I would like to start this post by asserting two things: one, I am a certifiable farmer now, and two, I can never eat again.
In reference to my first point, I spent the last week at a sort of farmer training site, a place called UHDP (which stands for “Upland Holistic Development Project”). UHDP is an organic farming site that works with local farmers to store seeds, educate about sustainable farming practices, and promote a healthier way of living and producing food in Thailand and across the world. It is originally based in Florida, but has locations around the world, and is really cool!!! We spent our first day here exploring the agro-forest, which is a manmade forest that is intended to replicate a natural forest as closely as possible, and learning about the ways in which various plants are used (hint: almost everything has at least one edible part). We also got to chop up banana trees to make pig feed, and pack sticky rice with coconut shavings, molasses and vinegar to make feed for the catfish (because even the fish eat rice in Thailand). We spent a few days learning/doing typical farm work, including weeding, hoeing, harvesting and cleaning and labeling seeds, making and spraying organic pesticides, and creating compost piles using hay, water, and lots of manure (more fun than it sounds).
On our last full day here, we split up into groups and spent the morning gathering materials to make lunch from different parts of the farm. Patty, Jenni, Alex and I were all given the best job: catching catfish! We drained most of the water from the catfish pond, then jumped in with nets to scoop up the bigger catfish. We thought we were done, but little did we know that our job was just getting started. After we carried the bucket containing four kilos of catfish back to the prep area, we had to dump a bunch of salt into the bucket to kill the fish. We covered the top with a lid so we couldn’t actually see it happening, but the loud banging noises coming from inside the bucket were enough to create a fairly strong mental image. Patty and I were then given the task of cutting the heads off the somewhat dead catfish. I say somewhat dead because many a times, we would grab a fish and start cutting only to have it start twitching and thrashing around on the cutting boards. We discovered the best way to get through the experience was to make unfortunate jokes and cut as quickly as possible, encouraging the fish to “swim towards the light” and “the big catfish pond in the sky.” After, we helped Jenni and Alex pull out the fish guts and chop the fish into smaller pieces, then mix them with chopped vegetables and stuff them into bamboo sticks to be cooked over the fire. It was only a somewhat scarring experience, and to be honest, I’m pretty proud of us; we became true women, and even earned Emily’s stamp of approval on our badass cards. And you know what? They actually tasted pretty good.
And now, onto the second point. Our unit for this country is agriculture, which, if I’m being honest, isn’t something that I thought I would be terribly interested in. But the more we talk about these issues, the more I’m leaning, the more I find myself questioning the eating habits I’ve carried my entire life. Organic farming is not something that is merely ideal, it is necessary. If we want to be able to sustain a level of food production that is capable of feeding the world, we must find a way to farm organically. Growing and buying locally is something that needs to become the norm. But as long as we live in a world where a single company holds a monopoly on seed production, in a society where monoculture is the norm and a single agro disaster can wipe out an entire nation’s worth of food, where a cheeseburger at McDonalds costs less than a locally grown head of broccoli, these problems will go unsolved. Monsanto, a company that has a copyright over genetically modified seeds that are immune to a special herbicide that kills virtually all living things it is applied to, is able to control the entire agriculture community because of harsh patent laws. Big companies have a huge hand in the cookie jar, with many of their higher ups actually holding positions of power in governmental organizations that are supposed to be regulating the very companies they are running. Farmers are subsidized and left with enormous debt in order to keep them as essential slaves to the modern agricultural system, even if such practices are strongly against their moral standings. The way that food is being produced in the United States right now isn’t just bad for the environment and the economy, but bad for us as human beings. We are unhealthier than ever, due largely to the lack of natural variety in our diets and huge amounts of chemicals poisoning our food. The current agricultural system in America is a problem, not just for the farmers and the lawmakers, but for all of us, and it’s not a minor problem, it’s huge. It’s enormous, it’s incomprehensibly big but we don’t think about it because the big companies don’t want us to think about it. But we have to. And believe me, it’s not going to be easy, because no one wants to be told that the way they’ve been living, the way they’ve been raised, is so terribly wrong. But we need to stop and talk about these things, because we can’t keep fumbling around in the dark without doing permanent and irreversible damage to ourselves and the world we live in. I, personally, am going to make a much more concerted effort to buy from farmers markets, eat food that I know is grown locally and organically, and cut down on my consumption of red meat and cow-based products.
I know that rambling wasn’t really sensical, but it’s a huge issue, and covers a lot more than I cam summarize in a single paragraph. I strongly recommend watching “Food Inc.” or reading part of Omnivore’s Dilemma, both of which do a fantastic job addressing these issues in an interesting and easy to understand way. “Cowspiracy” is another really interesting movie on the subject, but it’s pretty strongly one-sided and I haven’t completely decided how I feel about it yet. One more thing on this issue: it’s ridiculously complicated, and there’s no easy, catch-all solution that lawmakers can put into place. Every solution, no matter how well-intended, can have severe, long-term consequences, which is why creating policy on these matters is so difficult. I don’t have a solution to all of the problems; I don’t think anyone does. But that doesn’t mean we can simply ignore them. If anything, I believe it means we must discuss them more than ever.
In other news, we attempted to take a trip to Myanmar the other day to have lunch and renew our tourist visas in Thailand, only to discover that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country if we left. Instead, we woke up at 5:30 the other morning to visit the immigration office and apply for extensions on our visas, being sure to practice our lines in case we were questioned (“I am a tourist!!”). We weren’t, and we all got our extensions without problem, so we won’t be getting kicked out of the country!! Happy day for us all. In other other news, we’ve all learned the clapping parts to Pentatonix’s “White Winter Hymnal,” (which you should definitely watch on YouTube if you haven’t seen), because we’re obviously the coolest kids on the block. Thailand is still wonderful, the food is still amazing, the bugs are still swarming, I’m still incredibly happy, and these blog posts are still ridiculously long. I love you all so much, and can’t wait to see you all again soon!!!
In order to save the world, we must first discover it.