Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I've Turned Chartreuse: Part I. Let them eat organic cake

Yes, it’s true.   I’m no longer Green. I’ve turned chartreuse.  I’m going to explain my transformation in three sections:  I. Let them eat organic cake.  II. Go Local, Go Medieval.  III. Doom and gloom are what’s unsustainable.  

I.  Let them eat organic cake!
It all started with an article in the Spring 2007 UU World  called “Ethical Eating” by Amy Hassinger. The article advocating eating local organic veggies.  I pictured Mom, Dad, Dick, and Jane piling into their vehicle for a trip to a family farm to purchase their week’s veggies.  How idyllic. Then a nagging voice in my head said, how come veggies from California sometimes cost less than local Oregon veggies?  Wouldn’t the price reflect the shipping cost?
I did some math.  It’s cheaper in terms of pounds of food transported per gallon of gasoline when the food is moved in loaded semitrailers (despite their longer miles and fewer miles per gallon) compared to the family car because the family car carries food by the pound,   whereas the semitrailer carries food by the ton. []  Instead of believing we’re saving the planet by eating local, let’s think of local organic food as a luxury like hand-made custom shoes.
Since ethical eating involves paying more for comparable  food, Unitarian Universalists are saying that in order to be ethical you have to be rich.  How can Unitarian Universalism be a multiclass movement when it tells people that to be good Unitarian Universalists they have to spend more for their food?  Ethical eating is not only irrational but classist.
I see the shade of John Calvin, he of the elect and the damned, in the ethical eating movement.  Calvin, the man who condemned our Unitarian martyr Michael Servetus, believed in predestination, the belief that from all eternity most people were damned to hell and there was nothing anybody could do about it.  His views were diametrically opposite from the later  Universalists and from current Unitarian Universalist principles.
The above is more than arcane theological speculation.  In the real world, you could tell who were the elect because God favored the elect by making them rich. The elect started out morally good and became economically good.  Therefore the rich were the morally good.  Quite a change from Jesus’ idea that a rich man couldn’t get to Heaven any more than a camel could fit through the eye of a needle.  I can hear John Calvin cheering ethical eating from his 16th century grave.
Sure, fresh local food tastes better, and the family farm is a romantic ideal.  However, nostalgia’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  That bygone family farm involved isolating, back-breaking labor, much of it performed by unpaid children.  The article advocates growing your own food as the purest way to eat locally and ethically.  It’s fun to farm as leisure, but when your life and livelihood depend on a successful crop it’s not fun any more. Not everyone finds it a spiritual experience to hoe and weed in the hot sun.  And what about the fossil fuel farmers need to get to town every week?
Hassinger poo-poos the Green Revolution (crop breeding, chemical fertilizers and pesticides) that prevented famine in India and Pakistan in the early 70s.  She says, “The dramatic increase in crop yields has been credited with relieving famine in some regions of the world, most strikingly in developing countries like India and Pakistan.  The Green Revolution had a huge unintended consequence: an increasingly unsustainable agriculture system.”   Should the starving eat organic cake?
The organic movement smacks of ideology – suffering now for the sake of the glorious future.  From The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker p 328:  “Most of us agree that it is ethically permissible to divert a runaway trolley that threatens to kill five people onto a side track where it would kill only one.  But suppose it were a hundred million lives one could save by diverting the trolley, or a billion, or – projecting into the infinite future – infinitely many.  How many people would it be permissible to sacrifice to attain that infinite good?  A few million can seem like a pretty good bargain.”   By opposing the Green Revolution we’re not letting a few peasants starve now for the future health of the entire planet, are we?

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