As we see in the world today, as people start to become a little more affluent, they want to eat more meat. That means using an extravagant amount of our food resource base to grow grain to feed the animals so that we, in turn, can eat them. But there is not enough rangeland on earth to produce the amount of meat that people want to eat. So it’s got to be done in feedlots and that means feeding them grain. Frances Moore Lappé revealed that it takes sixteen pounds of grain to make a single pound of feedlot beef. It’s a very inefficient feed conversion ratio. If we eat the grain or plant foods directly, we can feed a whole lot more people.
John RobbinsJM: I remember, John, how shocked I was to learn from you how much water is used to create a pound of meat.
JR: Yes, just think that if you took a shower every day for a full year, you would use about the same amount of water as it takes to produce a pound of beef. Eating less beef leads to the conservation of enormous amounts of water. It also leads to the conservation of topsoil and the reduction of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Our system of producing industrial meat is an ecological nightmare.
JM: As I look at your work, John, I find myself seeing its similarities to the work I’ve been engaged in over these decades. We call it the Great Turning, by which we mean the transition from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining society. What has been helpful to us and the many people we work with is to see that the Great Turning involves three dimensions. The first is to block what’s destroying us and resist such policies and practices as those that corrupt our food system and cause hunger and illness. The second is bringing in new ways of doing things, including new ways of food distribution, encouraging community-supported agriculture and permaculture, and fostering sustainable and socially just patterns of food production and food choices. The third dimension is a shift in consciousness that lets us see ourselves and our planet in a new light. That is where we came together, John, and where we all come together, in the deep ecological work where we feel our inter-being with all life, including our animal brothers and sisters.
We are very lucky to be alive at this time because we have a chance to link up with each other for the sake of life, a connection that will not only make life more possible for the future ones, but imbue our daily lives with a lot of warmth and excitement and steadiness. The Lord Buddha talked about the causes of suffering as being greed, hatred and delusion, and it has become clear that what we’re facing in the industrial-growth society are institutionalized forms of greed, hatred and delusion. And you’ve been battling organized forms of greed in dealing with the industrial food giants.
JR: Yes, because the industrial food giants have created the most addictive and most nutritionally inferior food in the world. They keep making it cheaper and more addictive. Some companies actually have scientists on their staff who are called “craveability experts.” That is their language. I couldn’t make that up. So they hire these so-called craveability experts whose job it is to tweak the food—not just the flavors but also the ingredients that trigger metabolic and physiological responses of the human body in order to make people crave that food. They are literally building addiction into the food. We saw this with tobacco. Eventually people recognized that the tobacco companies were intentionally selling an addictive product and wanting it to be addictive, because that was their business model. Big food today is doing the exact same thing.
Right now I and my son, Ocean, and the Food Revolution Network are all working very hard to require labeling of genetically engineered foods in this country. That is part of our effort to stop Monsanto, a company that wants to control the world’s food supply. We feel that if we could get labeling of genetically modified food required in the United States, what would happen is that people wouldn’t buy it. Why? Because after all these years the giant agrochemical companies haven’t been able to produce a single genetically engineered food that has any benefit to the consumer. No better taste, no higher nutrient profile, no enhanced protein levels, no nothing. But what they have been able to do is produce genetically engineered plants that can withstand massive doses of the toxic herbicides that they sell. Farmers are buying and using Roundup, this toxic herbicide, in incredible quantities, and Monsanto is making tens of billions of dollars on it and using the money to buy up the world’s seed companies.
Up until very recently, nobody on earth ever ate herbicides. Farmers had to spray herbicides carefully around the plant to kill the weeds, but they couldn’t get it onto the plant itself, because it would kill the plant. Now, with genetically engineered plants, they spray entire fields of corn, soy, canola, cotton and sugar beets with herbicides such as Roundup, again and again and again throughout the growing season. The plants literally soak it up and yet it doesn’t kill them, because they’ve been genetically engineered to tolerate massive amounts of herbicides. So now, for the first time, herbicides are in the food supply and in all of our bodies. Scientists are finding glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, in umbilical cord blood, in the blood of newborns and in the blood of pregnant women. They’re finding it in the bloodstreams of humans everywhere on the planet. So we’re poisoning ourselves and the wildlife of the planet, all for the profit of a company that wants to control the world’s food supply. This is counter to everything that I believe the human heart yearns for on earth.
JM: So for you and the Food Revolution Network, this is the “resistance” work, the first dimension of the Great Turning, which in this case is about revealing the horrific practices of these agrochemical companies, shining the light of truth on what is taking place.
JR: And the second dimension that you mentioned, Joanna, has to do with new ways of doing things and engaging people in sustainable and healthy practices. That is already happening everywhere, with farmers markets and the sales of organic and non-GMO food. Just to give one example, Whole Foods Market reports that if a food product adds “non-GMO certified” to its label, sales of that product go up 15% to 20% immediately. That means people are waking up and saying, “I don’t want to buy GMOs. I don’t want to eat them. I don’t want to support the companies that are making these things. I don’t want Monsanto or McDonald’s or Burger King or Coca-Cola to dictate what I consume, what I think, or what I am allowed to know.” There is a growing recognition that we are part of each other, and we don’t want our success or prosperity to be built on the backs of others, or built on exploiting other people or the suffering of animals or ecosystems.
JM: You are talking about people waking up, John, and that indicates that we are in the third dimension of the Great Turning, which involves a shift in consciousness.
JR: Many people are becoming more conscious. They are debating. They are arguing about how much raw food you should eat. Should we be vegan or just plant-strong; should we be eating any dairy? Underlying all of those conversations, there is a churning going on. There is a recognition that we must move away from big food, industrial meat, factory farming and GMOs. We need to move toward locally sourced, sustainably grown, fair-trade, socially just foods—in order that our spirits can be fulfilled on earth, in order that we can be part of the Great Turning. Whether enough of us will awaken in time to turn the tide, that’s yet to be seen. The forces—the Koch brothers and Exxon and Monsanto—they’ve got a lot of power. But there is a power they don’t have and that’s the power of the human soul. What we’re going to find out is how much power we do have collectively when we really live from our souls and connect with each other at a soul level. And then, however it plays out, we’ll be in an optimum position to love each other and love ourselves through whatever happens.
JM: Oh, John, thank you. What deep good news that is. You are speaking out of your work with your son, Ocean, and your family, and you’re speaking for me and many others. It is a call to wake up to who we really are and our capacity to love and care for our earth, so all of that life can bloom through us.