When I was a boy, I learned early math skills from Count Von Count, neighborly kindness from Mr. Rogers and appreciation and love for animals from Jane Goodall.
In fact, some of my earliest memories are of watching Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Goodall embracing Tanzania’s wild chimpanzees.
And with her 2005 book, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating, Jane continued the early lessons she taught me. Harvest for Hope is her effort to persuade us of our need to understand and care for the Earth and the animals that share it.
Goodall began her lifelong love affair with chimps in 1960, when she left the UK to begin researching them in Gombe National Park.
She recalls the change as a chance to “live my dream.”
“When I first arrived… I found a world where all was pure — the springs that gave rise to the streams of Gombe were nurtured deep in the heart of an uncontaminated watershed. There were no man-made chemicals in the forest. Lake Tanganyika was the largest body of unpolluted fresh water in the world.”
Gradually, however, she watched this Paradise disappear. As war refugees from Burundi and Congo flooded into Gombe, they cleared the chimps’ mountain-forest habitat for farming.
But the resulting soil erosion made farming unsustainable. At the same time, widespread hunger was leading to the overfishing of Lake Tanganyika.
While still working in Gombe, Jane read Animal Liberation, Australian philosopher Peter Singer’s scathing 1975 expose factory farming’s horrors.
That experience, paired with her passion for all animals, persuaded her to become a vegetarian. It also convinced her that, to save the chimps, she’d “need to work with the people living in the villages around Gombe.”
And 30 years later, Singer’s nightmare scenarios drove her to write this book.
So Jane began traveling the world, learning about hunger and our misguided, planet-threatening attempts to produce cheap, abundant food with chemical pollutants and factory farming.
Goodall paints a stark picture of these policies’ effects:
“Thousands of children die of obesity and its attendant ills in the West, while millions of more die of starvation in the developing world.”
She blames large corporations for this mess, arguing that their unethical conduct in promoting profits over health has jeopardized the lives of both those who enjoy abundance and those who lack basic necessities.
Harvest for Hope raises many critical issues. Concerning food waste, Jane remembers how she felt upon her return to the West.
“When I first returned from Tanzania, having experienced true poverty firsthand, to the so-called developed world, the thing that utterly shocked me was the waste … And the waste of food. That was the greatest shock of all.”
Her environmental concerns are woven throughout the book. A particularly frightening example is the issue of factory-farm waste. Before getting to our plates, the animals we eat produce an estimated 130 times more waste than we humans.
And where does that ammonia-laden waste end up? As untreated sewage in the world’s water supply.
A major contributor to science and the animal welfare movement, Jane Goodall brings an authoritative voice to the discussion of the Earth’s fate. She also challenges us to remember that “every food purchase is a vote.”
With the power of our purses, we can force food growers to adopt humane, safe and sustainable practices. Harvest for Hope is Goodall’s call to eat — and live — more responsibly.