. LISBETH DAMSGAARD OF URTEKRAM TOLD ME ABOUT AN ORGANIC PROJECT IN TOGO, WEST AFRICA AND I GOT IN TOUCH WITH ANDRE DEBERDT, A FRENCHMAN WHO WORKED WITH THE GROWERS. ANDRE SENT ME A PEANUT SAMPLE AND WE TESTED IT FOR AFLATOXIN. IT FAILED. I RANG ANDRE TO GIVE HIM THE BAD NEWS. HE MENTIONED THAT THE SAME FARMERS ALSO GREW ORGANIC COCOA BEANS. I GOT HIM TO ARRANGE FOR A SAMPLE OF 70% SOLIDS CHOCOLATE TO BE MADE FROM THOSE BEANS. WHEN IT ARRIVED I MANAGED TO KEEP SOME BACK FOR JOJO FAIRLEY, MY GIRL FRIEND AND A JOURNALIST.
WHEN SHE TASTED IT SHE SAID “THIS IS THE BEST CHOCOLATE I’VE EVER TASTED! YOU’VE GOT TO DO IT!”
IT COULDN’T GO UNDER THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND AS WE WERE A NO SUGAR BRAND. JOJO HAD JUST MOVED IN WITH ME AND HAD £20 GRAND IN THE BANK FROM THE SALE OF HER FLAT IN FULHAM, SO I DECIDED TO TAKE A RISK - WITH HER MONEY.
THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE THAT HAD EVEN 50% COCOA SOLIDS, NOTHING THAT WAS ORGANIC AND NOTHING THAT TASTED AS GOOD, SO WE CHARGED INTO THIS TRIPLE NICHE.
WE SAT IN BED ONE NIGHT THINKING UP A BRAND NAME – WHOLE EARTH WAS A NO SUGAR BRAND AND HAD TO STAY THAT WAY.
I’M GLAD WE DIDN’T CALL IT ECOCHOC, ORGANICHOC OR NATUCHOC
WE WANTED A BRAND THAT SOUNDED LIKE IT HAD A GLORIOUS CONFECTIONERY HERITAGE. IT NEEDED TO SOUND LIKE WE’D BEEN CRAFTING ARTISAN CHOCOLATE SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL.
WE WERE ‘GREEN’ BECAUSE WE WERE ORGANIC AND ‘BLACK’ BECAUSE WE HAD THE DARKEST CHOCOLATE ON THE MARKET, SO GREEN & BLACK’S PUSHED ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS. AND YOU COULD PRONOUNCE IT IN ANY LANGUAGE. SOME OF YOU HERE MAY HAVE HAD TO REPEAT THE WORDS ‘WHOLE EARTH’ SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE ANYONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. AS SOON AS SHE SAID ‘GREEN & BLACK’S’ WE KNEW WE HAD OUR NAME.
THE WHOLE EARTH OFFICES WERE IN THE SHOP BELOW MY FLAT ON PORTOBELLO ROAD SO I LEAPED OUT OF BED AND MOCKED UP A DESIGN IN 10 MINUTES.
THE NATURAL FOOD TRADE WERE RESISTANT. SUGAR WAS STILL A BIG NO-NO IN THE TRADE AND YOU CAN’T SWEETEN CHOCOLATE WITH APPLE JUICE..
COMMUNITY FOODS, THE BIGGEST NATURAL FOODS WHOLESALER, REFUSED TO STOCK GREEN & BLACK’S BECAUSE IT CONTAINED SUGAR. HOWEVER, BECAUSE THEY WERE ALSO A MASTER DISTRIBUTOR FOR THE WHOLE EARTH RANGE. I URGED THEM TO RECONSIDER THEIR NO SUGAR POLICY AND THEY WERE RELUCTANTLY BLACKMAILED INTO STOCKING THE CHOCOLATE. THAT WAS THE END OF THE NO SUGAR RULE IN THE UK NATURAL FOODS SECTOR.
WE ALSO GOT IN TO SAINSBURY’S AND SAFEWAY.
FROM THE OUTSET WE EDUCATED THE PRESS AND CONSUMERS ON THE ETHICAL ISSUES, EMPHASISING THE BENEFITS TO THE AFRICAN PRODUCERS.
IN 1992 WE WON THE FIRST ETHICAL CONSUMER AWARD AND GAINED THE IMPORTANT SUPPORT OF THE WOMEN’S ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK, WHO HAD JUST PUBLISHED CHOCOLATE UNWRAPPED, A BOOK WHICH HIGHLIGHTED THE DREADFUL PLIGHT OF WOMEN ON LARGE COCOA PLANTATIONS AND SUGGESTED WOMEN SHOULD REFUSE TO BUY CHOCOLATE
JOJO BONDED INSTANTLY WITH BERNADETTE VALLELY, WHO FOUNDED THE NETWORK AND WE MADE SURE THAT OUR CHOCOLATE WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL THEIR EVENTS. IF YOU JOINED THEIR NETWORK, YOUR JOINING GIFT WAS A BAR OF GREEN & BLACK’S.
WE CALLED IT GUILT – FREE CHOCOLATE. BUT FIRST WE HAD TO EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE WHAT THEY SHOULD FEEL GUILTY ABOUT.
WE ADDRESSED MORAL GUILT - WE PAID FAIR AND FIXED PRICES AND THE GROWERS WERE NOT EXPOSED TO DANGEROUS CHEMICALS.
WE ADDRESSED SUGAR GUILT - IT WAS LOWER IN SUGAR THAN ANY OTHER CHOCOLATE, ALL THE REST WERE 50-65% SUGAR, OURS WAS ONLY 29%.
WE ADDRESSED ENVIRONMENTAL GUILT - WE WERE SHADE-GROWN ORGANIC, SO WE HELPED THE RAIN FOREST.
ABOLISHING GUILT ON CHOCOLATE-RELATED ISSUES HELPS TAKE THE EDGE OFF THIS PURITANICAL GUILT OF SELF INDULGENCE AS WELL.
A HEADLINE IN THE INDEPENDENT SUMMED IT UP: “RIGHT ON – AND IT TASTES GOOD, TOO.”
IN 1993 I CONTACTED SOME OLD FRIENDS AMONG THE MAYA IN BELIZE, WHOSE COCOA PLANTATIONS I HAD VISITED 5 YEARS EARLIER AND WHO WERE MEMBERS OF THE TOLEDO CACAO GROWERS ASSOCIATION.
I FOUND THAT THERE WAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LAUNCH A PRODUCT AND A PROJECT THAT FROM THE OUTSET COULD BE DESIGNED TO BE A PERFECT EMBODIMENT OF ORGANIC AND FAIR TRADE PRINCIPLES.
WE WORKED OUT A NEW DEAL FOR A NEW PRODUCT CONCEPT - MAYA GOLD - AND MADE AN OFFER TO THE TCGA.
1. A FIVE YEAR ROLLING CONTRACT, PAYING $1.75 PER POUND
2. HELP TO OBTAIN ORGANIC CERTIFICATION.
3. A $20000 CASH ADVANCE SO THAT THE FARMER MEMBERS WERE GUARANTEED ‘SPOT CASH’.
4. WE TRAINED KEY COOP MEMBERS IN MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING, CORRECT FERMENTATION AND QUALITY CONTROL TO ENSURE THAT OUR ORGANIC COCOA BEANS TASTED BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE’S.
A FEW WEEKS LATER I MET MIKE DRURY OF THE FAIRTRADE FOUNDATION, WHO URGED US TO CONSIDER THE FAIRTRADE MARK. IT HADN’T YET BEEN SEEN ON ANYTHING AT THAT TIME AND WHAT WE WERE DOING MATCHED OR EXCEEDED ALL THEIR CRITERIA, SO WE AGREED.
MAYA GOLD WAS LAUNCHED ON MARCH 7 1994 ON THE OXFAM STAND AT THE BBC GOOD FOOD SHOW IN LONDON. WE DIDN’T ADVERTISE – WE DIDN’T NEED TO. BBC NEWSROUND SENT A CAMERA CREW TO BELIZE AND CAME BACK WITH FOOTAGE OF MAYA KIDS EATING MAYA GOLD, THE FIRST TIME MANY OF THEM HAD EVER TASTED CHOCOLATE AND PROBABLY THE FIRST TIME THAT PRODUCERS OF CACAO HAD SEEN THE FINISHED PRODUCT OF THEIR EFFORTS.
THAT DATE MARKED THE BIRTH OF THE FAIRTRADE MARK AND TOOK IT FROM A WORTHY IDEA TO A SUPERMARKET SHELF REALITY, STARTING WITH SAINSBURY’S AND SOON IN ALL THE MAJORS. CLIPPER TEAS AND SOON FOLLOWED
BEING FIRST WITH THE FAIRTRADE MARK GENERATED A HUGE WAVE OF PUBLICITY -
THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF MARKET SECURITY TO THE GROWERS ARE OBVIOUS. A BONUS HAS BEEN A CASCADE OF UNFORESEEN ADDITIONAL BENEFITS – A VERITABLE FAIR TRADE VIRTUOUS CIRCLE.
EVERY MAYA VILLAGE IS SITED ON A RIVER, WHICH SERVES AS BATH AND LAUNDRY AND DRINKING WATER SUPPLY. SKIN DISEASES, RASHES AND BLISTERS ARE A THING OF THE PAST NOW THAT CHEMICAL USE HAS BEEN ABANDONED.
MIGRATORY BIRD POPULATIONS HAVE INCREASED DRAMATICALLY, REFLECTING INCREASED FOREST SHADE COVER AND REDUCED PESTICIDE RESIDUES.
MAYA RESERVATION LAND HAS BEEN KEPT INTACT AND THE BANK HAS NOT FORECLOSED ON THE OLD LOANS.
THE AMERICAN AUDUBON SOCIETY OWN A SCARLET MACAW BREEDING RESERVE IN BELIZE. THE FARMERS THERE HAVE STARTED GROWING CACAO IN ORDER TO PROTECT THE HABITAT OF THIS AREA WHERE MACAWS FROM ALL OVER CENTRAL AMERICA COME TO BREED
THE MANGROVE AND CORAL REEF WERE BECOMING SILTED UP FROM AGRICULTURAL RUNOFF AND DAMAGED BY PESTICIDES. NOW TARPON ARE RUNNING UP THE RIVERS, ATTRACTING AMERICAN FLY FISHERMEN, ANOTHER GOOD SOURCE OF TOURIST INCOME.
OUR ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST PAID OFF. MOST ENTREPRENEURS BENEFIT FROM KEEPING THEIR SUPPLIERS AND CUSTOMERS IGNORANT OF EACH OTHER. OUR SUCCESS AROSE FROM BEING ACTIVELY TRANSPARENT.
THE SOCIAL BENEFITS WERE THERE, TOO
UNTIL WE BEGAN TRADING WITH THE MAYA, THERE WAS VIRTUALLY NO SECONDARY EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN FROM THE COCOA-GROWING VILLAGES. TODAY, 80% OF MAYA PRIMARY SCHOOLCHILDREN GO ON TO ATTEND SECONDARY SCHOOL, AND QUITE A FEW HAVE MOVED ON TO UNIVERSITY.
WOMEN CONTROL THE FINAL STAGES OF CACAO PRODUCTION AS THEY DO THE FERMENTING AND DRYING. THEY TAKE IT INTO TOWN ON MARKET DAYS AND CONVERT IT INTO CASH. THIS STRENGTHENS THE ECONOMIC POSITION OF WOMEN AND WOMEN SPEND MONEY ON HEALTH AND EDUCATION.
AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE IS EMERGING, TOO. CYRILLA CHO, FOR EXAMPLES, RUNS A NURSERY THAT SELLS LOCAL VARIETIES OF CACAO TREES TO FARMERS, REPLACING THE UNRELIABLE HYBRIDS INTRODUCED IN THE 1980S. SHE ALSO MAKES CHOCOLATES FROM HER OWN COCOA BEANS, WHICH ARE SOLD IN LOCAL HOTELS AND SHOPS.
WE WOULD NEVER HAVE DARED TO MAKE THE CLAIMS THAT THE ARTICLE MADE ABOUT US - SOMETIMES PR IS THE ONLY WAY TO TELL A REALLY GOOD STORY.
ALL THIS HAPPENED WITHOUT US EVER ACTUALLY MAKING A BAR OF CHOCOLATE. IN FACT I STOPPED MAKING PEANUT BUTTER AND JAM WHEN I SOLD MY EQUIPMENT TO DUERR’S IN 1988. A FACTORY THAT MAKES THINGS IS NO MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ROAD OR THE TRUCK THAT DELIVERS THINGS. THE ORIGIN OF INGREDIENTS, WHEN THEY ARE ORGANIC, CLIMATE FRIENDLY, FAIRLY SOURCED AND SUSTAINABLE ARE THE ISSUES THAT CUSTOMERS AND STAKEHOLDERS CARE ABOUT.
SCALE OR RESILIENCE?
WHAT WE ACHIEVED IN BELIZE HAD MUCH WIDER RAMIFICATIONS. INSTEAD OF BEING SEEN AS A MARGINAL AND QUIRKY APPROACH TO CACAO PRODUCTION, THE ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE APPROACH IS COMING TO REPLACE THE CHEMICAL DEPENDENT PLANTATION MODEL IN COFFEE, OIL PALM AND RUBBER TO NAME A FEW EXAMPLES. THE SMALLHOLDER FARMER IS NO LONGER SEEN AS A BACKWARD PEASANT TO BE REPLACED BUT IS BENEFITING FROM A REAL SHIFT IN THE BALANCE OF POWER IN THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN.
UNTIL THE 1960S ALMOST ALL THE WORLD'S CACAO WAS GROWN BY SMALLHOLDER FARMERS ON HOLDINGS OF A COUPLE OF HECTARES. IN THE EARLY 1970S A MAJOR PROGRAMME OF DEVELOPING INDUSTRIAL SCALE COCOA PLANTATIONS EMERGED, WITH THE MAIN NEW LOCATIONS BEING THE MALAYSIAN PROVINCE OF SABAH AND THE REGION OF BAHIA IN NORTHEAST BRAZIL
HISTORICALLY CACAO TREES WERE PLANTED 15 FEET APART, WITH SHADE TREES IN BETWEEN. THE SHADE TREES CAPTURE SUNLIGHT FROM THE CANOPY AND RAISE MINERALS AND WATER FROM DEEP WITHIN THE SOIL. THE LEAF FALL FROM THESE TREES FEEDS THE CACAO TREES AND THE SHADE ALSO INHIBITS THE SPREAD OF INSECT AND FUNGAL DISEASES. IT'S A FUNCTIONAL ECOSYSTEM. THE NEW INDUSTRIALISED SYSTEM PLANTED TREES 8 FEET APART. THERE WERE NO SHADE TREES. CHEMICAL FERTILISERS WERE APPLIED TO SUPPLY NUTRIENTS AND ENCOURAGE HIGHER PRODUCTION. LACK OF SHADE MADE THE TREES PRONE TO FUNGAL DISEASE. THE HOPE WAS THAT FUNGAL DISEASES AND PESTS COULD BE CONTROLLED WITH FUNGICIDES AND INSECTICIDES. THEY COULDN’T
THE PLANTATION MODEL IS FLAWED BECAUSE ITS COSTS AND RISKS ARE EXCESSIVE
FERTILIZER AND PESTICIDES COST MONEY
CLOSE PLANTING AND REDUCED SHADE ENCOURAGES FUNGAL DISEASE
WITHIN 20 YEARS BIG PLANTATIONS FAILED ALL AROUND THE WORLD.
IN 1989 85% OF BRAZIL’S COCOA PRODUCTION WAS IN THE PROVINCE OF BAHIA. AN OUTBREAK OF THE FUNGAL DISEASE WITCHES BROOM WIPED OUT MOST OF THE PREVAILING MONOCULTURE CACAO PRODUCTION. COCOA PRODUCTION FELL 90% FROM PREVIOUS LEVELS
IN MALAYSIA THE COCOA PRODUCTION AREA FELL FROM 414000 HECTARES IN THE LATE 1980S TO A CURRENT LEVEL OF 20,000 HECTARES, A 95% REDUCTION.
SO WHERE ARE WE NOW? LEADING CHOCOLATE PROCESSORS HAVE INTRODUCED INITIATIVES TO BUILD RESILIENCE BACK INTO THEIR SUPPLY CHAIN. THESE PROGRAMMES ARE WELL FUNDED
MONDELEZ, OWNERS OF CÔTE D'OR, GREEN & BLACK'S AND CADBURY, HAVE INITIATED THE COCOA LIFE PARTNERSHIP, WITH $400 MILLION FUNDING AND A 10 YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN TO ACHIEVE THE FOLLOWING GOALS, IMPLEMENTED IN COLLABORATION WITH WWF AND ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL.
INCREASE SMALLHOLDER INCOMES BY IMPROVING CACAO YIELDS AND QUALITY.
INTRODUCE CACAO VARIETIES THAT THRIVE WITHOUT AGRICHEMICALS
TRAIN FARMERS IN TRADITIONAL SKILLS SUCH AS SHADE MANAGEMENT, PRUNING, NATURAL FERTILITY BUILDING AND DISEASE CONTROL
ENCOURAGE DEMOCRATIC FARMER COOPERATIVES, CUT OUT MIDDLEMEN AND ESTABLISH LONG TERM SECURE CONTRACTS WITH FARMER COOPS
THIS IS ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST – BUT ALSO SATISFIES INVESTORS WHO CARE ABOUT SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND SATISFIES CONSUMERS WHO NOW EXPECT ALL BRANDS TO OPERATE AT A HIGHER MORAL LEVEL THAN HITHERTO. BARRY CALLEBAUT HAVE A SIMILAR SCHEME
MARS HAVE ALSO DONE A WONDERFUL THING
THE MARS COCOA GENOME PROJECT HAS MAPPED THE ENTIRE GENOME OF DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF CACAO AND HAS PUT THIS INFORMATION FIRMLY IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. RESILIENT CACAO VARIETIES ARE BEING DEVELOPED AND NO OPPORTUNISTIC COMPANY LIKE MONSANTO WILL BE ABLE TO CAPTURE THIS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY FOR THEIR PRIVATE GAIN.
SMALLHOLDERS ARE THE BACKBONE OF ANY DEMOCRACY. PEOPLE WHO OWN THEIR OWN BUSINESS OR THEIR OWN LAND CHERISH FREEDOM, INDEPENDENCE AND HUMAN RIGHTS. INDUSTRY WILL NO LONGER NEED LARGE ARMIES OF WORKERS AS AUTOMATION TAKES OVER MOST MANUFACTURING AND ASSEMBLY OPERATIONS. BUT THEY WILL STILL NEED CUSTOMERS FOR THEIR PRODUCTS. SMALLHOLDERS, WITH DECENT INCOMES BASED ON FAIR PRICES, REPRESENT THAT FUTURE MARKET. THE ERA OF CHEAP FOOD BASED ON EXTERNALISING ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS SUCH AS CLIMATE CHANGE AND SOIL DEGRADATION IS COMING TO AN END. RESILIENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY WILL BE ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS OF FUTURE FOOD PRODUCTION. THE CACAO EXAMPLE IS AN EARLY INDICATOR OF THE FUTURE OF MOST FORMS OF AGRICULTURE.
CLIMATE AND FOOD SECURITY
MANY PEOPLE THINK THAT IT’S FACTORIES AND AIRPLANES THAT ARE CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING. IN FACT LAND CLEARANCE AND AGRICULTURE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR NEARLY HALF OF ALL THE GREENHOUSE GAS INCREASE SINCE 1850.
MY PLATTDEUTSCH FARMING ANCESTORS BEGAN TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS PROCESS IN THE 19TH CENTURY, PLOUGHING VIRGIN PRAIRIE IN WISCONSIN – THE BLUE ON THE MAP AND THEN DOING THE SAME IN NEBRASKA, IN THE GREEN PART, WHERE I WAS BORN.
BY THE 1930S 80% OF THE TREES IN THIS TERRITORY HAD BEEN REMOVED.
REGULAR PLOUGHING AND CHEMICAL FERTILIZER USE ALONG WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF TRACTORS EXHAUSTED THE SOIL CARBON CONTENT. IT FELL FROM 100 TONNES PER HECTARE TO 5 TONNES PER HECTARE. THE CARBON RICH HUMUS OF THE BLACK SOIL DISAPPEARED AS CARBON DIOXIDE. THE SOIL LOST ITS WATER HOLDING CAPACITY, WHICH WAS IN ITS ORGANIC MATTER
THE RESULT WAS INEVITABLE
IN 1927 A PERIOD OF PROLONGED RAIN LED TO THE GREAT FLOOD OF THE MISSISSIPPI. WATER CRESTED AS MUCH AS 9 METRES ABOVE THE FLOOD STAGE AND A MILLION AMERICANS BECAME REFUGEES. INSTEAD OF REPLANTING TREES, THE GOVERNMENT BUILT LEVEES AND DAMS TO CONTAIN FUTURE FLOODING.
THEN IN THE 1930S CAME DROUGHT.
AN AREA LARGER THAN ALL OF THE BRITISH ISLES TURNED TO DUST, EVERY SUMMER, YEAR AFTER YEAR. A MILLION REFUGEES MOVED OUT – THE ‘OKIES’ OF JOHN STEINBECK’S BOOK THE GRAPES OF WRATH.
THIS ALARMED PEOPLE IN EUROPE AND IN BRITAIN, WHO FEARED THE SAME THING WOULD HAPPEN IF FARMING WAS INDUSTRIALISED ALONG AMERICAN LINES. IT WAS A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE FOUNDING AND NAMING OF THE SOIL ASSOCIATION
THE SAME PROCESS HAS SINCE HAPPENED IN THE CHINA, INDIA, BRAZIL, UKRAINE, KAZAKHSTAN AND AUSTRALIA. THE RATE OF CARBON EMISSION HAS DECREASED ONLY BECAUSE OUR SOIL CARBON STOCKS ARE SO DEPLETED THERE IS LITTLE LEFT TO WASTE. BUT WE CAN RESTORE CARBON TO THE SOIL. IT IS A BANK THAT WE'VE ALMOST EXHAUSTED OF CAPITAL, BUT WE CAN REBUILD ITS. AS A CARBON STORE IT IS UNRIVALLED AND ALSO SECURE - CARBON IN THE OCEANS CAN RETURN TO THE AIR AS OCEANS HEAT UP. CARBON IN FORESTS CAN BE CHOPPED DOWN AND BURNED. CARBON IN SOIL STAYS THERE.
IN 1995 THE PRINCE OF WALES DELIVERED A LADY EVE BALFOUR MEMORIAL LECTURE CALLED ‘COUNTING THE COST OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE.’ I REALISED THAT IF THE CARBON EMISSIONS SAVINGS OF FARMING ORGANICALLY WERE PRICED INTO THE COST OF FOOD AT THE REAL COST OF EMITTED CARBON THEN ORGANIC FOOD WOULD BE CHEAPER THAN INDUSTRIALLY PRODUCED FOOD.
400 OF THE WORLD'S LEADING AGRONOMISTS CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION 4 YEARS AGO.
- Stop subsidies
- Put human health first
- Green Revolution had unintended consequences
- Genetic Engineering a problem, not a solution
- Little time left
- Protect our agricultural capital (soil)
- Support small farmers and diverse ecosystems
- Study and learn from traditional farming
- Reward farmers who prevent climate change
THIS REPORT IS NOW THE MAIN DETERMINANT OF UN POLICY ON AGRICULTURE.
I’VE HIGHLIGHTED THE LAST POINT – TO REWARD FARMERS WHO PREVENT CLIMATE CHANGE
Farmer with a hoe: 120 times more energy-efficient than an organic farmer
240 times more energy-efficient than an industrial farmer
AN INDUSTRIAL FARM USES 12 CALORIES OF FOSSIL FUEL TO PRODUCE ONE CALORIE OF FOOD – WE ARE EATING OIL
AN ORGANIC FARMER USES HALF AS MUCH ENERGY TO PRODUCE THE SAME AMOUNT OF FOOD ENERGY
A FARMER WITH A HOE USES ONE CALORIE OF THEIR OWN ENERGY TO PRODUCE 20 CALORIES OF FOOD ENERGY, SO IS 120 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT IN ENERGY TERMS THAN AN ORGANIC FARMER AND 240 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT THAN AN INDUSTRIAL FARM
ORGANIC ISN'T PERFECT - IT STILL DEPENDS TOO MUCH ON FOSSIL FUELS, BUT AT LEAST IT PUTS SOMETHING BACK IN EXCHANGE FOR WHAT IT TAKES OUT.
OBVIOUSLY WE CAN’T ALL GO BACK TO HOEING THE SOIL, BUT WHAT IF THE WHOLE WORLD JUST WENT ORGANIC?
Rodale Institute 30 year trial results
- Organic uses 45% less energy
- Average yields match conventional (soybeans/corn)
- C sequestration 1 MT/ha (3.7 T CO2/ha) per annu
A 30-YEAR TRIAL IN PENNSYLVANIA SHOWS THAT ORGANIC FARMING CONTINUOUSLY SEQUESTERS 1 TONNE OF CARBON PER HECTARE PER ANNUM.
WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN GLOBALLY?
- USA arable: 172 Million Ha
Global arable: 1.4 Bn Ha
US is 1/8 of Global farmland
- USA in Metric: Per Annum
- Conventional: .45 Gt Co2 emitted
- If Organic: .50 Gt CO2 sequestered
- Worldwide Per Annum
- Conventional: 3.6 Gt CO2 emitted
- If Organic: 4 Gt CO2 sequestered
- Net improvement 7.2 Gigatonnes
- Net annual CO2 growth 2013: 5.5 Gt CO2
- Good - but can we do better?
IF EVERY ONE OF OUR 1.4 BILLION HECTARES OF ARABLE LAND WAS ORGANIC THERE WOULD BE A NET REDUCTION OF 7 BILLION TONNES OF CARBON DIOXIDE TAKEN OUT OF THE ATMOSPHERE ANNUALLY – ENOUGH TO STABILISE AND REVERSE GREENHOUSE GAS LEVELS.
THE CLIMATE COST OF INDUSTRIAL FARMING
- 7,000,000,000 tonnes CO2 p.a. difference
- 1,400,000,000 ha arable land
- = 5 tonnes CO2 per Ha per annum
- The real cost of CO2 emitted is €70 tonne
- €350 per ha cost benefit from organic farming
IF WE TAX CARBON EMISSIONS AND REWARD CARBON SEQUESTRATION ORGANIC FOOD IS CHEAPER
HOW MUCH CHEAPER?
WHAT WOULD THE IMPACT BE ON THE COST OF FOOD?
THE COST OF A TONNE OF CO2 EMITTED IS ESTIMATED AT BEING AT LEAST €70 PER TONNE TO FUTURE GENERATIONS. CARBON MARKETS CURRENTLY PRICE IT AT BETWEEN ONLY €3 and €20 PER TONNE.
CARBON TAXES FACE FIERCE RESISTANCE FROM OIL, AGRIBUSINESS, MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL AND TRANSPORTATION LOBBIES WHO UNDERSTAND WHAT CARBON PRICING WILL DO THE MARKET FOR PETROLEUM, AGRICHEMICALS, INDUSTRIAL FOOD, WAR AND TRANSPORT.
BUT THE PARIS CLIMATE TALKS IN 2015 WILL BE A TURNING POINT.
THE 1994 KYOTO PROTOCOLS EXCLUDED CHINA AND INDIA AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AND EXCLUDED AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY AND TRANSPORTATION. THE USA REFUSED TO SIGN, SO EUROPE ATTEMPTED TO COMPLY ALL ON ITS OWN. IT WAS HARD FOR EUROPEAN MANUFACTURERS TO COMPETE WITH COUNTRIES THAT EMITTED UNLIMITED CARBON, LIKE CHINA. THE VOLUNTARY MARKET HAS GROWN ANNUALLY, SUPPORTED BY COMPANIES LIKE WESSANEN WHO OPERATE SOME OF THEIR BRANDS, INCLUDING WHOLE EARTH, AS CARBON NEUTRAL. THE COOL FARM INSTITUTE HAS LAUNCHED A WEB APP SUPPORTED BY PEPSICO, UNILEVER, HEINEKEN AND MARKS AND SPENCER THAT WILL ENABLE FARMERS TO MEASURE THEIR CARBON FOOTPRINT. SO IS THERE HOPE, OR DO WE FACE ANOTHER 20 YEARS OF INACTION?
WHAT’S DIFFERENT TODAY?
EUROPE STILL HAS AN EMISSIONS TRADING SCHEME. CALIFORNIA INTRODUCED ONE A YEAR AGO. QUEBEC INTRODUCED A SCHEME THAT NOW FREELY EXCHANGES AT PARITY WITH CALIFORNIA. CHINA NOW HAS 8 ACTIVE CARBON EXCHANGES IN ALL ITS MAIN REGIONS AND IS NEGOTIATING TO HAVE PRICE PARITY WITH CALIFORNIA. THE NEW ENGLAND STATES ARE JOINING AND THE MIDWESTERN STATES SEE A HIGH CARBON PRICE AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR WIND ENERGY.
SO AT PARIS 2015 THERE WILL BE CHINA, MOST OF THE US, CANADA AND THE EU ALREADY PRACTICING A CARBON TRADING REGIME AND PUSHING FOR A GLOBAL AGREEMENT.
AFTER PARIS THERE WILL BE A MORE ROBUST CARBON PRICING REGIME AND IT IS REALISTIC TO EXPECT IT TO CHANGE THE WAY WE FARM
WE HAVE TO MOVE SOON. 125 MILLION HECTARES A YEAR OF FARMLAND GO OUT OF PRODUCTION EACH YEAR. AT THAT RATE TODAY’S FARM LAND WILL BE GONE IN 110 YEARS.
THE DEMAND FOR CHEAP MEAT HAS SEVERAL DANGEROUS EFFECTS AS INTENSIVE MEAT PRODUCTION RELIES ON ANTIBIOTICS TO KEEP ANIMALS ALIVE IN SHITTY CONDITIONS WHERE THEY WOULD NORMALLY DIE OF DISEASE.
- THE LOSS OF FOREST WHICH TURNS CARBON SINKS INTO CARBON EMISSIONS
- OBESITY, BOWEL CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES OF EXCESS MEAT CONSUMPTION
- THE EMERGENCE OF E.COLI H7/O157, A VIRULENT MUTATION OF E.COLI THAT KILLS 100 AMERICANS A YEAR AND SICKENS 265,000
- FAILURE OF ANTIBIOTICS – 80% OF ANTIBIOTIC USE IS ON FARMS AND EMERGING SUPERBUGS THAT ARE ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT RAISE THE SPECTRE OF A MUTATION OF BUBONIC PLAGUE THAT COULD BE FATAL TO BILLIONS. BACTERIA LEARN FROM EACH OTHER AND TRANSFER RESISTANCE TO ANTIBIOTICS. ALL FOR A CHEAP HOT DOG
Who’s Feeding the World?
- 70% of world’s food grown on farms smaller than 5 hectares
- 30% of the world’s food grown on industrial farms
$350 Billion yearly SUBSIDIES
THE PRICE WE PAY IN CLIMATE DISRUPTION SOIL EROSION AND DISEASE RISK FOR CHEAP MEAT AND OTHER FOOD IS DISPROPORTIONATE. MORE THAN 2/3 OF THE WORLD’S FOODS IS GROWN ON SMALL FARMS OF LESS THAN 5 HECTARES, YET ALL THE AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES GO TO INDUSTRIAL FARMS THAT CAUSE THE MOST HARM AND ONLY PRODUCE 1/3 OF THE WORLD’S FOOD
A YEAR AGO IN THE UNITED STATES A MAGAZINE CALLED MODERN FARMER APPEARED. IT IS REACHING OUT TO THE NEW ‘RURBANISTAS’ – PEOPLE WHO MAKE A LIFESTYLE CHOICE TO OWN AND WORK SMALL FARMS – THE GROW-YOUR-OWN MOVEMENT HAS MOVED FROM PEOPLE’S GARDENS TO LARGER FIELDS AND REFLECTS THE FAILURE OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE, WHICH CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT SUBSIDIES. CAN IT ALSO REPRESENT THE FUTURE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE?
-How will Wholesalers operate when customers shop online and then collect delivery from a Drop Shop?
ANOTHER AREA WHERE THE FOOD INDUSTRY CAN SAVE MONEY AND CARBON IS IN DISTRIBUTION. ONLINE SHOPPING IN THE UK REACHED 20% LAST YEAR. THE DAY OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN RUNNING FROM MANUFACTURER TO DISTRIBUTOR TO RETAILER TO CONSUMER IS COMING TO AN END. WHAT WILL REPLACE IT?
THE ‘DROP SHOP’ CONCEPT IS EMERGING, WHERE A CUSTOMER ORDERS THEIR FOOD ONLINE AND HAS IT DELIVERED TO A LOCAL OUTLET. THE CUSTOMER PICKS UP THE ORDER WHEN READY. THE RETAILER HAS LOW STOCKHOLDING COST, LOW STAFFING COSTS AND NO SHOPLIFTING. THIS EMERGING MODEL, CALLED DISINTERMEDIATION OR, IN PLAIN ENGLISH ‘CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMEN’ HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WESSANEN OWNERSHIP OF DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES AND ITS PARTNERSHIPS WITH RETAILERS. IT WILL ALSO BUST OPEN THE DIFFERENTIATION IN BRANDING BETWEEN SUPERMARKET ORGANIC BRANDS AND NATURAL FOOD ORGANIC BRANDS – THE NATURAL FOODS CUSTOMER WANTS TO AVOID SUPERMARKETS BUT IS HAPPY TO ORDER ONLINE.
WHEN CARBON PRICING COMES IN THIS MODEL WILL BECOME EVEN MORE COST EFFECTIVE AND DISRUPTIVE.
SO WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT CARBON AND SOIL?
Future Forests became The Carbon Neutral Company
IN 1996 WHOLE EARTH CORN FLAKES BECAME THE FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL FOOD PRODUCT. WE DISCOVERED THAT, BECAUSE IT WAS ORGANIC AND WHOLEGRAIN THAT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO PLANT MANY TREES TO BALANCE OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. THAT GOT ME GOING ON THE LOW CARBON FARMING WARPATH.
MY NEW BUSINESS VENTURE IS AIMED AT ACCELERATING THE REMOVAL OF CARBON FROM THE ATMOSPHERE AND REBUILDING SOIL CARBON.
THERE IS AN FAST AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO REBUILD SOIL CARBON. THIS IS TO MAKE CHARCOAL OUT OF ORGANIC MATTER SUCH AS WOOD CHIPS AND AGRICULTURAL WASTES LIKE RICE HUSKS, COFFEE HUSKS AND SHREDDED PALM LEAVES. THEN YOU PLOUGH THIS CHARCOAL INTO THE GROUND, WHERE IT IS STABLE FOR A HUNDRED YEARS OR SO. THE PRODUCT IS CALLED BIOCHAR, TO DIFFERENTIATE IT FROM THE BARBEQUE CHARCOAL
BIOCHAR DELIVERS SAVINGS IN WATER COSTS AND INPUT COSTS AND PROVIDES HEALTHIER PLANTS WITH HIGHER YIELDS.
RAR IN PORTUGAL WILL HAVE 105,000 OF THEIR 250,000 SQUARE METRES OF GREENHOUSE CROPS RAISED WITH BIOCHAR THIS YEAR. THEY DO THIS FOR ECONOMIC REASONS, BUT THE CARBON CREDITS ARE MEASURABLE .
WHEN THE CARBON BENEFITS CAN BE MONETISED, IT WILL BE EVEN MORE PROFITABLE . THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING ON THE VOLUNTARY MARKET. WE HAVE BEEN IN DISCUSSIONS WITH THE CARBON NEUTRAL COMPANY ABOUT THIS
What is it?
• Charcoal made to be used as a soil improver
What does it do?
•Increases microbiological populations
•High surface area adsorbs mineral nutrients
•Reduces plant disease
•Improves soil fertility
•Reduces fertiliser use
•Help soils retain moisture
•Increases crop yields
•Improves soil structure
•Reduces soil greenhouse gas emissions N2O
•Long term carbon sequestration
IN A NUTSHELL, BIOCHAR SAVES MONEY ON INPUT COSTS, INCREASES YIELDS, MAKES PLANTS HEALTHIER AND SEQUESTERS CARBON
NOW WE’RE MAKING IT REAL
Making it Real
WE DEVISED A SERIES OF MODIFICATIONS TO A TRADITIONAL CHARCOAL KILN THAT MORE THAN DOUBLES YIELDS TO 25-30% AND REDUCES EMISSIONS BY 80%.
THERE ARE TEN OF THESE KILNS IN BELIZE, WHERE CACAO GROWERS WHO SUPPLY GREEN & BLACK'S USE THEM TO GENERATE BIOCHAR THAT IMPROVES YIELDS AND REDUCES DISEASE.
AS WELL AS SALES TO UK GROWERS AND PRODUCERS, WE OFFER BIOCHAR TO HOME GARDENERS.
SO WE’VE LAUNCHED GROCHAR, A BLEND OF BIOCHAR WITH MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI, WORMCASTS AND SEAWEED. THE PRODUCTS ARE APPROVED FOR USE IN ORGANIC FARMING.
TRIALS WITH BARTLETT TREE EXPERTS THIS YEAR SHOW EXCITING RESULTS IN CONTROLLING HONEY FUNGUS IN BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS, ASH DIEBACK, PHYTOPHTHORA AND IN ESTABLISHING BEECH HEDGING. TREE DISEASES ARE AN EXPANDING PROBLEM – BIOCHAR OFFERS A SOLUTION.
LAST WEEK I MET IN ABU DHABI WITH THE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTORS FOR THE NEW PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. THEY WANT 1700 TONNES OF BIOCHAR FOR THE PALACE GARDENS. THIS PROJECT WILL BE A MODEL FOR REGREENING THE DESERTS OF THE ARABIAN REGION AND A MODEL FOR LAND REHABILITATION
Biochar : Carbon Dioxide
1 tonne : 2.35 tonnes
Biochar : Carbon Dioxide
1 tonne : 3 tonnes
Biochar : Carbon Dioxide
1 tonne : 6 tonnes
(Biochar made in Carbon Gold Kiln)
ONE DAY THERE WILL BE CREDITS FOR CARBON. EVERY TONNE OF BIOCHAR WILL GENERATE FROM 3 TO 6 TONNES CO2 OFFSETS.
BUILDING TRUST IN A BRAND
ONE WAY TO BUILD TRUST IS THROUGH THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION. NOBODY TRUSTS BRAND OWNERS ANY MORE – THAT’S WHY INDEPENDENT CERTIFICATION OF ORGANIC, FAIR TRADE, CARBON NEUTRAL OR GMO FREE IS THE WAY FORWARD. SOME COMPANIES TRY TO SELF-CERTIFY, BUT IT DOESN’T GENERATE THE SAME LEVEL OF TRUST. THE HORSEMEAT SCANDAL, COLLAPSING FACTORIES IN BANGLA DESH AND GMOS IN BABY FOOD ALL POINT TO THE NEED FOR THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION
UNFORTUNATELY IN THE ORGANIC WORLD WE HAVE A PROBLEM – FAR TOO MANY CERTIFIERS.
EMPOWERING CUSTOMERS: Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic
THERE ARE 430 DIFFERENT CERTIFIERS OF ORGANIC FOOD IN THE WORLD. THERE IS ONLY ONE FAIRTRADE, ONE SLOW FOOD, ONE MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL AND ONE FORESTRY STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL.
THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT HAS ITS ROOTS IN ALL THESE INDEPENDENT CERTIFIERS BUT THE TIME HAS COME TO BRING THEM TOGETHER UNDER ONE BANNER IN ORDER TO ENSURE THE INTEGRITY OF THE ORGANIC ‘BRAND’. JUST ONE ROTTEN APPLE IN THIS BARREL OF 430 CERTIFIERS CAN DAMAGE THE CREDIBILITY OF ALL ORGANIC FOOD BECAUSE EACH CERTIFIER RELIES ON THE DOCUMENTATION OF THE OTHER ONES. WE HAVE ALL HAD CLOSE SHAVES WITH ORGANIC PRODUCTS OF DUBIOUS AUTHENTICITY.
THE MANY DIFFERENT CERTIFIERS NEED TO HARMONISE THEIR STANDARDS, CREATE A HARMONISED DATA BASE OF ALL THEIR INSPECTION AND CERTIFICATION DATA AND CLOSE THE LOOPHOLES THAT ALLOW FRAUD. AT THE SOIL ASSOCIATION WE HOPE TO FORM CLOSER ALLIANCES WITH OTHER CERTIFIERS – WHAT WE SHARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR COMPETITION FOR BUSINESS. ORGANIC COMPANIES SHOULD ACTIVELY SUPPORT AN INITIATIVE LIKE THIS AS THE VALUE OF YOUR BRANDS RELIES HEAVILY ON TRUST.
LET ME CLOSE WHERE I BEGAN, WITH A PROPOSED SYMBOL THAT COULD HARMONISE ALL THE DIFFERENT ORGANIC CERTIFICATION BRANDS.
WITH CARBON PRICING, INCREASINGLY STRINGENT CONTROLS ON HEAVY METALS IN FOODS, THE NEED TO CONTROL THE MEAT INDUSTRY AND ITS DRUG DEPENDENCY, SOIL DEGRADATION AND THE TREND TOWARDS VEGETARIANISM AND VEGANISM THE WESSANEN COMPANIES ARE WELL POSITIONED TO CAPITALISE ON THE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES THAT ARE TAKING PLACE GLOBALLY. BUT THIS WILL ALSO HERALD AN INVASION OF YOUR TERRITORY BY COMPANIES THAT HITHERTO HAVE
The story of my beginnings goes back to 1965 when I first got into the macrobiotic diet. I had been travelling in Afghanistan and India and amoebic dysentery led to hepatitis. I discovered that a diet of unleavened wholemeal bread and unsweetened tea cured the dysentery and the hepatitis symptoms subsided. This was the beginning of my understanding of the importance of gut health to overall health. Back at university some friends introduced me to the macrobiotic diet and I adopted it enthusiastically
At the time it was radical and Reader's Digest ran a cover story calling it the 'Diet That's Killing our Kids' while the American Medical Association said it could lead to death. Which is pretty much true about any diet, the question is more about when than whether. Nowadays eating wholegrains, organic seasonal and local food, avoiding sugar and hydrogenated fat and artificial additives doesn't seem so weird but at the time it was revolutionary. So revolutionary that the FBI closed down the macrobiotic bookshop in NY and burned its books because they suggested that healthy diet could prevent cancer.
So, in 1967, my brother and I started Seed Restaurant, the legendary hip -and hippie - macrobiotic watering hole of the late 60s, where brown rice and organic vegetables formed the backbone of the menu. We figured if the AMA and the FBI didn’t like it then it had to make sense.
John Lennon gave my brother Gregory a little cartoon in appreciation of our food and of Harmony, the magazine Gregory published.
I wrote a guide to macrobiotics called, imaginatively, About Macrobiotics, which was translated into 6 languages and sold nearly half a million copies.
More recently I wrote a guide to all issues surrounding food called The Little Food Book
When I wrote About Macrobiotics I just tried to simplify the complexities of Yin and Yang that made some earlier books on macrobiotics daunting and even impenetrable. It was well received for that reason.
We soon had Ceres - Britain's first natural foods store - on the Portobello Road. Then other budding retailers came to us for supplies, forming the customer base for Harmony Foods, which evolved into Whole Earth Foods.
Our business thrived on innovation. We were the first with organic brown rice and were known as The Brown Rice Barons because if you bought brown rice in the 70s it came from us. We bought and milled or flaked all of the organic grains grown in this country and usually exhausted available stocks before the new crop came in. In our retail and wholesale business we only sold food, only wholefood, no sugar and not even honey and no vitamins or supplements. We were macrobiotic then and I continue to follow the diet, not religiously but almost passively. In other words I eat whatever I feel like, but mostly I feel like eating wholegrains and vegetables. Occasionally I take zinc or Vitamin C when I feel a cold coming on, but otherwise don’t take supplements.
Eventually we pandered to market demand, with a successful brand of peanut butter that rose to take the number 2 position after Sun Pat in the UK market. I created the first range of fruit juice sweetened jams, using apple juice instead of sugar as a sweetener. We had created a market for sugar avoidance - and apple juice - if only for semantic reasons, satisfied it.
In my quest for organic peanuts for our peanut butter I came across a group of farmers in West Africa who also grew organic cacao and from that encounter Green & Black’s, the first ever organic chocolate, was born.
Needless to say, my kids, who had been brought up in a committed macrobiotic household, were somewhat dismayed to see their Dad going into the sugar business, but I consoled myself with the fact that 70% chocolate had a glycaemic index of only 22, less than half the GI of brown rice, and carried on developing the brand.
So what are the key aspects of macrobiotics?
You should eat wholegrains and vegetables as the basis of your diet.
You should always choose organic, seasonal and local
You should avoid yeast and sugar
You should avoid preservatives and other chemical food additives.
You should minimise meat and dairy
There are good nutritional reasons for all of the above, seasonal food is fresher, organic food doesn’t contain pesticide residues, wholegrains have more B vitamins than refined cereals and preservatives can give you cancer. But is there more to all of this? A nutritional therapist might feel that there is insufficient emphasis on maintaining a high intake of necessary nutrients and it’s true that in the early days a lot of macrobiotic followers looked rather wan and pasty-faced. They blamed it on expelling toxins but it was more like nutritional deficiency. Was it the fault of macrobiotics or was this part of a transition to better health?
One of the key facets of macrobiotics is that you don’t get sick. Prevention is everything and cures are fairly perfunctory.
One of the key facets of organic farming is that your plants and animals never get sick. Prevention is everything and cures are fairly perfunctory. In fact if you cure a problem with chemicals or drugs on an organic farm, whether with plants or livestock, you lose your organic status.
The Soil Association regularly has a debate about its name. Should we change it to The Organic Society or something similar? We always decide to keep our rather unappealing name because we firmly believe that ‘The answer lies in the soil.” But we never ask the question: The answer to what?
I submit that it is the answer to the question: “What is the Meaning of Life?”
So how can the soil contain such a revelation?
A gramme of healthy soil contains over 10,000 different species of microbial life, you could say that it is a microbiotic jungle. Except that it is remarkably ordered, with bacteria, viruses, algae and protozoa living in a web of complex fungal growth. Worms play an important role as well.
We are always impressed at how well organised and efficient bees and ants are. But bees only have three variants – the queen, the worker and the drone. Ants are similar.
Yet the most efficiently organised system we know comprises 1o thousand life forms, all working in close tandem. They communicate with enzymes, chemicals and odors and probably electric charges. Research into this is in its infancy. At the heart of the system is the fungal mycelial network that feeds the other life forms, regulates their growth and variety. In plant growth the most important are the mycorrhizal fungi, which are, to organic farmers the foundation of soil health and fertility.
These organisms predate plants by 100s of millions of years. If your parents predate you then you consider yourself their offspring. We trace our ancestry back to early primates, respecting and recognising their importance in creating what we are today, a recognition confirmed by genetics and DNA research. We respect and honour our ancestors, but soil is seen as something dirty and underfoot, barely worth of recognition. Are we missing the point of our existence?
Long ago, when the atmosphere contained a lot of carbon dioxide, life forms were anaerobic, they didn’t use oxygen in their life cycle.
When the earliest microorganisms dwelt on this planet one group, the cyanobacteria developed the ability to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using sunlight, thereby opening up a new food source, thin air.
Once this ability emerged, it was harnessed by the existing network. The cyanobacterial ability to make carbohydrates out of carbon dioxide was captured and enclosed in cells called chloroplasts and we had the first green plants.
Plants are the means whereby a very well organised team of soil microorganisms can extract food from the air. The mycelial network brings together the rest of the life in soil to support this food gathering mechanism and to extract its main benefit to them, which is sugar. These fungal webs can have eight miles of thin mycelium in a single cubic inch, stretching over miles underground, communicating with each other.
When you look at a tree or a blade of grass or a fern, you are looking at the food gathering and early stage digestion mechanism of a very clever bunch of invisible organisms. The plant works hard up there, busily converting carbon dioxide and sunlight and water into carbohydrates that it then feeds to its underground masters. It even knows who’s boss. It will only feed those mycorryzzal fungi that have the correct identity papers. They are good servants and only take orders from their master. When this happens the fungal lord inserts a tentacle or hypha into a subcutaneous layer of the plant root so that it can drink its sugar solution direct from the source. It needs to keep the plant going so it gathers phosphorus, nitrates and other minerals to ensure that the plant thrives and competes successfully with other plants. The mycorrhizal fungus lives for about 32 days, then as it decomposes it provides food for a network of other soil organisms that support it and that benefit from its demise. It generates a carbon-rich substance called glomalin, both proteins and carbohydrates, that is sticky and helps bind soil together in aggregates that give the soil structure and keep other soil carbon from escaping.
As the world’s atmosphere became filled with the excreta of these plants the level of oxygen increased.
It was now possible for new complex teams of soil biota to organise themselves to move about and capture plants. Animal life was discovered. In effect they invented airplanes and cars to increase their range and were able to capture from above the food of their underground brethren. With flying creatures and worms and eventually mammals, one thing was shared by all: a set of controlling microorganisms that guided every stage of the animal’s development, ensuring that it could gather food and reproduce.
These mobile plants used smell and vision to identify likely food sources and arms, legs, mandibles, and claws to gather it up.
So if we accept that the soil biota created and control plants, why is it so hard for our egos to accept that perhaps the reason for our existence is to perpetuate the dominion of a very clever collection of soil biota who created an internalised soil environment in the gut of living animals? Is it really that humbling? Consider Genesis 3:19
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
This dated from an era before the sky gods took over and mother earth took a back seat
Let’s take a closer look:
There are 200-600 million nerve cells in the gut - more than in spinal cord, what does this tell us about the importance of the gut to intelligence and consciousness? It appears to be linked to information storage, decision-making and joy and sadness. The question is, who’s holding the reins? Is the control originating in the gut and determining our conscious decisions or do we make conscious decisions in our brains and then, for some reason, pass this information to the gut? A nerve is a 2 way street. No other part of the so called peripheral nervous system acts autonomously and locally. The Enteric Nervous System is called our ‘second brain.’ I submit that it could well be the Primary brain. After all, why does our gut need to tell our brain that it is regulating intestinal contractions, the release of digestive fluids and all the other activity in the gut? Our gut talks to itself and only bothers to communicate with our brain when it considers a message from the eyes, nose or palate about what food is out there. All the gut needs to tell our cerebral consciousness is if it feels pain, hunger or satiety. You don’t need half a billion nerve cells to do that.
There are 500 to 1000 bacterial species alone in the gut with 2 to 4 million genes, if you look at them as one microbiome they contain 100 times more genes than the human genome and represent 10 times the total number of human body cells. They are overwhelmingly anaerobic, in other words they evolved in the absence of oxygen and like to keep it that way.
The gut biota make a huge difference to the development of capillaries in the intestinal villi, promoting host nutrition. When they are absent a breach in the gut wall can be fatal, when they are abundant a breach in the gut wall is harmless and doesn’t trigger inflammation.
So if soil biota and gut biota are related and our relationship to plants is derived from that ancient relationship what similarities are there between the way we produce our food, in soil and the way we prepare and digest our food, in our gut soil. Which the Chinese call ‘night soil.
So let’s look at a few examples and compare
In the 1840s, when Baron Justus von Liebig discovered that nitrates and phosphates were essential soil nutrients it engendered a revolution in agriculture. No longer did farmers have to faff around with fallow periods, fertility building cycles or any of the traditional ways of extracting a crop from the earth. Instead they could add chemicals. What happened?
First: The nitrates and phosphates short circuited the cycle whereby mycorrhizal fungi fed these minerals to plants in exchange for sugars.
Second: The mycorrhizal fungi died off, unable to compete with free food. As they died and decomposed, the soil structure collapsed and vast amounts of carbon were emitted. Even Justus von Liebig realised what a terrible mistake he’d made and 20 years after he started the chemical farming revolution he wrote: SLIDE LIEBIG
I have sinned against the Creator and, justly, I have been punished.
I wanted to improve His work because, in my blindness, I believed that a link in the astonishing chain of laws that govern and constantly renew life on the surface of the Earth had been forgotten.
It seemed to me that weak and insignificant man had to redress this oversight.
But it was too late, human greed was in full spate and the farmer who didn’t use chemicals had trouble competing on price as part of his yields were sacrificed to keep the soil biota happy, reducing overall yields and income. Nobody got paid for maintaining topsoil depth and quality.
Nearly one half of all the increase in carbon dioxide in today’s atmosphere since 1850 is the result of this folly. Global warming’s roots stretch back to his one big mistake that still haunts us.
Liebig spent his later years on a project to recycle London’s sewage for agricultural use but lost the argument to the great Victorian sewer builder Joseph Bazalgette, who made sure all London’s waste was carried out to the Thames Estuary.
If we are seeking parallels, what is the human equivalent of nitrates? Plants feed the soil biota with carbohydrates in the form of sugars in order to get minerals. Animals feed on plants in order to get carbohydrates. Around the same time that nitrates were introduced into agriculture, sugar became a major factor in our diet, with equally deleterious effects.
Just as cheap nitrates killed off the web of soil life, so cheap sugar quickly pushed aside slower digestive and gut biota-based mechanisms to deliver glucose straight to the organism. Just like the poor old mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, the carbohydrate - producing digestive flora were outflanked and rendered redundant. Even more humiliating, the consumption of sugar led to rampant overgrowth of aggressive yeasts that caused all manner of upsets and the destruction of whole swathes of formerly stable gut biota. It also led to heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, cancer and obesity. We don’t know what other quick fixes bypass the gut flora, but we should consider the impact on them when we consume vitamins or supplements that may displace some gut function and render it redundant, creating an ongoing dependency on supplementation.
Bread suffered as well. Roller mills made white flour as cheap as wholemeal and white bread replaced wholegrain breads, with resulting diverticulosis and, thanks to industrial yeast, candida.
Let’s compare 2 ways of making mankind’s principal food, wholemeal bread, the modern and the old fashioned .
Modern – Chorleywood Process – take wholemeal flour and ascorbic acid and sugar and 24 times as much yeast as you would use in a traditional bakery and whizz it in a high speed mixer for 20 minutes until the yeasts are agitated and in a feeding frenzy. Shape into loaves, dump into tins and as they bread goes into the travelling oven it is rising. Oh, add a little hydrogenated fat to give it structure so it doesn’t collapse when it comes out – just one hour after you’ve started. It was introduced in the 1960s, around the time that irritable bowel syndrome, gluten allergy, Crohn’s disease really began to become widespread issues. You could say that we just hadn’t realised those diseases existed before then, but for anyone who’s experienced IBS or had a reaction to gluten you know that’s pretty unlikely
Old Fashioned – Judges Bakery process. Germinate wheat and liquidise. Add to organic wholemeal flour, add kelp powder, sesame seeds, hemp nuts and flax seeds. Make up a dough and let stand overnight in linen lined baskets for 18 hours. The enzymes from the germinated wheat snip the long chain proteins of gluten into shorter, less clingy and tastier proteins and make maltodextrins slowly available for fermentation. The bran softens throughout the process with phytic acid breakdown of up to 90%. Lactic acid bacteria increase magnesium and phosphorus solubitility.
If you were a colony of gut flora, which bread would you prefer?
What about worms? Not only are worms common flatmates with gut flora and soil flora, many species can live freely in soil and also survive quite happily in the digestive system.
In the soil worms are the great grinders of all vegetable matter into fine particles. Charles Darwin wrote admiringly of their ability to pile up vast amounts of soil and raise its height.
The soil doesn’t have teeth, but we do. Chewing your food 50 times does much of the work that worms do in the soil. This is recommended by all macrobiotic dietitians from Christophe Hufeland (Goethe’s doctor) through to George Ohsawa, creator of the Japanese version known as Zen Macrobiotics. So what if we just puree our food? Doesn’t that do the same thing? What about if you puree food and then spit in it and leave it for a while, won’t the salivary enzymes do the job for us?
Research published in the Archives of Surgery showed that patients who had part of their colon removed passed gas and solids up to a day sooner if they chewed gum. The process of chewing stimulates nerves in the gut and hastens recovery. Now we have to ask what is stimulating those gut nerves, is it the chewing, or does chewing activate the gut flora, which then stimulate the gut nerves? When you chew the gut biota are getting a signal that food is on the way, so they become active in anticipation. This activity stimulates the nerves in the gut.
In the gut worms are seen as parasites, but they fulfil similar functions in the case of roundworms, of helping with the digestion of food, particularly when it has been poorly chewed. They also provide exudates that prevent auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and they are food for many fungi.
In modern sterile soils worms are infrequent. I remember visiting Paul McCartney at his farm in Sussex, which is certified organic. He commented – ‘the Soil Association may say my land is organic but I don’t believe it really is until the soil is teeming with worms when the plough goes through.’ Could we consider the absence of worms as the pathology? When 80% of the world’s population are host to worms, can that be abnormal?
What about Gooey stuff – mucus and humus.
In the soil Glomalin is the product of the mycorrhizal fungi. It is sticky like glue and it binds together bits of sand and clay and organic matter into joined up granules called aggregates. These help to keep carbon in the soil instead of escaping into the atmosphere and they also help retain moisture. This creates ideal conditions for soil biota and a soil that is rich in glomalin has a high and stable population of bacteria, fungi and protozoan life.
What is the digestive equivalent of gooey stuff? It’s the mucus membrane, but how do we support it?
In macrobiotic medicine the cure for all tummy troubles is ume-kuzu. That’s a blend of kuzu arrowroot and pickled underripe plums that are rich in sodium sorbate, a natural yeast inhibitor. The yeasts get controlled and the kuzu provides a rich sticky matrix in which gut biota can flourish and rebuild their populations. Other sources of mucilaginous material are traditional remedies such as comfrey and aloe vera, both of which contain allantoin, which encourages cell proliferation. Chicken soup is a natural gel that also helps in this way.
If our gut biota came from the soil itself, then is soil good for you?
There are lots of examples of what is known as geophagia and not all of them relate to desperate hunger or psychological disturbance.
When we don’t have food, we can still feed our gut flora and they can still feed us. We don’t just eat clay to fill our bellies, it may not have nutritive value by analysis, but if it provides a medium where gut biota can proliferate. We can then get nutrition from them.
Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth describes how Chinese peasants would eat what they called ‘Goddess of Mercy earth’ named after Kwan Yin, the goddess of Mercy of Taoist tradition. In Taoism Yin is the earth and Yang is the sky. In Haiti mud cakes are a traditional food, particularly sought after by pregnant women, a compound of clay, fat, salt and pepper.
MUD CAKES FACTORY IN HAITI
Hippocrates described Geophagia 2500 years ago, saying “If a woman feels the desire to eat earth or charcoal and then eats them, the child will show signs of these things.’
Pliny recommended red clay as a remedy for mouth ulcers. In the Levant it was called Terra Sigillata and used to help childbirth and alleviate menstrual problems. In France they call it argillophagy and a popular hangover cure is to take argile verte, or green clay, in a creamy solution on the morning after. A three week course begins with a twice daily glass of white clay and then a transition to green clay mixed with liquorice powder, with separate doses of charcoal.
And what about charcoal? I must confess a commercial interest here as the founder of Carbon Gold, an enterprise that seeks to restore the soil’s carbon content by the expedient of turning biomass into charcoal and ploughing it in. Charcoal encourages high populations of soil biota which are extremely stable, very water retentive and antagonistic to pathogenic fungi and bacteria, helping to prevent soil-borne plant diseases. Charcoal stays in the soil for hundreds of years so it effectively is the only way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and keep it out. It also reduces the acidity in soil that causes methane, turning this toxic greenhouse gas into the 60 times less toxic carbon dioxide.
Charcoal biscuits and charcoal tablets are a common treatment for wind and other digestive upsets. They adsorb gases like methane and create a healthy environment for the gut biota to thrive, providing niches and structure in which a shattered gut population can rebuild itself. Just as it suffocates toxic bacteria in the soil, in the gut it cracks down on aerobic bacteria such as salmonella and shigella.
Charcoal in soil encourages microbiological density, reduced activity but higher population.
In the soil charcoal maintains an ideal slightly acid pH but even adding wood vinegar to a char- enriched soil doesn’t make it more acid, the bacteria maintain stability at an optimum pH level that is unfriendly to pathogens
What about Fallowing?
Let’s compare organic farming’s fallow periods with our own dietary resting times.
One of my least popular sayings is: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - to skip.” I always try to skip breakfast and also to fast at least one day a month. Why? If your digestive transit time is somewhere between 12 and 18 hours then skipping breakfast means that for a few hours each day your gut is empty. This allows the gut flora to rebalance their population. Every time you excrete, one third of the weight of the faecal matter is gut flora who get flushed away, the remainder need time to recover from the loss of their gutmates. There are of course, also other factors – the blood glucose and the liver’s stored glycogen are used up by the time you wake up in the morning and so the body has to turn to its fat reserves for carbohydrates. It’s like the Atkins Diet, but without all the meat and fat. But it’s a good idea to let the gut flora have a rest in between bouts of food digestion.
Organic and traditional farmers have fallow periods, the farming equivalent of fasting, where nothing is added to the soil, it is just left alone. The soil flora need a period when nothing is happening so that they can sort themselves out, deal with imbalances, before the next crop is planted. Fallow is not just about rebuilding fertility, it’s about recreating a healthy balance of food gathering biota. Eating food is like ploughing manure into a field. There is nutrient being introduced but there is also disturbance as a new set of nutrients is introduced, along with the oxidising effect of air on stored carbon, along with the disruption of the mycelial networks.
I’ve just been in Belize. The farmers there don’t even plough the soil. The grow on quite steep hillsides with no erosion problems. Every year they let an area of ground become overgrown, sometimes for several years, then they cut the resulting vegetation and let it rot or, in some cases burn it off. They plant their corn direct into the ground, where the crop takes off, surrounded by beans and squash as ground cover, so that other plants are crowded out. The soil has no fertilisers, not even compost or manure, added to it and it generates healthy crops of corn with plants 12 feet high. The farmers abhor the idea of tearing up the soil and have resolutely avoided offers of rotovators and other mechanical ploughing aids.
NEZ PERCE CHIEF JOSEPH
"The earth is our mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plough. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us." --Chief Joseph, Nez Perce
We can’t go back to that level of respect for the soil in today’s crowded world, but it is worth noting that in the long term agriculture has to address its problems of unsustainability and treat the soil as a living organism, not as a hydroponic system with dirt added.
I was there in Belize because they supply cacao to Green & Black’s. They provide us with fully fermented cacao beans in which all the simple cyanins have been oxidised and have lost their astringent taste. The reason our chocolate tastes so good is because the farmers are so good at fermenting the beans.
Every few months Mars publish more research saying that chocolate is good for the heart and have even launched a chocolate range in the US called Cocoa Via based on research that shows that anthyocyanins from unfermented cacao lowers blood pressure. So I took at look at the research to see why they’d launch a chocolate with a mildly unpleasant taste as a nutraceutical. What I came across was the European Polybind Project. They were looking at polyphenolic substances and trying to assess how they could help prevent cancer. They studied onions, apples, broccoli and chocolate. What did they find?
Chocolate contains procyanidins and other simple phenolic compounds. When it is fermented these become oxidised polymers and lose their astringent taste. They also don’t have a noticeable effect on blood pressure, unlike unfermented chocolate where the phenols trigger a measurable pressure drop soon after ingestion. Hence Mars’ excitement about using unfermented chocolate in their products. But the Polybind Project found something else: the complex phenolic compounds stayed in the gut wall. When the host was stressed the gut flora would snip them up with enzymes and pass them into the host in the exact amount needed to modify blood pressure. Instead of outwitting and bypassing the gut flora, it makes more sense to work with them. The same arguments apply to inulin-rich foods such as chicory and Jerusalem artichokes.
A ‘gut feeling’ is more than a feeling, it’s knowledge, indeed wisdom.
The gut flora control intelligence. They can memorise and learn and encode much faster than multicelled organisms such as us. They don’t forget as their memories go straight to their DNA, which is constantly in flux.
By maintaining a healthy balance and large population of gut flora the nutritional therapist also offers psychotherapy in a genuine way - this may be described as a ‘placebo effect’ by some, particularly doctors whose summation of nutrition is ‘eat your greens.’ By eating organic food we are mirroring the natural process by which healthy food is grown and we are avoiding the chemical residues that are just as toxic to the health of our gut biota as they are to the health of soil biota.
To me the importance of nutrition has been a guiding light. I have not had to see a doctor since 1965. Nutritional therapy is ultimately about treating the originators of plant and animal life on this planet with the respect they deserve. More than that, with the respect they demand. They can get quite angry if they are ignored, as sufferers from IBS and colitis, to name a few examples, can attest.
To go even further, if the gut biota are really the All-Knowing, All-Seeing masters of our universe, our original and true Creator, with a capital C, then the nutritional therapists are the high priests of human society and are our true link with the infinite and unknowable!