Today I want to address something troubling me. Lately I’ve been seeing the words “vegan” and “biodynamic” paired up more and more often. If you are even familiar with the latter term you probably associate it with fancy wine. It is also becoming a popular growing method for the veggies served in numerous vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but if told the things biodynamics actually involves many vegans would do a spit-take.
Biodynamics was developed by Rudolf Steiner, also founder of the spiritual philosophy Anthroposophy, in a 1924 series of lectures to farmers concerned about soil and crop degradation. While it shares some principles (and controversy) in common with organic farming, Steiner said there were “spiritual shortcomings in the whole chemical approach to farming”, it goes far beyond it. I mean it’s really way out there.
In those lectures Steiner describes a system of agriculture involving potions, rituals, and various spiritual ideas. As described biodynamic farming involves two sets of “preparations” or magical potions composing a total of nine preparations (labeled 500-508), the first two are the “field preparations” to be sprayed in near homeopathic dilutions (one teaspoon to 40–60 liters of water) over the entire field. The method for preparing these concoctions is as follows.
* 500: (horn-manure) a humus mixture prepared by filling the horn of a cow with cow manure and burying it in the ground (40–60 cm below the surface) in the autumn. It is left to decompose during the winter and recovered for use the following spring.
* 501: Crushed powdered quartz prepared by stuffing it into a horn of a cow and buried into the ground in spring and taken out in autumn. It can be mixed with 500 but usually prepared on its own (mixture of 1 tablespoon of quartz powder to 250 liters of water)
…oh, and when mixing the preparations in water don’t forget whirling it in different directions every second minute. You may as well throw in some eye of newt and wool of bat for good measure.
The next seven are the “compost preparations” with some particularly objectionable ingredients.
* 502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
* 503: Chamomile blossoms (Matricaria recutita) are stuffed into small intestines from cattle buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn and retrieved in the spring.
* 504: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in full bloom are stuffed together underground surrounded on all sides by peat for a year.
* 505: Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs past.
* 506: Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum officinale) is stuffed into the peritoneum of cattle and buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
* 507: Valerian flowers (Valeriana officinalis) are extracted into water.
* 508: Horsetail (Equisetum)
One to three grams (a teaspoon) of each preparation is added to a dung heap by digging 50 cm deep holes with a distance of 2 meters from each other, except for the 507 preparation, which is stirred into 5 liters of water and sprayed over the entire compost surface.
I’m not making this up. People really do this and really think it makes for a better crop. The justifications are quite vague and magical statements about “life forces” and the whole farm being one organism. Steiner explains the prominence of cow horns in the preparations saying, “The cow has horns in order to reflect inwards the astral and etheric formative forces, which then penetrate right into the metabolic system so that increased activity in the digestive organism arises by reason of this radiation from horns and hoofs.” Maybe it lost something in translation but I don’t know what the heck he is talking about.
Biodynamic farmers also have wonderfully holistic ways to deal with “pests” such as field mice. First you skin some mice and burn the skin, then sprinkle the resulting ash across your land as it contains “the corresponding negative force as against the reproductive power of the field-mouse.” This, of course, must be done when Venus is in Scorpio, but I think that’s just obvious. There exist similar rituals for both weeds and insects too, along with an astrological calendar dictating the best times for sowing and reaping. Some farms even practice what is know as geo-acupuncture. Again, Im not making this up.
Beyond the outright weirdness of it all, there are some strong criticisms of biodynamics in that it does not lead to more efficient or sustainable agriculture, is near impossible to test scientifically, has failed the scientific tests that have been performed, and that it clearly involves animal slaughter for entirely magical reasons. I think Ben, a commenter on a sfist article summed up my feelings in a pithy manner, “Not sure that “biodynamic” is compatible with veganism, involving as it does burying cow heads on alternate Tuesdays while praying to Ishtar or whatever.”
So what do you think?