All in good faith
STORIES

Words: Phil Smith   Illustrations by Adam Mallett

All in good faith

Faith affects our food preferences in many ways

 

From wanting to know our meat had some semblance of light and freedom in life, to religious observance or refusing to consume products containing palm oil, our beliefs affect our food choices more than we might think and are deeply rooted in our own values, cultures, and personal experiences. Reflecting on this and with an open mind, we consider three of the beliefs that affect the production of the food we eat through their curiously different farming practices.

Masanobu Fukuoka’s 
no-till technique

 

 

As someone who grew up near fields and farmland, I became used to the sight of tractors turning the soil or spraying fertiliser, and combine-harvesters grappling with plant stems to extract their crop. In a time of mechanised mass production, where a chicken’s experience of life on this earth may be limited to just six weeks before the slaughterhouse, there are some who believe that nature should be allowed to follow its natural processes, uninterrupted by chemical or machine.

 

Masanobu Fukuoka of Japan (1913-2008) was a proponent of growing crops as naturally as possible, with an approach named ‘do-nothing farming’. He was against ‘tillage’ of the soil (turning it over before planting seeds), pruning, weeding and the use of pesticides or prepared fertilisers. Fukuoka reintroduced the use of ancient clay seed balls (or “clay dumplings” as he called them), which involved mixing seeds with natural manure and encasing them in clay. Once thrown onto the ground, the resulting explosion would disperse manure and seeds onto the top of the soil, without disturbing it. Many of Fukuoka’s philosophies and principals are considered to have influenced both the organic farming and permaculture movements.

Vladimir Megre’s ‘Anastasia’ movement
 
 A movement which began quite recently is that of The Ringing Cedars, or Anastasiaism. Originating in Russia, their name is inspired by Vladimir Megre’s writings about a woman named Anastasia and her life in the Siberian taiga. Having spent time in the wilderness together, Megre documented his experiences in a series of books, which explained the principles of what has now become the Anastasian way of life, selling millions worldwide.

 

Today, Anastasians live in communities based upon their core values of family, tradition and environmentalism. They live in ‘kinship homesteads’ or ‘love spaces’ where families build a house of their own from natural materials, with various plants and crops, as well as domesticated animals. They are against killing animals, due to their respect for nature and, as such, adopt a diet similar in composition to vegan or vegetarian, as well as eating raw foods.

 

Anastasian’s try to acheive a symbiosis with nature, believing, for example, that sucking a seed before it’s planted imparts information about the human condition, which the plant will use to develop the nutrients that human needs. Similarly, Anastasia suggests working the soil with bare feet to share information with it through your sweat. This back-to-basics approach certainly has its appeal and, over the last 20 years, has spread from Central Russia into Europe, America, Asia and Australia.

Rudolph Steiner and biodynamic argiculture
 
 Influenced by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), biodynamic farming was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It is based on the belief that natural farming processes are deeply influenced by ‘wider natural forces originating from the cosmos’ such as sunlight and warmth, and that ‘listening to the land’ will promote greater crop yields, and the benefit of these forces are contained within the crops produced. This all began in the 1920s when Steiner, a psychologist whose life’s work touched many different fields, delivered a series of lectures on the integration of both science and spirit in farming practices, advocating the ‘constant and living mutual interplay of the above-the-earth and the below-the-earth’.

 

In particular, Steiner believed that farms should be individual and enclosed ‘entities’, promoting a cyclical process whereby manure from the farm, enriched by the plants animals have eaten, should be retained and used upon the same land from where it came. As part of six recommended ‘compost preparations’, biodynamic farmers take this precious manure and ferment it beneath the ground in hollowed cow horns, believing that the ‘cosmos-enriched’ manure will pass on benefits to the soil, and will thus grow healthier and more nourishing plants. This special manure becomes grainy and sweet-smelling, and is mixed with water before being spread across the fields.

 

Steiner argued that a healthy farm should be able to ‘produce within itself all that it needs’ and that ‘manure from elsewhere should only be used as a ‘remedy for a sick farm’. If you want to try it for yourself, look out for the Demeter certification on foods (appropriately named after the Greek goddess of grain and fertility), which denotes its sound biodynamic origins.