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Wrestling With Sustainability

January 13, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently McDonalds made a statement that they would increase sourcing beef from farms that were sustainable.

We’ve grappled with terms, BS labels and beyond here before. In forums most say we’re sustainable. After all we use minimal chemicals, care for our animals, birds have access to outside, all the “right things”. Only by many counts, it’s not sustainable as, for all the “right things” it’s a struggle to get paying customers. If it was the right thing why is it so difficult to get support?

Others perhaps have a good story. Some excuse not doing what they say or glossing over the unpleasant parts as behind the scenes private things to not share. But if accountability, sustainability and transparency are in the forefront of consumer’s minds, where does it stop?

As James Marsden points out:

At what point then does sustainability come into question? Is it when cattle are transferred to feedlots? Does sustainability imply grass feeding? Does it mean antibiotic and hormone free? Do the terms “natural” and “organic” factor into sustainability?

Common definition of sustainable from Merriam-Webster:


adjective \sə-ˈstā-nə-bəl\

: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed

: involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources

: able to last or continue for a long time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis can cover many fronts. Able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed – it would seem a sustainable income must be involved there. Not completely using up or destroying natural resources can be seen thousands of different ways. More than feedlots, the sustainability of making farmland into subdivisions forever destroys that resource. If we walked away from the biggest feedlot or ranch or farm, in 50 years it will regenerate itself. Once concrete and asphalt is poured, not many return to natural ways. Able to last or continue for a long time – what’s a long time? 50 years? 100 years? 200 years? Many farms have sustained themselves for “a long time.” breaks it down further: “The definition of sustainable is something that can be continued or a practice that maintains a condition without harming the environment.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf we look at the damage cities, cars, the quest for oil, modern ‘conveniences’ bring, many would consider that as harming the environment. More so, it seems in many ways irreversible. While some would see an “excess” of manure stored another sees something can be continued (fertility) or a practice that maintains field fertility without harming the environment.



Looked at another way, confinement feedlots, large farms that can handle the volume needed to sell cheaper, with lower costs to consumers that buy on price and convenience, is directly tied to the cities. The demand for food in those cities is there every day, at a growing level and in millions of different ways. As a society we want it when we want it and without waiting. How do we say wait for us to grow the food when the majority of the population won’t wait an hour for a fast food pizza?

Wait three hours for dinner? Who has time for that? We’re all busy! Folks that isn’t sustainable! Two and three cars is convenient, yes. The second and third homes are what some want but sustainable? It’s not!

Is it sustainable to build on slopes that have wildfires or mudslides on a predictable basis? Is it sustainable to haul a food item from farm to processor to another processor to the store then the consumer and expect that nowhere in the chain there will be a risk of contamination? How about when the chain gets longer?

Sustainable can be taken many different ways, and there will be a farm to fill it. Many of us have niche markets and are caught between supply and demand and finances.

Sustainable – it means so many things and so many perspectives. What does it mean to you and who fills it? How sustainable is your life?

It seems that true sustainability demands we all look at that. How many are willing to be sustainable when it means moving back near the food supply? Taking part in the food supply (and the low wages that go with it?)?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Wood permalink
    January 25, 2014 5:52 PM

    Reblogged this on Time for Action.

  2. January 25, 2014 9:19 PM

    Interesting to think about what Garret Hardin meant when he said “With the coinage of ‘sustainable development,’ the defenders of the unsteady state have won a few more years’ moratorium from the painful process of thinking.” Garret Hardin, Professor of Human Ecology, University of California.

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