Publiceret den 12. marts 2021
Chefs Book Notes; “Silent Spring”
Silent Spring has by many been considered to be the most important and influential book for the environmental movement.
I found it fascinating to read about the historical perspective the book brings me.
Rachel Carson was a biologist with a deep love for nature and she was breaking into a lot of new ground when she published Silent Spring in 1962.
At a time when the industrialized world had fallen into the unconditional love of science and technology, she pointed out that the idea of trying to dominate nature was not only arrogant, it was also posing a danger for our own habitat. She points out the threats posed by the irresponsible use of chemical sprayings on insects in modern society while being a lone woman in a scientific field widely dominated by men where her “feminine” and holistic approach was not respected nor welcomed.
A dark fable
The book starts off by drawing up a “fable” of the darkest kind. She depicts a world that goes from a romantic pastoral harmony to be struck with inexplicable disease and death. And a deafening silence from the lack of birds. Then she methodically unveils a long number of deadly chemicals and how they have found their way to our pastures, gardens and children.
DDT, Dieldrin, Aldrin, Eldrin, Parathion, and other Chlorinated Hydrocarbons had been received as saviors of crops, agriculture, and forestry that in those years had become increasingly homogenous at the expense of diversity. Carson reports on the repercussions of all of these attempts to bring down Japanese beetles, fire ants, gnats by pure chemical warfare that has its origins in WWII.
Many of the chemicals were related to nerve gases and in chapter 10, “Indiscriminately from the skies”, she links the surplus of airplane pilots after the war to the bulk spraying over forests and pastures to disastrous consequences.
Spraying against a pest affects the birds that feed on those insects and the predators that feed on those birds. The circle of life carries the poisons on, and the way that residues in extremely small amounts as in 3-4 parts per million are both deadly and cancerogenic is extremely frightening, even today. Incredible recounts of children dying with convulsions from being exposed to high doses of chemicals on farms or gardens are just that, incredible.
That there is a strong interconnection between every living thing might be an idea that to some extent resonates more with us today than it did 50 or 60 years ago. We can thank Rachel Carson for that. In a historical period where the Cold War and the fear of radiation and nuclear war was what the climate crisis is today, she managed to bring focus to practices that were championed by what was the beginning of the agro-industrial era.
Takeaways and conclusion
While reading a book with such a focus on chemistry, science and research I find it is very important to remind myself not to get too caught up in details. The various chemical agents and their intricate components can have me confused and in the end, lose sight of the bigger picture. With that said, I do believe that Carson is very good at balancing the facts with a compelling and interesting style of writing. I do think that the book serves as a reminder of a historical change of paradigm more than anything.
As a chef I have found myself more and more interested in the food system from a larger scope than just how things are put on a plate. More about how they are brought there. While I instinctively will tend towards “clean” agriculture that is completely free from chemicals, I find Silent Spring brings out both the facts and a worldview that backs up that instinct.
The tension between an industrialized world enamored with science and technology ready to dominate and change nature to our needs, and an effeminate idea of humankind being a part of an ecosystem that we have to nurture and take care of is extremely interesting and just as relevant today as it was in 1962. Carson was ahead of her time and her lack of trust in the scientific institutions and agri-business of the era was an inspiration to her generation that went on to create the first environmental movements.
Today, still, we should remember her words when new technological fixes are once again proposed as a solution to the problems created by earlier technological advancement.
New pesticides, new fungicides, new herbicides, GMO, Crispr technology should all be scrutinized and thoroughly questioned based on their origin and motivations. Are they here to help or is it another manipulation of nature that will end up creating more problems than not?
I have chosen my restaurants to be run organically and to use my work to support organic agriculture in every way possible. While organic agriculture is far from perfect and the fast-paced industrialization of it is frightening, there is something liberating about a non-chemical approach that can be traced straight back to the worries so well presented in Silent Spring. While Carson, to my great surprise, doesn’t seem to be against a more targeted spraying to some extent I also must acknowledge that nuancing agricultural practices more than just considering it conventional or organic is well due.
But reality is that powerful companies and lobbies push technology forward to improve profit-margins and rarely to improve the broader population’s quality of life, nutrition or the climate for that sake. Therefor having a non-tolerance approach to chemical agriculture simply based on mis-trust to the institutions and lobbies working for it is where I will keep taking my stand.