This idea might seem all wet to some people, but I’d like to propose on Earth Day that we make a top priority of making water’s links to food, environment and city issues more dramatic, more front-and-centre, and more spirited and spiritual.
The penny dropped for me on this issue a few months ago, when I started working with Annabel Slaight, who’s beside me in the photo to the left. You might have heard of her from her days with Owl Magazine, or her calendar girl days with a risqué Ladies of the Lake calendar, or her role instigating the great children-adult book, Do Fish Fart. I’ve been working with the Ontario Water Centre that she plays a lead role in, and she has taught me many things about lakes and water, some of which I’ll share below.
Like everybody else, I always knew water was as essential to life as food and air, and also essential to food. Like most people who’ve been in the food movement for some time, I’ve also long known that water is essential to food, and that it doesn’t make much sense to have responsibility for water and food in different departments of corporations, governments and education.
But I didn’t really understand how much these essentials of life needed to transform our way of thinking.
Earth Day seems like a good day to try to explain this, if only because the very names Earth Day and Planet Earth are as blinding in their way as the History of Mankind and History of Civilization from Plato to NATO were in their way. Planet Earth, after all, is mostly water, as are humans and the plants and animals we eat. If you consider it important, as I do, to eliminate gender and racial bias from our daily language, then you should consider it important to become politically correct in terms of water too.
And I kid you not on the politically correct part, because the blindness behind terms such as Planet Earth and This Land is Our Land has got some deep politics and profound political implications behind it.
Just think about terms that roll off the tongue like “food and agriculture” and “food and farming” instead of “food and water” or “food and fishing.”
Do these turns of phrase not privilege foods that are domesticated over foods that that are wild, foods that come from privately-owned land rather than food from the commons? Doesn’t it make it easier to link sewers and pipes to rivers, lakes and oceans, and to “flush and forget” when people don’t automatically think we’re dumping crap directly into our food and drink supply, instead of into “landfill?”
Doesn’t it make it easier for agriculture and food ministries to lobby for industrial agriculture methods that pollute the air and water with pesticides and fertilizers when a non-producing government department of the environment — in charge of “end of pipe” technologies for the waste that ends up in air and water – is responsible for the clean-up?
Doesn’t it all fit with the way we treat water as a “resource” — placed on the world for humans to have dominion over, especially for industrial uses – and not the fundamental source of life itself, which all people who have studied the evolution of life on this Planet Earth know to be scientifically true?
Let’s not kid ourselves: paying proper respect for water is a disruptive innovation! The separation of food and water leads to the separation of government departments of agri-food and environment, as if fish, veggies, fruit, grains or meat are possible without water. Why wonder that government departments with names like that can’t get things right?
Since helping out with the Ontario Water Centre, my email is loaded each day with Google Alerts on lakes and water. The torrential fall of email introduced me to the fact that people are using the wrong color coding for issues affecting land and water. Earthly issues are seen as green, and watery issues are seen as blue, which is wrong in two ways. Water is blue only because of the way it reflects the sky (some people say water is colorless, but that’s akin to saying Black people are colored, but White people aren’t). The true color of water is water color.
But aside from that, the posts in Google Alert will tell you that the lakes of the world are increasingly turning green, as a result of phosphorous pollution from agriculture. And phosphorous pollution comes from too many livestock in too few places dropping too much poop in too few places, and too many farmers growing grains for the livestock and using chemical fertilizers instead of composted animal poop to fertilize their fields.
So water gets a double load of phosphorous, and is turning green. Humans would turn green if they ate all that crap, but in the case of water, the green comes from algae. Which is interesting in the way only industrial food systems can be interesting – people claiming to feed the world are killing wild fish in order to raise domesticated meat.
How could the promoters of industrial agriculture ever get away with saying they are as essential as water and air for feeding the world if people ever wondered why industrial agriculture is killing fisheries, which produce the nutrients (omega 3 fatty acids) that the human brain most needs?
Do you see why it’s important for some people with some interests to keep food and water departmentalized and compartmentalized?
The fact is that humans cannot have safe drinking water and clear fishing waters unless we do the right things by soil and forests. Soil and forests are the great land buddies of rivers, lakes and oceans. They developed a mutually beneficial relationship over the course of four billion years, approximately 3.999 billion years before industrial agriculture, the separation of land and water in different government departments, and the separation of land used for grains and land used for livestock — which could only have been permitted by governments that didn’t know their livestock’s ass from a hole in the ground.
When we get the food and water connection right, we will have the governments we deserve, which will be governments that know such differences, as well as such connections.
This needs to be a city issue – a point I like to make because this newsletter is about food and cities. Cities need to be closer to their water than they are to food, if only because it takes three days to die from lack of water, which is a lot quicker than death from starvation. We shouldn’t speak of the need for local food without also speaking of the need for local water, for humans and for production of the food. When we think of rain, we need to think of how we can use it to grow something, even food, even on flat roofs — rather than dump rain (which we have renamed stormwater) down the sewer with cigarette butts that take 12 years to decompose and which add to the pollution of fisheries.
I don’t want to do a list of what cities could do if people in them cared about water. Frankly, it would be demeaning to do a list. Before we do a list, we must make water visible, and must make it intelligible to our narcissistic and departmentalized minds.
Happy Earth and Water Day!!