On an unusually warm and sunny November day at the Point Reyes National Seashore, my heart leapt to see herds of tule elk roaming the vast expanse of grasslands. A gathering of elephant seals splashed in a cove on Drake’s Bay. Young black-tailed deer edged up the hillside as birds flew overhead. A red-tailed hawk landed beside me long enough for me to capture her in a photograph. My joy was rooted in a sense of connection and kinship with nature.
Wendell Berry once said that people exploit what they value but defend what they love. These days we’re called on to remember that love — and a kinship with the wild — fuels the actions we take to save the nature we still have. Instead of “consumers” at “the top of the food chain,” we’re one part of a vaster community. We seek nourishment in a place we belong to, rather than one that belongs to us.
At least one third of the food we grow relies on pollinators like bees and butterflies that are deeply in peril, largely because we douse our crops in pesticides and destroy their habitat. If we cherished crops as part of a coexisting ecosystem, we’d cultivate habitat and food side by side, protecting the future of insects as well as our own.
Instead land and pollinators alike are treated as “resources” to be exploited. This is true of the colonization of seeds as well — 94% of seed varieties have disappeared, and most of what’s left is owned by a few mega-corporations. Rowen White, a Mohawk woman, seed saver, and director and founder of Sierra Seeds, said in an interview with Emergence Magazine that “seeds are a reflection of the people.” Capitalism views seeds as gene banks sold as calories to the masses rather than whole seeds with their own stories and cultural ecologies that nourish us.
Sometimes, even as environmentalists, we disconnect with cultural ecologies by thinking of agriculture only in terms of statistics, percentage points and technologies. Of course, we can’t ignore the science in a policy-driven world. But we need to look at the roots of agriculture as well as its fruits.
When we do, we begin to worry about cattle ranching on public lands like Point Reyes because we care about our kinship with the plants and animals that have lived here down through the ages. We eat less beef because it carries a massive ecological footprint in greenhouse gases, water waste and habitat loss — and because cattle threaten the restoration of vulnerable wildlife, from salamanders to sage grouse, bees, butterflies, wolves and tule elk.
When people lose their ties to nature, environmental solutions become shortsighted. Folks don’t want to hear that we can’t cover the desert in solar panels because that would destroy diverse, precious ecosystems. Or that we can’t ranch every inch of land — that while cattle can temporarily sequester carbon in limited circumstances, they bring an increase in methane and harm to watersheds and wildlife. And there’s no science showing “regenerative” beef can be scaled to meet demand.
Economic value can’t be our only guiding principle when it comes to our planet. As we gather for holiday meals this December, let’s remember that kinship connects us through the food we share with our loved ones, and it can connect us to the natural world too. If we’re to build a better world, we have to imagine one first. Let the vision be rooted in kinship.
Until next month, stay in touch by writing me at EarthFriendlyDiet@BiologicalDiversity.org.
For the wild,
Jennifer Molidor, Senior Food Campaigner
Population and Sustainability Program
Center for Biological Diversity