Kathryn Eastburn

American McHistory

When Eric Schlosser set out to write about the all-American meal, on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine, he expected to have some fun analyzing the most kitschy, ubiquitous business success story of our times. Fast food, after all, was burgers and fries, pimpled teenagers at the cash register, relentless good cheer, an escape from home, the ultimate convenience.

What the investigative journalist found, the longer and deeper he dug into his subject, was nothing less than a "revolutionary force in American life," an industry whose influence infiltrates every nook and cranny of contemporary society.

An enterprise that began in post-World War II Southern California in response to the rise of the automobile in America's daily life, fast food has become our leading export abroad, the primary influence on our collective dietary habits, the biggest employer of low-paid, unskilled workers in a boom economy, and the model for franchise and corporate chain businesses from the GAP to Auto Zone. The fast food industry has helped shape America's landscape, buying habits, work ethic and corporate mentality.

At its roots, Schlosser concluded, the food industry serves up anything but a cheap, happy meal.

Schlosser chose Colorado Springs, Colorado as the epicenter of his investigation, "because the changes that have recently swept through the city are those that fast food -- and the fast food industry -- have encouraged throughout the United States." In the book, he heralds the entrepreneurial genius of the industry's beginnings and scrutinizes its business and marketing practices. In his research, asking what forces drive and support the industry, he visited cattle ranches, industrial potato processing plants, slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities, even a factory on the New Jersey Turnpike where the familiar flavors of our favorite fast foods are manufactured in a test tube.

The result of his research is an American classic that has quickly captured the imagination of the national media. Since its publication in mid-January, Fast Food Nation has been reviewed and featured everywhere from National Public Radio to Entertainment Weekly, from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times Book Review. A few critics accuse the author of overreaching, of blaming all society's ills on the fast food industry. But most critics agree that Schlosser's unique blend of social commentary and solid investigative journalism raises issues that hover just beneath the daily consciousness of the average American, issues that drive and shape the culture, issues that should not be ignored.

Fast Food Nation contains plenty of dirty-kitchen, cockroaches-in-the-milkshake-machine and "mystery meat" lore. But what's in the food is merely anecdotal compared to the larger, more pervasive cultural and socio-economic issues raised in the book.

"It's not just food they're selling," says Schlosser, referring to the relentless and far-flung marketing techniques employed by the fast food industry.

Utilizing advertising strategies aimed directly at children, the fast food industry has infiltrated the nation's schools with lunchroom franchise and advertising schemes, and has so successfully imprinted trademarks on formative minds that McDonald's golden arches are now more globally recognizable than the Christian cross.

In the 1990s, the fast food and entertainment industries -- most notably Disney and McDonald's -- joined forces in a multibillion dollar alliance to sell movie-themed and trademarked toys in kids' fast food meals. The results were phenomenal -- reinvigorated profits for the corporations and a virtual reinvention of childhood for American kids.

And fast food chains, says Schlosser, drive a huge food-industrial complex that dominates American agriculture. The industry's massive demand for beef and potatoes supports corporate production and directly undermines family farming and ranching.

In Fast Food Nation, Schlosser urges us to consider the real costs of the cheap, convenient, all-American meal -- inhumane and dangerous working conditions in the highly industrialized plants where cattle are slaughtered and meat is processed, a devalued and untrained work force made up mostly of vulnerable youth, questionable and largely unregulated food safety, and a corporate mindset that defies closely held American values.

The Independent interviewed Schlosser recently from his New York home, in anticipation of his visit here on Feb. 22 when he will discuss and sign Fast Food Nation at the Chinook Bookshop.

Eastburn You have said that fast food embodies the best and worst of capitalism at the turn of the 21st century. What's best and what's worst?

Schlosser: Best is the entrepreneurial, innovative spirit of the industry founders. The origins of the industry, its early growth in California in response to a new automobile-driven economy is fascinating. All these mavericks with no credentials, high-school dropouts who couldn't get a loan, came up with brilliant schemes and ideas, and grew one of the nation's most powerful industries.

But like many American stories, once a success like this one reaches a certain size and critical mass, once it achieves a corporate mentality and a ruling bureaucracy, it turns ugly.

The worst part of the fast food industry is the mentality of the corporation, fixated so much on quarterly profit reports that it no longer asks what's best for its workers. There is now in place a deliberate labor strategy that exploits unskilled, uneducated workers, paying low wages and paying little attention to job security, worker safety or training. The fast food industry really brought that to our service economy and perfected it.

Eastburn How did you become interested in the subject?

Schlosser: I had done a piece for the Atlantic Monthly in the mid '90s on the strawberry industry in California ("In the Strawberry Fields," November 1995). At that time there was a lot of bad feeling about illegal immigrants. I had spent a lot of time with immigrant farm workers, picking strawberries, trying to look at where the food we eat actually comes from.

Will Dana of Rolling Stone had the idea that I should take a look at the fast food industry in the same way. The book started as an assignment from Rolling Stone, and I expected it to be kind of a fun look at the industry. Instead, I saw that there were all kinds of ways that fast food and the fast food industry were literally responsible for lots of changes in America. The book, then, became more a history of America in the last 25 years, seen through this one industry.

Eastburn How did industry executives respond to you during your research for the book?

Schlosser: Some of them were very helpful. Jack In the Box invited me to see their hamburger pattie plant. McDonald's executives would never talk to me during the whole course of researching the book -- they would not answer my telephone calls, e-mails or faxes. They have a company archivist whose job is to do nothing but collect the history of McDonald's, but they did not offer me access.

Eastburn In the book, there's a "top secret" memo from McDonald's executives describing in great detail an advertising campaign aimed at "minivan parents" and children. How did you get that? (The memo proposed an ad campaign that would make customers perceive McDonald's as their "trusted friend." Unspoken, the memo says, would be the message to parents that taking their kids to McDonald's is "an easy way to feel like a good parent.")

Schlosser: That was one of the moments when my reporting really took a turn. When McDonald's refused to speak to me, then one day someone gave me these memos ... I found the attitude in those memos was so disturbing, so cynical.

Eastburn You have a lot to say about the fast food industry and the rise of the franchise/chain system with its "emphasis on uniformity, simplicity and the ability to replicate an identical environment anywhere." Can you talk a little about that?

Schlosser: Uniformity and conformity are the two key words. Look at [McDonald's Corporation founder] Ray Kroc's quote at the beginning of the book: "We will not tolerate non-conformists." It's a chilling quote. The organization cannot trust the individual. That, in many ways, still is the McDonald's corporate culture. Uniformity and conformity are crucial to the rise of the industry and it is remarkable how they have achieved that. When I visited McDonald's in Dachau, it could have been Idaho. I could have been in Colorado. And if you closed your eyes and tasted that hamburger, you could have been anywhere on the planet in a McDonald's. The food was exactly the same.

Eastburn How does that guiding principle relate to late 20th century American history?

Schlosser: McDonald's most significant growth occurred in the early '70s when the minimum wage declined. (From 1948 to 1969, they built 1,000 restaurants; now there are 13,000 in the United States). I would argue that you needed a certain social, political climate to embrace this kind of uniformity, conformity, the reassurance that you know exactly what you're gonna get, how it will taste ... This appealed to people at that time, following the social upheaval of the late '60s.

Going from 1,000 to 13,000 in this period tells you a lot. And once every retail business under the sun realized how this worked, they went gung-ho. The basic idea is replicating an identical environment every time. Only a certain mentality and collective consciousness will accept that. And it's no accident that the industry's highest rate of growth occurred during a period when the real value of the U.S. minimum wage declined by about 40 percent.

Eastburn In the book, you talk about the ways the federal government has subsidized the fast food industry with Small Business Administration loans to build franchises, agricultural subsidies for big business, etc. (In '96, the federal government loaned $1 billion to new franchises, most to fast food). Doesn't this contradict the free-market, anti-government intervention ethic that drives so much of this industry and its offshoots?

Schlosser: Yes, those two things just so profoundly contradict one another. That's one of the reasons I wanted to set the book in the American West today, where there's such a disconnect between the economic reality and the dominant political philosophy. Some of the things that are going on -- the expansive growth, for example -- are so dependent on direct infusions of government money.

If you're going to embrace government funding, then you should embrace the public responsibility of the corporation. If you're going to accept public aid for the development of industry, then you should accept the responsibility of providing health care for those workers who drive the economy.

Looking at the fast food industry as an example is just a very good way of looking at this contradiction of what you say politically and what you actually do economically. The West is so in the grips of this free market, non-regulated mentality, so profoundly suspicious of the power of big government. My question is why are they not doubly suspicious of big business?

Eastburn One of the big businesses you scrutinize particularly harshly is the meatpacking industry, most of whose profits and business come from supplying the fast food industry. Can you talk a little about what you witnessed there?

Schlosser: More difficult for me personally than seeing the slaughter of cattle and the incredible carnage in those factories was seeing these workers, how they live. Meatpacking, until the late '70s, was one of the highest paid industrial jobs in the United States. Then the Reagan and Bush administrations allowed the industry to bust unions, to hire strikebreakers, to hire illegal immigrants for these jobs, even to transport them here from Mexico in company buses. Now meatpacking is one of the lowest paying industrial jobs, as well as the most dangerous.

It is unbelievable to me that in America, in 2001, people work under these dangerous, dehumanizing conditions. Take, for instance, Kenny Dobbins, the worker up in Greeley I talk about in the book ("The Most Dangerous Job," p. 187). This is a great guy who has been repeatedly injured and permanently disabled giving his life to this company. Lesser men would be dead already. He's 45 years old. He has no pension after 16 years of hard labor. Monfort (Dobbins' Greeley meatpacking employer) challenged his worker's comp claim and, three years later, paid him a lump sum settlement of $35,000. That money is all gone. He's a proud man. His health insurance was just cut off. I have been writing the company to see if they can't intervene and continue his insurance, but I don't know what is going to happen.

It's simply mind-blowing that people are treated this way.

Eastburn In the book you say: "Congress should ban advertising that preys upon children. It should stop subsidizing dead-end jobs. It should pass tougher food safety laws, it should protect American workers from serious harm. It should fight against dangerous concentrations of economic power." Is any of this likely to happen?

Schlosser: Ideally, this kind of consumer protection would come from Congress, from government. That's why they should be there - to do these kinds of things for us. But if you look at the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, you will find a close link with meat packers and with the restaurant industry.

George W. Bush is new in office, and who knows, he could pull a Teddy Roosevelt and take on these vested interests. I think that's highly unlikely.

Eastburn What can be done?

Schlosser: We all need to be aware of the social costs of industrial agriculture. The burden needs to be imposed on the firms practicing it. Short of that kind of regulation and government protection -- forcing the industrial meatpackers to take care of their workers, ensuring a safe food supply -- this kind of industrial agriculture might collapse under its own weight if they don't change their practices.

Our accepted form of cattle production and processing doesn't treat the animals we eventually eat as sentient beings but as production tools. Things may have to change because of the built-in contradiction in how those industries are treating the animal-to-food cycle. Look at how England got mad cow disease, and look at how the European consumer reacted.

Mad cow disease is a terrible thing in Europe, but maybe good things will come from it. Right now, in Germany, the government's policy supports a complete deindustrialization of agriculture. But just as it shouldn't take an outbreak of E. coli to get enforced testing of meat in place in the United States, it shouldn't take a mad cow disease outbreak to change how we raise cattle.

I lived in England for three years in the 1980s, so I can't give blood in the United States. That's a good thing, a reasonable safety measure. But right up the road from Colorado Springs, in Greeley, cattle are being fed cattle blood, tallow, the ground up remains of pigs and horses, all because those are cheap protein supplements, just a little cheaper than soybeans. That practice is now banned in Europe. We know that back in 1987 scientists said there should be a total ban against feeding cattle products to cattle. Maybe we'll never have mad cow disease, but if we do, we can't say we didn't know better.

The bottom line is we cannot afford to leave our health in the hands of corporate agriculture and industry who operate on a strict standard of low costs, high profitability and growth at any cost. Really, the book is, in many ways, about not trusting these businesses or, unfortunately, the government to be looking out for you.

Eastburn What can individual consumers do to force change?

Schlosser: The purchasing power of consumers is vast. The vulnerability of the market is also vast. McDonald's stock is down. They have enormous power over their suppliers.

Consumers should hold McDonald's responsible for the behavior of their suppliers. Tell them you won't buy their products until they demand reasonable reform.

Last year, they took a big step when they decided not to buy any genetically engineered potatoes. This had a huge impact on Monsanto's GE potato market. McDonald's did it because of huge protests in Europe, where their market continues to expand. They probably did some market research and concluded that people here would [also protest] if they were sold genetically engineered foods.

Recently, McDonald's has issued very strict rules for how livestock are to be ethically raised and slaughtered. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has commended them for it. I'd like to see them take steps to assure the ethical treatment of humans in these plants as well.

Eastburn Do you really see hope for change?

Schlosser: I'm genuinely optimistic. The act of writing this book is an act of optimism. There's nothing inevitable about the way things are or how they will be in the future.

Did you know?

* The golden arches of McDonald's are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross.

* This year, Americans will spend over $110 billion on fast food, more than they'll spend on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos and recorded music combined.

* Americans spend more on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software or new cars.

* Fast food restaurants, usually staffed by teenagers, are now more likely to be robbed than gas stations, convenience stores or banks.

* Children often recognize the McDonald's logo before they recognize their own name.

* Every day in the United States, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by food-borne pathogens (often in ground beef), 900 are hospitalized and 14 die.

* For years, some of the most questionable ground beef in the United States was purchased by the Department of Agriculture -- and then distributed to school cafeterias throughout the country. Some of the dirtiest ground beef is still being served in American schools.

* Today, with the fast food chains' high demand for meat, injury rates in slaughterhouses are three times higher than those in typical American factories.

Seeds of the Future

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be goodfor us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it.
-- Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays

When Kenny Ausubel, founder of the Santa Fe-based Bioneers, talks about the future, he's optimistic in spite of all he knows about the environmental degradation of the Earth.

"Being immersed as I am in this world of solutions," said Ausubel in a recent interview, "it's not hard to be an optimist."

An author, filmmaker and social entrepreneur specializing in health and the environment, Ausubel traveled to San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico in 1984, ostensibly to make a film. But when he arrived, as he peered through the camera, he was struck by a handful of bright red corn in the hands of a Native American farmer.

The seeds, remembered by a few elders of the pueblo as sacred red corn, had been kept in a clay pot in the wall of the man's adobe home and had not been grown in 40 years.

"In these seeds," said Ausubel, in an article published in the September 1998 Yoga Journal, "lived not only the genetic legacy of countless generations of Pueblo farmers, but also the imprint of their hands. I thought I was at San Juan Pueblo to make a film, but it turned out I was there to start a seed company. I went on to found Seeds of Change, a company devoted to working with backyard gardeners to market -- and so conserve -- the world's ark of ancient seeds."

With his business partner, organic gardener Gabriel Howarth, Ausubel started Seeds of Change in 1989 and a year later, with his wife Nina Simons, started the Bioneers conference, a forum for like-minded biological pioneers to exchange ideas and to network. (Ausubel broke away from Seeds of Change in 1994, citing a "difference of vision" just before the company was acquired by M&M Mars.)

The Bioneers' first year, some 200 people attended the conference in a hotel ballroom in Santa Fe. In October of 2000, in Marin County, Calif., the conference was attended by 2,700 teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs, activists, farmers, business owners, journalists and interested observers.

To hear Ausubel tell it, the evolution of the Bioneers has been a natural outgrowth of the constant spawning and exchange of innovative ideas and environmental vision. And as the Bioneers conference has grown, so has the organization's range of interest expanded. Themes addressed by the Bioneers, in addition to organic food, farming and seeds, now run the gamut from green entrepreneurship to natural design to alternative medicine to environmental education -- all related parts of a holistic approach to restoring the Earth.

"After starting the Bioneers conference in 1990," said Ausubel, "I had begun to meet all these people, one by one, who seemed to have real practical solutions to the kinds of problems I was concerned with. "The purpose of the organization and the conference then became to bring together these innovators and to focus on environmental solutions."

The Food We Eat

Joel Salatin, a presenter at this year's conference, is a Virginia farmer who has developed a rotational grazing system that produces healthy herds of organic beef while building as much as an inch of topsoil a year. Ausubel sees Salatin's work and the work of other visionary agriculturalists as just one sign of progress -- pointing to the inevitability of change in farming techniques and, ultimately, in improving the food supply of the planet.

"Joel has a six-month waiting list for his organic beef," said Ausubel. "A couple months ago he was named Hero of the Week on an ABC News broadcast. He's one of the innovators who has shown that organic farming is not only ecologically sound but, at the same time, economically robust. Some people drive as far as 200 miles to get the food he produces."

A healthy food supply has become one of Ausubel's central focuses in recent years as he has researched the link between the environment, the food we eat and threats to public health. Much of his personal attention has been focused on the proliferation of cancer, especially in the industrialized world.

"Cancer is now epidemic in this country," he said. "And research shows that 70 to 90 percent of all cancers are directly environmentally related."

Ausubel believes that a growing focus on public health and environmental issues will ultimately determine the shape of the future -- economically, ecologically, spiritually, publicly and personally.

"Our whole food system is coming into focus," he said. "I think in the next 10 years the world is going to become almost unrecognizable and that change will be driven by public health issues. We can no longer ignore that the environment and our bodies are inseparable; we're one and the same thing."

Change is incremental and, naturally, will be slow coming. But far more is happening, says Ausubel, than we may be aware of if we pay attention only to the news presented by the mainstream media where there is a "cognitive dissonance" between what's really happening in public health and agriculture, and the general perception.

"There's lots more grass roots work going on than we tend to get told," he said. The innovators, he insists, are making significant progress. "Organic foods are growing by 20 percent a year," he said, "while other food industries are working hard to grow 1 percent a year. The question becomes how do we promote organic farming and food production to meet the increasing demand for healthy food?"

The Bioneers Take on the Evils of Globalization

One of the most rousing sessions of the 2000 Bioneers conference was a panel of speakers addressing "Globalization, Corporations and the Environment." In a packed auditorium, the focus came down to the essential element of the world's food supply -- the seed -- illuminating perfectly the Bioneers multifaceted, networking appoach and demonstrating their commitment to complex social and environmental issues.

Co-sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization, the session was hosted by Jerry Mander, IGF president and author of The Case Against the Global Economy and In the Absence of the Sacred. Mander and his co-panelists, including Body Shop CEO Anita Roddick, engaged in a heated critique of the new corporate world order and its "antidemocratic institutions, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund," decrying the transnationals' attempts to control local and regional food production in the Third World.

But the discussion was most poignantly driven home by Food First's Anuradha Mittal, a tireless activist currently organizing People's Caravan: Citizen's on the Move for Land and Food without Poisons, a series of food festivals and organizing meetings across Bangladesh, India and the Philippines.

A native of India, Mittal condemned mainstream media coverage of "free trade as panacea," passionately explaining how, though it was reported that the United States had recently sent $4.15 million for food aid to Orissa in East India, in fact U.S. corporations had dumped tons of genetically engineered seeds on India during this initiative, threatening to wipe out a thousands-of-years-old culture of biological diversity and sound agricultural practices.

"The food security of the third world is being stolen by the IMF and the World Bank," said Mittal. "They are stealing people's ability to feed themselves."

Much was said about the efforts of multinational corporations to dominate the world's seed market, profiting exhorbitantly, while falsely advertising their intent to feed the poor.

Natural Capitalism and the Future of the Earth

Ausubel sees these issues and many diverse others -- creating living systems modeled on nature to turn septic waste into food for fish and plants; building factories that produce their own power by recycling waste -- all as part of a collective consciousness which will inevitably change how we live and how we do business in the post-industrial world.

He is a strong proponent of the recent collaborative work of businessman Paul Hawken and Rocky Mountain Institute researchers Amory and Hunter Lovins, embracing the notion of "natural capitalism."

Their book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, is being heralded as the first substantial exploration of opportunities for businesses to profit and prosper in an era of known environmental limits.

The authors posit a new industrial revolution in which "business and environmental interests increasingly overlap" and in which "businesses can better satisfy their customers' needs, increase profits, and help solve environmental problems all at the same time."

Ausubel points out that 75 percent of the American people now indicate that they are "very committed to the environment and to restoration," and that most are willing to put their money where their concerns are.

"There has clearly been a system set up a certain way that we now know is highly toxic, is unsustainable, and there is also a resistance to alternative approaches," he said. "But in my view there are many things changing right now. There is a growing view that both here and abroad, the environment is going to dominate our attention in the future.

"The work that Hawken and Hunter and Amory Lovins are doing is working with corporations, showing them that they can profit from picking up environmentally sound, restorative technologies. I'm convinced we'll see more and more large corporations changing their practices not just because it's ecologically correct, but because it's economically smart as well."

Preserving the Family Farm

As conference attendees hustled back and forth from seminars on "Re-Wilding North America" to "Antibiotic Herbs," a buzz developed over the three days about the Bioneers' recent agricultural project supporting efforts of black farmers in the Southeastern United States through the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

Finally, on Sunday, the main auditorium was treated to a spirited accounting by Selma, Ala., attorney J.L. Chestnut of his successful litigation against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of black farmers who had systematically lost their lands and their livelihood over most of the last century.

That afternoon, in a quiet corner of the conference center, a group of 20 or so attendees listened as Mississippi farmers Ben Burkett and Virgil Smith talked about the challenges of sustaining their family farms, and their hopes for developing "value-added" agricultural practices with the assistance of the Bioneers economic development arm, the Restorative Development Institute.

Burkett, director of the Misissippi Association of Cooperatives and manager of the Indian Springs Farming Coop, shook his head and laughed at the idea of being at a conference on farming in California when California mega-farms, shipping their vegetables to Kroger's in Nashville, are a constant threat to his livelihood.

Burkett characterized himself as a typical black Mississippi farmer, routinely denied loans and emergency assistance from the state throughout the tenure of three Mississippi governors. Making a living off the land, he pointed out, continued to be a struggle in spite of progress made by Chestnut and others.

But he echoed the Bioneers' approach to agriculture, honoring the abundance of the earth and the importance of a healthy, diverse food supply. "If you take care of a piece of land, it'll take care of you," he said. "You might not get rich or have the biggest house, but you'll always have something good to eat."

Ausubel sees the Bioneers' work in Mississippi and across the rural South as a way to link family farmers to more profitable markets and to agricultural practices that will ultimately prove to be sustainable.

"It's a situation," he said, "of how do farmers stay on the land and make a living? It's a real issue." A few years back, the Bioneers launched an initiative to reintroduce the traditional white corn of Iroquois farmers in upstate New York, enlisting chefs across the country to incorporate recipes for Iroquois white corn into their menus and to create an ongoing demand for the product.

Working with family farmers in the rural South, the Bioneers hope to stop the dramatic decline in the black farming population. In the 1920s there were about a million black farmers across the Southern states, most of whom had kept their land since the end of the Civil War. Now there are barely 18,000 black family farmers in the region, and, as Ausubel points out, fewer than 175 of them are under the age of 60.

"This rich cultural commitment to the land will be extinct in a generation if something doesn't change," he said.

"We've helped to initiate a linkage with a national medicinal herb company -- the Eclectic Institute out of Oregon. Ed Alstat, the CEO there, has made a long-term commitment to this project. The herb company went down there and told the farmers what kind of herbs they need, and now [those who participate] will learn organic growing practices that meet [the company's] standards.

"Anita Roddick of The Body Shop is going down there in January to see if her company can use their products."

The point, says Ausubel, is not to go down South and tell these farmers how to farm, but to introduce them to new markets, to offer information and support and, hopefully, to get the youth interested in staying on the farm. "Without them, there's no future," he said. "We want to help create a positive role model of economic viability. Kids have to know they can make a living -- a good living -- in order to stay."

At the conference, Smith echoed Ausubel's concern. "Most young black Americans don't want to be farmers," he said. "They are scared to fail. There is a legacy of shame, poverty and failure to overcome."

The Next Generation

Teaching kids the value of growing their own food, and educating them about what they can do to directly affect the restoration of the environment is an important, ongoing part of the Bioneers' work. In Berkeley, the Center for Ecoliteracy has developed an environmental curriculum to be used in California public schools. And a popular experimental program called The Edible Schoolyard partners famed Berkeley chef Alice Waters with school teachers and children, developing gardens on school grounds which produce healthy, organically grown vegetables that, in turn, are served in the school lunch program.

"They have found," said Ausubel," that once children are exposed to nature, particularly with the growth of food, their behavior changes dramatically." Giving hope to kids about what they can do to contribute to the healthy future of the earth, and to adults who have become fatalistic over what they see as looming environmental disaster is essential to the Bioneers' mission, said Ausubel.

He points to the public radio series produced last year by Michael and Justine Toms of New Dimensions Radio, The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature, as an example of the organization's focus on getting the word out about their work.

"Part of the solution is telling these stories," he said, "giving them more exposure. We get hundreds of calls every time one of these radio shows airs, from people who say they have been hiding out, living in fear and despair over what they see and hear every day about the environment. They are thrilled to know that this work is going on and they want to get involved."

It's a large gap to bridge -- between fatalism and hope, between the ongoing devastation of the planet under the current industrial model and innovative technologies and ecologically sound agricultural and business practices which could determine the shape of the future.

Does there have to be a cataclysmic disaster before we all wake up to what's happening and change our lives accordingly?

"That's a perception issue," said Ausubel. "If you know enough, things are already disastrous. But that's a kind of numbing scenario. What are you going to do with that?

"This is not New Age nonsense we're talking about but real solutions to real problems."

Take Action!

To learn more about the Bioneers and their many activities, visit: www.bioneers.org; or write them c/o The Collective Heritage Institute, 826 Camino de Monte Rey, #A6, Santa Fe, NM 87505.

To learn more about natural capitalism and to read excerpts from the book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, visit: www.naturalcapitalism.org.

For a catalogue and instruction on saving seeds and supporting plant diversity, contact Seed Savers Exchange, 1076 North Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101; 319/382-5990.

For more information on the activities of Food First, contact: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618; by phone, 510/654-4400; by Fax, 510/654-4551; or visit: www.foodfirst.org.

To learn more about education initiatives for school age children, contact The Center for Ecoliteracy, 2522 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702; e-mail them at: info@ecoliteracy.org; or visit them at www.ecoliteracy.org.