Date Night with Vandana Shiva

Tuesday Cherie and I had one of our infrequent date nights.  We drove down to Winston-Salem to hear Vandana Shiva speak at Wake Forest University.

She gave an inspiring talk on the importance of biodiversity, preserving traditional farming practices and protecting heirloom seeds.  She also delivered a scathing critique of industrial agriculture and in particular the harm it’s done in India. I tried taking notes but soon realized that I wanted to write down every sentence.  Ultimately I gave up, put the pen down and just enjoyed the talk.

She spoke in the University’s chapel, which despite its name is a large building.  The place was packed.

The fact that so many students and young people would come out to hear a lecture on industrial agriculture is more evidence of how engaged young people are today on the important issues of our time.  I was at the University of Virginia in the late 70s and early 80s and someone speaking on industrial agriculture then, no matter how well known, would never have drawn an audience.

The times, they are a changing.

12 comments on “Date Night with Vandana Shiva

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I’m glad to hear that young people are starting have an interest in the food chain. I’ve always been a little out of the main stream. I started organic gardening way back in the 1970s …. well trying to organic garden. I have always lived in the Urban areas of the cities since I left home to attend college and make my fame and fortune in the world. Those early days of gardening were far away from being successful. I didn’t have any one that I knew that understood what organic gardening was including myself. I just took what I knew about farming and scaled it down to a small plot garden. My Dad never used commercial fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, or any other cides when he farmed so I just followed that example. I read a lot later when I discovered a couple magazines that were dedicated to organic growing and homesteading in the general. People in urban areas still don’t know what organic gardening is and just put up with my antics in the back yard. As long as it doesn’t smell or attract undesirable bugs or critters the neighbors are ok with it.

    I’ll have to search out a garden club maybe here in my town and see if they bring in speakers like you mentioned. I haven’t really been one to try to find a garden community in my area. I’m thinking maybe I should. Last weekend in Kansas, it was wonderful to be able to talk with folks that understood homesteading, permaculture, bioculture, organic gardening, and other things without trying to explain just exactly what that was. It’s really amazing to me how much of our country culture and knowledge has been lost just in my life time. What used to be normal farming practices has now become a subculture. Very sad.

    Have many more great future date nights.


    • Joanna says:

      Nebraskadave, have you ever heard of the Transition movement. It is an organisation that is working on the premise that oil has peaked and we need to wean ourselves off it, but whether you think that is correct or not, they are a group of very motivated individuals who would also understand the points you mention and within an urban environment. It started off in Totnes, Devon, UK but has now spread around the globe and can be found statewide too now. Link below


    • Bill says:

      I hope you’re able to connect with a supportive community of like-minded folks. We started up a group last year that gathers once a month to share a meal and discuss sustainable living. It’s nice to be able to talk about the things that interest us without having to worry about sounding like a freak. 🙂

      You’ve been ahead of the curve Dave. Urban farming is coming on strong now and I expect it will be the norm someday. Hopefully soon.


  2. Joanna says:

    That is amazingly encouraging Bill.


    • Bill says:

      We thought so too. We actually ran into some people we met at a festival last year. They were thrilled to be able to hear and meet Dr. Shiva. The faculty member who introduced her mentioned that the university was planting heirloom apple trees on campus and one of the sponsors was the Office of Sustainability (no such thing when I was in school) and another was the School of Divinity. Very encouraging.


  3. avwalters says:

    She’s an inspiration. I wish I could have attended.


  4. Jeff says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but there wasn’t much in the way of industrial agriculture in the late 70s or early 80s. Certainly nothing on the scale that exists today. I do find it encouraging that young people are so interested in alternative ways of producing food – it could be a lot worse. They could be avid advocates of industrial agriculture!


    • Bill says:

      Consolidation and the invention of GMOs has made them a lot larger now, but industrial chemical-based farms were the norm then too. When Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon he told farmers they should “get big or get out” and that that they should plant corn “from fencerow to fencerow.” By then the “Green Revolution” was in full swing and the agricultural establishment had completely adopted the philosophy of it.

      I don’t see the young generation, despite their affinity for technology, ever getting on board with the industrial ag complex. I expect they will be a part of correcting our food culture for the better.


  5. The term ‘industrial agriculture’ is misleading and unnecessarily disparaging towards the 95 percent of American farmers who responsibly produce the foods we need. These are family, not corporation, owned operations using the best practices and available knowledge producing more quality food on less land than at any time in history. Were we to switch back to the lower yielding and higher environmental impact organic approaches advocated by Ms. Shiva we would have to put every remaining wild acre and rain forest under the plow – and still we could only feed 4 billion of the current 6 billion living on the planet. Consider reading Michael Specter’s excellent expose of Vandana Shiva’s claims in the New Yorker.


    • Bill says:

      Thanks for weighing in. I’m well aware of the industrial critique of Dr. Shiva. It is said that a person can be judged by the quality of their enemies. I think that is certainly true in the case of Dr. Shiva.

      Because I only apply the term “industrial agriculture” to agricultural practices that are in fact industrial, it cannot possibly be either misleading or disparaging.

      Industrial agriculture is unsustainable. With all due respect, the allegation that feeding the human population using sustainable methods would require plowing under the rain forests (and every other uncultivated spot on the planet) is ridiculous.

      As for the supposed successes of industrial agriculture, they are principally increased yields (measured without regard to the environmental degradation they cause) in commodity crops used almost exclusively as animal feed or biofuels, which aren’t feeding any humans. Industrial ag’s mantra that it is “feeding the world” is just propaganda.


    • Jeff says:

      Dr. Vandana’s very lengthy response to Mr. Specter’s piece.

      A review of Mr. Specter’s book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives”, which appeared in The New York Times.

      Please supply the source for your statement that “95 percent of American farmers … responsibly produce the foods we need.”


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