Letter to the Editor

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dear Editor,

I really like Edible East Bay, and I look forward to reading about upcoming events, as well as local eateries and food trends. In the Harvest 2010 issue, I was very sad to see the phrase “organic, biodynamic, or sustainable farming” in Mr. Middlebrook’s wine article. Inserting “biodynamic” in between organic and sustainable only perpetuates the public’s misperception of what biodynamic actually is.

While many biodynamic practices are sustainable and organic, Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy, including its occult and rather dogmatic approaches, is also critical.  Planting by the phases of the moon may be harmless enough, but some of the prescriptions by Steiner still in use today are unscientific and, in a word, disgusting. For example, many of the “preparations” are bizarre, such as the stuffing of a cow peritoneum with certain items, burying it and then digging it back up again, or the use of liters of cow blood sloshed over the fields.  Confusing biodynamic with organic can lead to the perception that “biodynamic” wine is vegetarian and vegan-friendly, because hey, it’s wine, right?  Biodynamic farming methods have also not received the same peer-reviewed scientific accolades that organic and sustainable farming methods have, and should not be treated as equivalent.

I understand that Mr. Middlebrook’s intent was to write about wine, not farming methods. That said, the article focuses on NATURAL and “more-natural” farming as a way to make good wine.  Biodynamic wine may be tasty, but stuffing offal into a horn and burying it (a biodynamic preparation) is a practice anyone would be hard pressed to deem ‘natural.”

Please do not mis-educate and confuse the public by bandying about the term “biodynamic” in a way that appears to equate it to organic and sustainable.

Thank you,

Elizabeth R. Bain


Response from Edible East Bay writer Mark Middlebrook:

Ms. Bain is right that the focus of my article on East Bay natural winemakers was not on the details of the farming practices in the vineyards from which they get grapes, and in particular not on the differences among organic, biodynamic, and sustainable farming. Those differences easily could fill up another article, or three.

I agree that some of Steiner’s explanations of how biodynamic practices work are unscientific and even occult. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the practices themselves are ineffective. Tom Mansell has explored some of the practices in a five-part report titled “The Science of Biodynamics” on The New York Cork Report blog:

It starts here:


I’m inclined to agree with his assessment at the end of Part 1: “My initial impression is that some of the techniques espoused by biodynamics may actually produce results in the vineyard, but likely not for the reasons that Steiner and others profess.”

I think that the question of whether winegrowing and winemaking practices that incorporate animal parts can be deemed “natural” is an entirely different one, and one that’s not limited to biodynamics (for example, some winemakers use egg whites or fish gelatin to fine their wines). I eat meat from animals that are raised organically or sustainably, and I would call that meat “natural” – or at least more natural than meat from animals raised in other ways. Of course there’s a moral question in any practice that involves killing animals for our consumption or use, but that moral question isn’t unique to biodynamics, even if the animal parts that it uses are comparatively strange.

Mark Middlebrook

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