Vandana Shiva , an Indian agricultural activist, combats the “monoculture of the mind.” GMO, she says, stands for “God, move over.”
There’s a suggestion of spring in the hickory-and-oak treeline a couple of hundred yards outside my back door. The more apparent color, however, is gray, a sign that the trees haven’t warmed enough to pull spring to a height that announces its certain arrival.
My neighbors, too, are gray. “It’s gettin’ late,” one said the other day. “The corn, lettuce and radishes should be in ground.”
None is. Nor is one crab tree flowering or one morel mushrooming.
Why would they? It snowed, briefly, this late-April morning.
While nature, as a friend in Michigan likes to note, works 24/7, it will not be rushed. Its pace, like its reasons, is better measured by mystery than by man.
Another friend, Kentucky writer, poet and farmer Wendell Berry, says it this way: “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”
It was those votes, long memory and “stern sense of justice” that brought Vandana Shiva from Delhi, India, to Louisville, Ky., April 5, to honor Wendell Berry and mark the 35th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking book, The Unsettling of America.
Shiva is a younger, shorter version of Berry only she uses her right pointing finger to punctuate the air as Berry, far too courtly to ever point, uses periods to punctuate his sentences. She’s well educated (Ph.D., nuclear physics), well-traveled and well-published, the author of a dozen books on women, ecology and sustainable food systems.
And she is the founder and moral hurricane powering the Navdanya Research Foundation, a “movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds.”
In addressing the Louisville crowd, Shiva began with a tribute to Berry. He is “someone opposed to oversimplification, to reductionism, to monocultures; especially mental monocultures,” she said, “which are the products of modern universities.”That less-than-kind view of education from a nuclear physicist was one of the smaller bombs Shiva lobbed in the next hour as she applied Berry’s Unsettling of America yardstick to India and the developing world. It was, like the Kentuckian’s book, a less-than-pretty global tour of where “modern ag policy, mostly American ag policy, has led us all.”
“U.S. ag policy,” Shiva noted, “is always about how few people work the land; removing people from the land is always talked about as ‘efficiency.’”
A follower of Gandhi by both childhood and choice, Shiva wondered why food is often viewed in terms of power: food as a weapon, agri-power, food powerhouse.
“Food should be celebration, a gift, a service to others. The whole idea of power suggests a war, a war against ourselves, our bodies, our earth. We cannot be separated from the earth because we all are part of it.”
Shiva was absolutely blistering in her criticisms of “modern agri-business” and its “rascism:” “Everything brown or black must go and everything ‘refined’ or white must come: white flour over brown flour, white rice over brown rice, white sugar over brown sugar. All turn wealth into waste.”
And we are busily doing just that through what is seen as progress, efforts like the World Trade Organization and seed patents.
“The WTO,” Shiva related, “is doing little more than colonizing the future for corporations, not people. Their patents and the protections they seek are today’s way to bully nations and people.”
GMO, she said with no hint of irony or cleverness, “stands for ‘God move over, we are the new creators.’ The big companies place one gene on a seed and say they create a new seed. The gene doesn’t make a seed; the plant makes the seed.”
We—you, me, Wendell, all—urged Shiva “must shape the world from the bottom up and not allow it to be shaped from the top down.”
It’s good advice because, in fact, that is the way nature works; always has. Bottom up. My neighborhood oaks and hickories, slow though they may be this year, are proving it again.
Alan Guebert is an agriculture journalist who lives in central Illinois.