Agent for Change: Joan Gussow

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Agent for Change: Joan Gussow

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by Heidi Novak

Perceived cornucopia: Locavore pioneer Joan Gussow says it’s time to get real with our relationship with food.

novakJoan Dye Gussow is a tenacious activist for all things unpro-cessed. Her crone wisdom and cockeyed optimism are inspiring. A nutrition educator by trade (she has actively educated her students and the public about nutritional ecology and sustainability for over 35 years), she is also a gardener, cook and writer. Her memoir “This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader” is filled with recipes of truth and hope (and real food recipes, too). She walks the talk of a person commited to helping build locally based and self-reliant food economies.

Joan Dye Gussow is a tenacious activist for all things unpro-cessed. Her crone wisdom and cockeyed optimism are inspiring. A nutrition educator by trade (she has actively educated her students and the public about nutritional ecology and sustainability for over 35 years), she is also a gardener, cook and writer. Her memoir “This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader” is filled with recipes of truth and hope (and real food recipes, too). She walks the talk of a person commited to helping build locally based and self-reliant food economies.

Joan Dye Gussow came to Salt Lake City in November to raise awareness about our food system and encourage alternatives. She spoke at Westminster College, opening the local version of the California-based Bioneers Conference (Biological Pioneers).

Herself a pioneer in the practice of “eating locally” for about 35 years before the word “locavorism” was even invented, the Columbia University professor emerita has inspired journalists such as Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) and Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation,” “Food Inc.”). This offers a clue to the depth of presence carried in her message.

{quotes} Gussow’s message is simple: It is time to get real with our relationship with food. {/quotes}

Simple. But not easy—nor, for many, so easy to swallow.

It starts with an awareness about the food system that delivers the cornucopia to supermarkets across America.

First, the food “products.” In the 1990s, approximately 15,000 new food-like substances entered the marketplace, many made from highly processed and genetically engineered corn, soy and wheat.

Many of us eschew “food” that has been created by chemists. In attempt to eat well, we purchase fruit and vegetables. However produce grown in large-scale production now delivers 15-80% less nutritional value than 70 years prior. What is believed to be nutritious only provides marginal benefits over manufactured food.

Then there’s the ecological footprint: In addition to the gas-powered farm machines and petrochemically derived fertilizers, supermarket produce is usually better traveled than those who consume it.

In 1940 the industrial food system produced 2.3 calories of food energy per calorie of fossil fuel energy used. The same system now only produces 1 calorie of food energy per 10 calories of fossil fuel energy. Thanks to farm subsidies, the food we eat costs more to produce than we actually pay at the checkout stand.

Gussow became a vegan as she searched for local, humanely raised animals for her diet. Through this process she found that she did not need nearly as much protein as she thought. “We eat excessive amounts of meat and meat products, more per capita than any other country in the world at any point in human history,” she points out. The consequences of such a diet, similar to the royalty of yesteryear, are evident in the state of public health.

Gussow compare the current state of the environment and animal production to that of slavery: property to use for man’s presumed best interest, without first considering the natural rhythms of give and take found in the web of life.

She says the time for organic agriculture has arrived. Agribusiness only produces an operational yield that is at best 0.2% per year above organically grown food when growing conditions are optimal. Yet organically grown food produces 22% greater yield than conventional when the weather is unpredictable.

Gussow is optimistic that many people can and do want to live sustainably. She reminds us that plants are autotrophs—they require only sun to produce energy, giving vitality naturally with little energy investment upfront. Hosting the solar dollars of a commodity-driven market, nature is always there for us to harvest her potential. The problem is not technology; it is the willingness to change our perception of the cornucopia.

Gussow encourages us to consider the delicious simplicity of food relationships that can exist when consciously created. A cornucopia loaded with real food may open the doors to a more vibrant lifestyle for all concerned.

Heidi Novak is an energy kinesiologist, massage therapist and the owner of All for Health and Awareness in Salt lake City.

 
 
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