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  • Beth Hoffman

The Necessity of Chaos


I rock in the porch swing in the early evening of a July day. Around me, sounds abound. Not the din of evening frogs or the rumble of thunder in the distance. Now are the sounds of a not-so-hot day, of wasps and mud daubers diving past, of swallows chatting to each other while they take turns sitting on eggs in their nest. Humming birds battle it out at the sugar-water feeder. Ten different birds chirp, each in their own language, and every so often I can hear a car rumbling down the gravel road. Sometimes that car even passes the house.

It is green, 50 shades of green. The vibrant green of young tree leaves, the browning green of lawn grass in need of rain, the reddish green of tall, wispy grass tops in the pasture. The sky reigns blue. Clouds lay darker and flatter below while above they curl and bulge like a well coiffed poodle. The reflecting light on the pond blings like a pop star’s jeans.

It is a serene chaos, nature doing her thing, and I feel blessed not too many mosquitos or deer flies are here to ruin the party.


Yet just over the horizon stand the symmetrical corn and soybean rows, as out of place in nature as this house, or me for that matter. The human created, imposed upon a world that would fast grow back and resume its wildness within months if we were to disappear all together.

It is strange, this comfort that we humans feel in the organized, the mowed, the built. A forest no one has touched is thought of as abandoned, its potential untapped, even though it is teeming with life.

Yet these comfortable rows, like much of our architecture, our music, our clothing, have become monotonous, generic. Over the years one item has come to dominate - corn - with a little soybean here and there for “variety.”

But so what? And why am I waxing poetic about all of this in a blog about eating less meat?

Too much of anything is a bad thing, it is said, or at least it becomes too much of one thing. The one thing then outnumbers everything else, and yet as we know, that is not how nature works. Nature does not allow only one thing. Instead it strives toward that serene chaos of many things.


In other words, the huge amounts of corn in Iowa, the wheat in Kansas, the cotton in Georgia means more chemicals to control the weeds in fields. It means vast amounts of fertilizer in order to grow the same thing year after year after year. And when the corn is grown to feed animals (which, along with corn syrup and ethanol, is the reason for so much corn), there becomes also too many animals, producing too much poop - always in too small a space.

Chaos and variety is the natural state. To try to contain nature, to take the many and make it into the one, is to constantly (and chemically) alter the natural state of the world. It is an exhausting battle humans simply cannot win.

To farm in any manner is to challenge the chaos and to impose order. But acre after acre, mile after mile, state after state of only corn, or wheat or potatoes for that matter, is hubris. It is ignoring the reality that mother nature will always strive for variety and balance.

Changing what is grown in a field, growing different crops in the same area, and (safely) interspersing animals and a variety of plants - these are methods that take into account the natural state of life. The result might not yield as much corn per acre, or as many animals per year in feed lots or on pasture, but it means less battling with laws of nature too. Eating and growing more variety betters ensure the health of people and land alike.

This is the why we need to eat less meat.