5.8 Billion Served

Out stewardship of the Earth is like the proverbial kid in a candy store: grab and eat.

by Robert Nanninga

 hile having sushi the other day (yes there is such a thing as Vegan sushi), I had one of the most enlightening conversations I can remember. Sharing the corner of the bar with me were my oldest friend, Tracy Condra, and marine biologist Dr. Ann Bowles of the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute.

The first issue we tackled was overfishing of the Earth's oceans, declining fish stocks and the possible extinction of many aquatic species. Dr. Bowles clued us in to the current state of things. Most depressing was the ongoing genocide of shark populations. The shark dialogue turned us toward Japan and that country's total disregard for everything in the ocean. They still insist on killing whales for a plethora of consumer goods. I'm sorry, no one is ugly enough to justify the use of whale blubber as a face moisturizer. Also harvested from these beautiful creatures is a substance from the intestines known as ambergris. Used in perfume production, this waxlike substance helps spread the stench of death.


 Trying to find some instance of wise stewardship, we landed on the subject of aquaculture. I had to admit that while fish farms are a short term Band-Aid in meeting global consumer needs, they still have a major impact on the areas in which they are located. For example, the shrimp ponds have replaced coastal mangrove forests. Monoculture is never a good thing, yet to think we are driving species to extinction just for the greedy pleasure of eating half a dozen crustaceans dipped in a sauce of ketchup and horseradish borders on the surreal. Granted, shrimp trawlers do far more damage. But still, do we really need shrimp on the menu? Those Red Lobster commercials that promise an "all you can eat" shrimp extravaganza fail to mention the environmental price of the gluttony they are promoting.

Leaving the ocean behind, Dr. Bowles explained the project she just recently completed. In the wilds of Oklahoma, it was her task to see how close Navy jets could fly to ostrich ranches before they spooked the feathered herds. It seems ostrich meat is becoming the favorite flesh of the country club set. Amazingly enough, this is a by-product of a failed attempt to create a market for ostrich eggs and feathers. According to the doctor, the flesh is fat free and "oh so tasty" (I'm paraphrasing; Ann would use a more substantial vocabulary). Although some proponents say big bird is a much healthier meat, I don't see how a herd of ostriches are any different than hamburgers on the hoof.

I asked Dr. Bowles what would happen if a breeding pair were to become feral, as have cattle, horses, and in particular the camels of Australia. All livestock continues to alter their environment. All she could say is, "it's to soon to tell."

Currently in America, buffalo, an endangered species, is being shot to protect domestic cattle from a virus that has yet to be transferred to that sacred cow. In the eastern Mojave Desert, big horn sheep are under the gun in the name of healthy cows. So who does one blame, or shoot, for all the E-coli outbreaks? Hudson Food Co. has recalled 28 million pounds of contaminated beef, most of which, officials believe, has already been eaten. Hello? Is anybody home?

The media has been awash in stories of how Americans are not getting enough calcium in their diet. I wonder who bankrolled all those studies? Can you say dairy industry? If I see one more "Got Milk?" commercial, I will scream. Considering that humans are the only species that consume milk after they are weaned, in reality we are getting too much calcium from artificial sources. The body, when allowed to do so, will utilize its own calcium; all you have to do is eat your leafy green vegetables, and nature will do the rest. I know it is hard to imagine, but once upon a time people existed without diary products.

All animals consume. I get it. Humans are not exempt from the eat-or-be-eaten cycle. We have just turned it into a hideous art form. Shark fin soup, monkey brains and milk-fed veal are examples of the living torture to which we subject our fellow creatures.

Torturing ourselves is now all the rage. Thirty percent of Americans are obese and you know who you are. Listen folks, all that garbage you are shoving in your face comes from the environment although in some cases the connection is tenuous at best. Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and those hideous pink Snow Balls all contribute to an ever-expanding populace. The sheer amount of grain needed to produce the mountains of junk food devoured is second only to the amount of grain fed to livestock in the pursuit of the perfect E-coli burger. Prairies and plains, rich in biodiversity, gave way to the industrial farming corporations that left us with drug-dependent monocultures. In an attempt to bypass the chemical middleman, Coca Cola is now using genetically engineered corn to manufacture the slop the world guzzles down.

But before all my tofu-eating friends start to feel superior, let me share this disturbing factoid: Nebraska is the top producer of soybeans in the United States. In 1993, 99 percent of those soybeans were sprayed with pesticides. It is also interesting to note that genetically engineered soybeans are being mixed with organic ones without being labeled as such.

The easiest way of cleaning up the menu we are inflicting on ourselves is to establish a chemical-free backyard garden. Being present to the way your family's food is produced is actually the first step in promoting healthy families. Some of you will say that is impossible in today's world, and my response is, "whose fault is that?" If you don't have the time or space, find the nearest farmers' market and get to know your local growers. Unless Americans start to eat less, and healthier, we will all be left having eaten ourselves out of house and home.

Towards the end of our meal Dr. Bowles proposed a question that desperately needs to be asked of scientists, developers, stockbrokers, and fishermen. So in preparation of next months column, I'm asking that my readers help me out. I'm requesting answers to the following question: How much is enough?