Moving Beyond Sustainability to Thrivability

Let’s live lightly and joyfully on Earth so we can all thrive.

A few weeks ago, when I heard a Chumash man named Fred speak of moving beyond sustainability to thrivability, I thought, “Yes that is the path we should be on.”

At the time, I was standing in a circle of people holding hands outside of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden event center with the mouth-watering smell of breakfast cooking and the scent of smoldering sage wafting through the air. We had gathered for the summer session of the Chumash Kitchen to experience the culture and food of the Chumash people who have been living on the Central California Coast for thousands of years.

Although I am still a circle ceremony novice, this was my third Chumash Kitchen so I knew I should wear a sweater. If you are interested, you can read about the first two in the posts entitled Thanksgiving – We are All Connected and Adopt a Native Plant.

From the moment I heard Fred utter the word thrivability, I knew that I would be pondering the idea in the weeks ahead.

The Chumash Kitchen – July 2018

Perhaps it was serendipity that the summer Chumash Kitchen had been moved back from early June to late July because it gave me a much-needed respite from what I was researching and writing about at the time.

In June, I had been happily dispensing advice for couples wanting to minimize their belongings and live happily with less stuff and trying to convince everyone to put solar panels on their roof.

However, by the time the end of July rolled around, I was enmeshed in researching and writing a 4-part series about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and bioengineered food. This is a highly controversial subject and it seems like everyone is constantly shouting on paper and film while thrusting their conflicting science studies in each other’s faces.

The Chumash Kitchen was like an oasis.

Circle Ceremony

Shortly after we arrived, Violet, the Chumash woman who is the driving force behind the Chumash Kitchen, and Lindsey, the woman who makes it all happen at the Botanical Garden, called us outside to begin the day with a circle ceremony.

The group shuffled about a bit as we formed a rough circle and then spontaneously we all held hands with the people on either side of us. Violet smiled (she is always smiling) and voiced her approval. She introduced us to her family members and those who wished to speak did while an ancient and lovely abalone shell encrusted pipe (the source of the smoldering sage) was carefully carried around the circle.

Fred and Violet did a father-daughter tag team recounting of the story of how they had obtained the yucca flowers that would be part of our lunch.

Sourcing a yucca plant is not like picking elderberries or gathering acorns. The small creamy white flowers of the yucca plant are attached in clusters on stalks that can reach ten feet tall and the whole plant is encircled by thick spiky leaves.

Violet and Fred Delivering Yucca for Chumash Kitchen July 2018
Violet and Fred delivering the Yucca for the Chumash Kitchen, July 2018 – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Violet and Fred were searching literally for a late bloomer that would still have flowers at the end of July. They found one residing on a rocky perch difficult to reach. Undaunted, Fred climbed up and retrieved a length of yucca with the flowers intact. They drove to the Botanical Garden with the flowers in the cab of the pickup truck and the stalk sticking out the back window.

After the stories, a song, and a blessing, with cold hands and joyful hearts, we headed inside for a breakfast of quiche, sage potatoes, and Botanical Garden tea made with native plants from the Garden.

Stories and Prayer Ties

A short stroll took us to the children’s garden where we occupied benches in a shady spot while Violet and her family members shared stories about the history and culture of the area from their perspective as Chumash people and native Californians who have inhabited this land for centuries.

Michael talked with us about tobacco and prayer ties. Tobacco is a sacred plant for the Chumash people. Prayer ties are made by tying a pinch of tobacco into a knot at the center of a colored strip of cloth and hanging it somewhere as a prayer, wish, blessing, remembrance, or thank you. (If I got this wrong, then I apologize that was not listening carefully enough.)

Violet set us to work making prayer ties to decorate the children’s garden. It is not easy to make a knot in a piece of fabric without the tobacco falling out so thankfully small lengths of yarn were passed around to help the less handy people, like me. We were invited to make extra prayer ties to take home with us.

Yellow and Green Prayer Tied on Fence Around Ailing Toyon
I tied these prayer ties on the fence surrounding an ailing toyon in our yard. (The fence is to protect it from deer until it gets big enough to hold its own.)

After exploring and decorating the children’s garden, we reassembled for lunch, which Fred had been preparing with a group of hardworking volunteer cooks.

Chumashtash

Lunch was beautifully served and delicious.

Our main course was dubbed Chumashtash (a cousin of succotash) by Violet. Our version combined chayote squash, yucca root, sweet corn, cheese, and a sumptuous sauce of wilted yucca blossoms sautéed in garlic butter. This was accompanied by a rice dish made with yerba buena, cilantro, and lime and Slo’w’s special pozole recipe, a sort of spicy corn soup served with fresh cabbage and lime wedges.

The artfully arranged dessert of vanilla ice cream topped with a chia flour and blueberry crumble, elderberry syrup, and garnished with a yucca blossom looked almost too good to eat, but I soon found myself scraping the bowl and wishing for more.

Replete with lovingly prepared food and wonderful stories, we headed home.

Thrivability

The next Monday, I returned to the world of GMOs and bioengineered food, which seemed even more alien than it had the week before. Once I completed the last post in that series, I was free to contemplate moving beyond sustainability to thrivability and to write this post.

According to my Webster’s dictionary, the word sustain means “to keep in existence, keep up, maintain, or prolong.”

It was the United Nations, in 1987, which popularized the term sustainability by defining sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This is an indeed a worthy goal. If we want our children, everyone else’s children and future children to have a habitable planet to live on now and in the future, we need to think beyond our immediate needs and wants and act accordingly.

The problem is that no one wants to just exist or maintain. People want to be happy, enjoy life, and thrive.

Sustainability is an overused, misused, and uninspiring term that is more like a frame of reference for decision-making than a way to live. Due to the lack of a suitable alternative, I admit that I use the word sustainability more than I would like to (it is a category on my website). I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

Maybe thrivability is the idea we have been seeking.

Technically, the word thrivability does not exist. When I looked in my Webster’s and at online dictionaries, I could find thrive (to grow vigorously, flourish) but not thrivability. I did come across a couple of books and seminars with thrivability in the title and several companies with thrive in their name.

Actually, the lack of an “official” definition for thrivability is a good thing because we are free to come up with our own. Here is my take on a meaning for thrivability. Please feel free to share your own in the comment section.

Thrivability means living joyfully and in harmony with other people and the balance of nature, so that we can all flourish on Earth now and in the future.

Featured Image at Top: Children Holding Hands Running through a Meadow Silhouetted by the Sun – Photo Credit Shutterstock/ESB Professional

Related Posts

Resources

GMOs and Bioengineered Food – Pesticide Proliferation

What we do to the environment we do to ourselves.

Biotech crops continue to spread across the world but that does not necessarily mean GMOs and bioengineered food are good for people and the environment.

When I began my quest, at the beginning of July, to learn more about GMOs and bioengineered food, I did not have a preconceived destination. I did know that I wanted to attempt to filter out the noise surrounding this highly controversial subject to find some useful information for you and me so we could each form our own opinion and decide if we wanted to take further action or not.

It was while I was writing GMOs and Bioengineered Food – What is It? that I decided to write a 4-part series hoping to find a balance between too little and too much material. The second and third posts, GMOs and Bioengineered Food – Historical Milestones and GMOs and Bioengineered Food – Laws and Regulations, illustrated how we got to where we are today and gave an overview of how the EPA, FDA, and USDA handle their regulatory authority and responsibilities in the United States.

Originally, I thought this fourth and final post in the series would cover general environmental issues, but when I had it mostly written, I realized that I wanted to focus on one specific issue—the proliferation of pesticide use on a massive scale, not just in the U.S. but across the entire world, driven by increasing adoption of genetically engineered (GE) crops and spurred on by agrochemical companies.

Pesticides are Everywhere and in Everyone

One of the creepiest commercials I can ever remember seeing is the one that portrays an attractive 30-something family man as a hero because he wipes out a single dandelion growing in a crack in his driveway using the handily attached spray wand on his gallon-size jug of Roundup.

Pests and weeds (bugs and plants people do not like) have been around forever, are ubiquitous, and contribute to healthy ecosystems. Of course, there needs to be some kind of balance between us and them. Yet, humans seem to have developed a zero-tolerance for these constituents of nature and are on a mission to try to eradicate them by spraying pesticides everywhere.

Farmer Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops
Farmer Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops – Photo Credit iStock/aluxum

So what is a pesticide?

The word pesticide is derived from the Latin pestis (deadly contagious disease; a curse, bane) and cide (killer or act of killing). It is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of substances that humans use to kill living plants, animals, and other organisms that we do not want living in our buildings, yards, playgrounds, parks, or agricultural fields and orchards. Insecticides kill insects, herbicides kill plants, rodenticides kill rodents, fungicides kill fungi, and so on.

Non-GE crops may be sprayed with pesticides, too, but GE crops with built-in pesticide tolerance (especially to herbicides) actually promote pesticide use because they can withstand heavy and repeated spraying with pesticides.

65% of the GE crops approved in 2017 were genetically engineered with herbicide tolerance contributing to the global pesticide market that is valued at about $65 billion per year and growing.1, 2

Pesticides and People

The widespread acceptance of pesticides results in billions of pounds of pesticides being sprayed on agricultural fields and orchards all over the world, as well as in our homes and yards.3 Just in the U.S., there are over 16,000 registered pesticides and not that long ago, the EPA approved huge increases in what is called “tolerable” pesticide residues on crops and food.4, 5

In the real world, which is where everyone lives, we are exposed to pesticides in our air, water, and food every day.

High School in Waialua, Hawaii Next to Pesticide Test Field
A High School in Waialua, Hawaii Next to a Pesticide Test Field – Photo Credit Jon Woodhouse/The Maui Independent

In 2015, the World Health Organization designated glyphosate (the herbicide in Roundup) as a probable human carcinogen (meaning it probably causes cancer in people).6 Monsanto, the company that created Roundup during the 1970s, is facing more than 5,000 lawsuits in the U.S. alone.7

This is just one example.

Pesticides and the Environment

Pesticide makers want you to believe the pesticides only kill the targeted pest or weed but that is a gross oversimplification.

You have likely read about how neonicotinoid pesticides are endangering the bees and butterflies that pollinate our food crops and orchard trees as they go about their business. If we kill off nature’s pollinators, a lot of the food you currently buy at the grocery market will disappear, but even more worrying is that no one really knows what kind of a chain reaction could occur in the wild.

Dead Zone along Louisiana Coastline in Gulf of Mexico
A Dead Zone along the Louisiana Coastline in the Gulf of Mexico – Photo Credit NASA

Another less publicized issue is dead zones in waterways and estuaries where no aquatic life can survive in the water or on the adjacent land. This, in turn, leads to erosion and flooding. Dead zones are created by fertilizers and pesticides running off fields and orchards into streams, rivers, and lakes. Pesticides kill organisms in the soil and you cannot grow plants or trees in the dead soil, therefore, fertilizers are applied to rejuvenate the soil and then pesticides are sprayed to kill bugs and weeds, which kills the soil.

Superbugs and superweeds are already evolving that can withstand the pesticides we try to kill them with, which causes a twofold problem. First, fields are sprayed more often and with a greater array of more toxic pesticides. Second, agrochemical companies race to invent poisons that are even more powerful. Then the pests and weeds evolve and the cycle continues.

Palmer Amaranth (Pigweed) Superweed Growing in Agricultural Field
Palmer Amaranth Superweed Growing in an Agricultural Field – Photo Credit Lisa Behnken/University of Minnesota Extension

Palmer amaranth (pigweed) is one weed that has evolved to resist herbicides and is now considered a superweed.

This led to the development of GE crops that can tolerate a more powerful herbicide called dicamba. This herbicide endangers people and as it drifts from fields where it is being sprayed dicamba settles on other crops and plants and kills them, too. This is just one superweed problem that has spurred state and federal investigations and lawsuits.8, 9

What Can You Do?

After wading through and digesting five weeks of research and discussing it with my family, I came to the conclusion that genetic engineering technology could probably be used to benefit society and even the environment, but I believe that our current approach to feeding the world is endangering people and the environment, while lining the pockets of a handful of multi-national corporations focused on quarterly profits.

We need to change.

It is up to each one of us to care enough about ourselves, our children, and the people of the future to take action to change the world. Governments and corporations only change when people say, “we are not going to take it anymore,” and demand change through their actions.

Farmers are on the front lines. Just like everyone else, they are trying to make a living, and they may feel they have no choice but to accept GE crops and the harmful agrochemicals they require. Farmers should not have to go to work wearing hazmat suits.

Young Female Farmer Standing in an Agricultural Field
A Young Female Farmer Standing in an Agricultural Field – Photo Credit NRDC

Let’s help farmers make a living providing healthful food to eat while protecting themselves, their families, us, and the environment. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Even if you can only do something occasionally, it all adds up.

  • Buy certified organic food. It is GMO-free and good for the soil.
  • Shop at the farmers market where you can actually talk to the people growing your food.
  • Make more meals with whole ingredients (packaged foods contain many GMO corn and soy products).
  • Shop at grocery stores that sell local and regionally grown food. Co-ops are a great source.
  • Donate your time and/or money to an organization, like Agrarian Trust, that helps young farmers who want to practice sustainable agriculture get access to farmland.
  • Eat vegetarian meals more often (a lot of GMO corn and soy crops are used to feed livestock animals).
  • Pass up fast food and make your own lunch sometimes (fast food contains a lot of GMO corn and soy).
  • Sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) share and get fresh seasonal food every week during the growing season.
  • Tell your elected officials that you want to eat pesticide-free food.
  • Let food companies know why you stopped buying their products and what they need to do to win you back as a customer.

“If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if by knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.” —Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)

Reader Note: At the end of this post, in the resource sections, I listed the books, films, and websites I used throughout this series as well as articles specific to this post. You can find other resources in the previous posts.

Featured Image at Top: Farmer Spraying Pesticide on His Crops Using a Drone – Photo Credit iStock/baranozdemir

Related Posts

References

  1. Brief 53: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2017 – International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), 06/26/18 (p. 107)
  2. Whitewash – by Carey Gillam, published by Island Press, 2017 (p. 236)
  3. Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide – by Michael C.R. Alavanja, Ph.D., National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009
  4.  Whitewash – by Carey Gillam, published by Island Press, 2017 (p. 229)
  5. Food Fight – by McKay Jenkins, published by Avery, 2017 (p. 280)
  6. IARC Monograph on Glyphosate – World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer
  7. Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million in Roundup Cancer Trial – by Tina Bellon (Reuters), The New York Times, 08/10/18
  8. This miracle weed killer was supposed to save farms. Instead, it’s devastating them – by Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post, 08/29/17
  9. Challenging EPA, Monsanto Over the Crop-Damaging Pesticide “Xtendimax” – press release, Earthjustice, 2018

Resources – Books

Resources – Films

  • Consumed (This is a fictional anti-GMO movie that may help some viewers get a grip on the situation.)
  • Food Evolution (This pro-GMO documentary contains some useful information.)
  • GMO OMG (This film covers the issues associated with GMOs like corporate ownership of the food system)
  • Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives (This anti-GMO documentary contains some useful information.)

Resources – Websites and Articles