Biodynamics in The Observer

There is an excellent letter in the Observer today pointing out what biodynamics is really about. I hope this will alert more people to beware of the real reasons for the Steiner rituals Lucy Siegle described in her piece in the Observer last week . The article was fairly short and obviously not meant to be an in-depth examination of anthroposophy, but unfortunately Lucy made the assertion that biodynamics is an ethical method of growing.

I linked here to a response from SkeptEco which comprehensively pointed out reasons why praising biodynamics is wrong, which I hope she has read.

As I mentioned I don’t do twitter, but this morning a search for other responses led me to Lucy Siegle’s Twitter page to find there have clearly been tweets from scientists and critics of anthroposophy, and Lucy hasn’t taken kindly to them.

This tweet appeared after hundreds of comments were written on her article;

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Subsequently she showed that she stood by her opinion of biodynamics as environmentally superior (to what, I wonder?)

She then went on to make clear that she does not support anthroposophy or Steiner education, which shows she is not oblivious to the need for caution when dealing with this subject. Yes, there is much more to write about than simply whether biodynamics fans are treating the soil in a “sustainable” way.

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I find her reactions interesting, as I think they are probably typical of journalists who are criticised for writing on Steiner related issues without really grasping how deep this subject is, and how important it is to people trying to raise awareness of the extent of the Steiner influence locally, nationally and worldwide.

It is understandable that she was upset by criticism in the comments. I haven’t read them all but this is a subject that becomes heated very quickly, and people are not always polite. The “PEACE AND LOVE” message and the kiss are an attempt to show that she believes she has the moral high ground. I think the name for this kind of sarcasm is “passive aggressive”, and does nothing to improve the situation.

As a journalist and not a scientist it must be intimidating to be attacked for inaccuracy when all you had tried to do was praise up a seemingly harmless and outwardly attractive type of food production. A shock, I am sure.

It would be an easy excuse to say that Lucy doesn’t have time to look into biodynamics properly, being a busy journalist who regularly appears on national tv, but in the Observer she is billed as a journalist who writes about ethical living, and to describe biodynamics as “ethically an easy win” is clearly mistaken and shows that more research is necessary. It doesn’t take much time to find out that biodynamics is extremely controversial and should have been more thoroughly investigated.

Given the reaction to the original piece it would be nice to see a follow-up article which at least acknowledges the polarised views on biodynamics and the fact that scientifically there is no justification for these practises.  An in-depth look at why those who are in charge of biodynamic farms believe that what Rudolf Steiner said about cosmic forces is valid, and what they think of the rest of his teachings, not least about race, would be very interesting.

Asking Steiner disciples which part of anthroposophy they think is wrong is a good place to start; we have yet to hear any of them give a satisfactory answer and explain how biodynamics, or for that matter Steiner child development, or anthroposophical medicine stands up without the specific tenets of karma and reincarnation through the races that are unacceptable to most people.

I wrote here about why it is wrong to ignore the connection between biodynamics and other anthroposophical businesses.

If Lucy, (or Sarah Raven who also wrote about biodynamics last weekend), could find it within herself to acknowledge that in the interest of respectable journalism there is a bigger story to tell on this subject and to write it, I am sure there would be an interested and appreciative audience.

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9 comments

  1. Jim

    I suppose we should bear in mind that Lucy Siegle is essentially a lifestyle writer and not an investigative journalist. Probably much of such journalism is delivered to the author by whoever wishes their product to be promoted, and the Steiner propagandists are certainly adept at such self promotion. A day out on a nice farm with the promise of a heartwarming story must seem an attractive alternative to a day stuck in the office ( assuming she did actually leave the office ).

    Maybe her irritation with her critics stems from them taking the story more seriously than she does, if it was just a bit of hack work. All the same she does appear to have written a number of such uncritical pieces over the years. But whatever she thinks is really of no consequence – it is the steady drip of the message that Steiner/BD is perfectly ok that has to be contested.

    • Helen

      I know someone who writes about gardens around Europe for magazines and hardly leaves home to do it. So perhaps this article was written without visiting a farm at all. She says it’s worth taking a trip to Emerson college – wonder if she has?
      Only a year ago Lucy Siegle suggested Rudolf Steiner’s ideas were “twaddle”.
      https://ownzones.com/reader/patrick-holden-peoples-image-of-farming-is-a-complete-fantasy/7zmukfnpb3ghw
      Has she changed her mind or maybe was just desperate for something to submit last Sunday and hurriedly dashed off the piece entitled “Are biodynamic products worth the money?”

    • David Clark

      Hi Jim. The letter did not refer to Humanism, so I presume you aren’t a member of the BHA. While I appreciate the point, is anything “perfectly OK”?

      • Helen

        David, what has Humanism got to do with the price of cheese?

        I suppose in your own way you are saying that biodynamics is as suitable a subject for an uncritical article in a Sunday newspaper as any other.
        I think you are one of those Steiner people who, despite being involved in anthroposophy and making regular comments here to defend it, really does not know much about the nature and history of the belief system.
        Biodynamics is a part of anthroposophy that bothers me quite a bit, because of the way those in charge use the unpaid labour of vulnerable people. Not only unpaid, but in many cases, they are paying (indirectly) to take part!
        In Stroud we have students at Ruskin Mill involved as part of their “education”, and in her article Sarah Raven mentioned the people with learning disabilities from the nearby care home who work on the land at Tablehurst farm. It is quite sickening in a way. Often the labourers seem to have little choice in the matter . If you watch the documentary about Botton camphill community, the villagers are told where and when they work.
        In his article The Art of Avoiding History, Peter Staudenmaier goes into detail about the authoritarian, elitist, racist and political history of anthroposophy. The descriptions he includes of the Biodynamic plantation at Dachau to illustrate his points are chilling.
        To have people working for an anthroposophical organisation who do not understand the belief system of those at the top is completely wrong, in my opinion.
        You should read the article, and then see if you still want to defend biodynamics.
        Jim is right, Steiner/BD is definitely not perfectly ok.

        • David Clark

          Hi Helen,

          Thanks. I agree that Humanism doesn’t relate to the price of cheese and that “Steiner/BD is not perfectly OK”. I did not intend my comment to represent a “defence” of any practices.

          Trying to speak in my own way through an analogy. About to enter “the public square myself (away from Stroud), I will state the wider basis of my economic research, ranging from the associationist psychology of J.S.Mill to the spiritual scientific methodology of Rudolf Steiner. For me, this style of address in a public space is a matter of best practice and paying due respect to my audience. Hopefully, this will awaken fresh interest and discussion of my results at a time of financial uncertainty and problems in the economics discipline.

          Yes thanks, I have already read “The Art of Avoiding History” as well as Dr. Staudenmaier’s recent book. Regrettably, I have been unable to engage with him on these matters or about Herbert Marcuse’s 2001 book on “Legacies of Dachau” for example. Quite clearly, he has this right. As may be expected, I have my own questions about these texts and associated themes, especially as I do not hold a Ph.D.

          Trying to be clear. I don’t think we have either met or discussed “the nature and history of the belief system” here. Putting it another way, I have not intended to do so. From my perspective, such a conversation would be well beyond the legitimate boundaries of this blog.

          For me, the strictly personal endeavour of learning has been more a matter of deriving “research results” than one of pursuing a “belief system”. Preparing to speak in public on results of my research I am expecting to address comments and criticisms made by audiences. At that time it will be important amidst social situations to place my individual contributions in their proper historical, methodological, philosophical and theoretical context.

      • Jim

        David, I’m just back from where the web doesn’t reach ( deepest Cornwall ) and just catching up.

        I’ve no idea what your reference to humanism is about so can’t respond. As for “perfectly ok”, a native English speaker would recognise that simply as saying ok but with a bit of emphasis, and would not feel it to be burdened with philosophical meaning about the nature or possibility of perfection. If it troubles you just substitute “acceptable” for the phrase.

  2. Bill Stewart

    As a vegetarian, I don’t think biodynamics is “ethically an easy win”; using dead animal parts to do magic tricks doesn’t cut it for me ethically or scientifically. Mulching your garden properly? That’s just fine.

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