Big Farming

In the 1980s, more than a quarter-million family farms were shut down, as factory-farms took over. More than 900 farmers committed suicide. The number may be even higher, but many of the suicides appeared to be farm machinery accidents.

Now, we’re in an era of super-farming. For instance, 6 mega-dairy farms in Texas produce more organic milk than all 453 organic dairy farms in Wisconsin. Is the organic milk of the same quality when it comes from an operation of that size? Are the cows still grass-fed? Are they raised in pastures where they can live natural, happy cow lives, or merely fed grass (so they can be called ‘grass fed’) in crowded holding pens? Can everything remain organic when huge populations of cattle can rapidly spread a disease? Can the mega-farmers comply with truly organic requirements?


Whale Oil

The fine machine lubricating oil for which the sperm whales were hunted was mostly in their heads – up to 500 gallons (1,800 liters) of it in one whale. Until modern chemical technology, nothing lubricated as well as whale oil. Now there is even more valuable stuff that forms in their intestines – ambergris. This foul-smelling grayish-black stuff is used by the perfume industry, not for its smell, but because it has been found to cause other smells to last longer.


In the new science of zoopharmacognosy, scientists patiently watch animals to learn about how they medicate themselves. In the most profound case, chimpanzees who are not feeling well seek out a plant called aspilia and eat one of its leaves whole. Upon studying this plant, scientists have found a chemical in it that is a strong antibiotic which may even reduce some cancers. Elephants and bears also treat themselves pharmacologically.