Thoughts on the Pandemic

I suspect I share the reactions of many TNF readers to this pandemic. Fortunately, Julie and I do not know anyone who has been seriously infected with the coronavirus, and our livelihoods are not impacted by the economic shutdown that so many have experienced. Farming has been declared essential and our work for NOFA was always done at home.

But this crisis has shown all of us that Nature has the final say. She has been a tolerant mother, generously giving us whatever of her treasures we asked for – despoiling her air, privatizing her water, mining her soil. But, never sated, we always pressed for more.

Now it seems that we may have transgressed too far, crowding our fellow living creatures into cages, pens and CAFOs for our consumption, raising them without sunlight or space or fresh air. In their misery they have succumbed to disease, allowing new contagions to thrive, evolve and finally escape out into our world.

Is social distancing working? Can the curve be flattened? Will the world we knew return? I don’t think we can yet say. This is all too new, too much information is unavailable. But there are a few things which I think we have learned:

First, no one can deny the simple power of Nature. When she is displeased, all the might and money of the human world count for little.

Second, this crisis did not come from outer space. It has been predicted for years, years during which the warnings went unheeded, preparations neglected. We have been poorly served by our leadership, all of it.

Third, we have all been born with a precious gift — an immune system — which is designed to save us from exactly this threat. But that immune system needs to be supported with proper nutrients and not assaulted by toxic chemicals. It arises from the gut biome, which can be fatally damaged by poisons like glyphosate (see issue 123). Among other things it requires lots of sunlight to make cholesterol into vitamin D (see issue 126) — whose lack has been so obvious and flagrant in the terrible infection rates of northern hemisphere countries versus southern hemisphere ones this spring. Is the reason no one in power is raising these questions because there is no profit in good health?

Fourth, awakened individuals are responding to this pandemic with resolve to do better. The tidal wave of consumer interest in gardening, local food, CSAs, farmers markets and farm stands has surprised all of us. It gives us an opportunity we haven’t had since the 1989 Alar scare to challenge the global food system: to show how chasing convenience and price has been at the cost of food quality and our health, how we need to take personal responsibility for what we put in our mouths.

Fifth, I find it personally ironic that the life so many of us have chosen, to eschew the fast lane and its built-up world, to grow food, raise healthy families and work with Nature has been so thoroughly validated. Security and success have taken on new meanings.

No one can predict how this will all turn out. As a species we have a consistent history of returning to the tried and the comfortable as soon as possible. But we also have moments of keen insight and fundamental change.

The international food system, with its chemicals and its CAFOs and its corporations, could find ways to patch this together another few years. But life is nothing if not persistent, and infectious organisms seem very much alive. We have uncorked a genie here which will not withdraw for long.

We can choose a path which leads to further distancing from life and its senses — communicating electronically, working in isolation, estranged from our food, sanitising our social events.

Or the wiser minds among us might realize we must adapt to Nature. We must learn good manners, which means the same in matters large or small — restraint for the self, respect and generosity for the other.

Can we embrace the flesh and blood we are, live to excel at good health, start to undo the damage we have done?

It is for us to choose the path we wish to follow.