A Simple Lie or a Complex Truth

Our first June book club sessions focused on the complex truth of our soils, our food, and our health with Anne Biklé

“Our science is based on isolating elements from larger processes and learning all that we can about them.” Read Dave’s letter about our What Your Food Ate discussion with Anne Biklé in this week’s letter:

A painting of Alexis de Tocqueville. Below is text that reads: "“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.”― Alexis de Tocqueville"

A photo of Milton Friedman standing behind a podium with the seal of the United States President. He addresses the crowd while smiling and wearing glasses. Below is text that reads: "“The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” - Milton Friedman"


Dear Friend,

“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” and “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”… When we put these two statements together, we have a recipe for disaster. The easiest way to increase profits is to sell a simple lie. The outcome is a misled customer and a concentration of wealth with the owners.

In 1940, Albert Howard made a claim:

“The health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible.” 

Last Thursday, Anne Bikle showed up at the Real Organic Book Club and embraced Howard’s statement. She and her partner David Montgomery, have written their second book on the complex truth of our soils, our food, and our health.

The first book was called The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. The book coming out this month is called What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health. It is a deep dive into the reams of research done on soil science, human health, and the processes in between since Albert Howard’s 1940 statement.

Anne Bikle smiles at the camera with green plants behind her. Text below the image reads: "Real Organic Podcast, Anne Bikle" and ""What happens in the rhizosphere is one of the grandest symbioses that we have on this planet." -From the Real Organic Podcast with Anne Bikle"

As Anne said in the Book Club session, they looked at many disconnected bits of data, and then stepped back to see the connections between these many pieces.

Our science is based on isolating elements from larger processes and learning all that we can about them.

Learning about the bits and pieces is extraordinarily powerful, but if we stop there, we miss the punchline. We need to step back and see the patterns that connect the pieces. This is understanding, and at some point, it becomes wisdom.

Anne discusses the current clamor over “evidence-based” agriculture, a claim that is amazingly used by the proponents of chemical agriculture. But Anne made the call for “evidence-based” agriculture that actually looks at the evidence, and not just at the profits.

Yellow box with text that reads: "Plants, and soil, and the environment are as variable as every human being on this planet... Really, what we’re after is evidence, observations, an understanding of the natural processes that let a plant talk to the soil, that let a ruminant converse with all the microorganisms in the rumen.  When we have those processes set how they’re supposed to be functioning, we get health.  It’s not a far cry from when a human being eats a diet free of hardly any ultra-processed foods, and we get sufficient exercise, and we aren’t breathing bad air and drinking bad water… voila, that’s a recipe for health.   Anne Bikle at the Real Organic Book Club"

Anne Bikle and David Montgomery’s What Your Food Ate is a deep dive into the complex truth that we are deeply affected by how our food is grown, how our soil is cared for.

These things seem far away from most of us.  In the 1700s, 90% of Americans were farmers. By the Civil War, it was 50%. Today it is less than 4%.

Farming is mostly something that happens… somewhere else. For most of us, food comes from a store. Half of our food dollars are spent in restaurants. The other half goes to supermarkets. We are prime candidates for being misled, and we often don’t see the connection between what we eat and how we thrive (or not).

This book shows that the problem isn’t just junk food. Junk food is easy to dismiss. Paul Hawken has said that junk food is a crime against humanity.

But what if you buy vegetables, berries, whole grains, meat, milk, and eggs? This book affirms that Albert Howard was right.

There are meaningful differences between a vegetable grown in healthy, living soil and one grown on land that has been sprayed with biocides and deprived of a diverse ecosystem.

This difference has always been the core belief of the Organic movement, and now that core belief is substantiated.

Yellow box with black text that reads: "The very best organic farmers have been onto many of the things that we need to see all of agriculture doing. What I want to see in terms of practices is everybody, farmers of all stripes moving toward… somebody else's phrase but I thought it was a really good one who said: “We want practices with no regrets and right now we have practices that we’re regretting. From the climate impact to land degradation and on and on and on.   The worst thing about a crisis is that this is what it takes for us to change, for us to put some guide rails on behaviors and practices. Why do we have to get to this sort of 11th-hour really bad horrible stuff?   ….I know it feels like, especially given how long ago the NOP was established and how we all thought it was going to go. We’re all like, “Oh you’re kidding me, this is where we’re at!?”  And it’s been really difficult to hang onto organic, and I guess you did reach a crisis, and that’s why the Real Organic Project came about.  You’re at the crisis point. As things coalesce around you and around what everyone engaged with ROP is doing, I think the movement will grow.    -Anne Bikle at the Real Organic Book Club"

If you missed Anne’s session, you can still watch it now if you are a Real Friend. Our work continues thanks to so many farmers and to our Real Friends. Please join us today.


PS. What Your Food Ate will be released on June 21. Anne’s co-author, David Montgomery, will be our next guest at the Real Organic Book Club on June 30th. See you there!

A farmer with a Real Organic Project hat smiles at the camera with yellow Swiss chard behind her.

“I hope someday you’ll join us”

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