Posts Tagged ‘food revolution’

A Vision for a Resilient, Connected & Healthy Food System

I wrote this today as part of a fellowship application for healthier food systems. It’s difficult to condense such a huge idea into one page, but I managed. And while my writing isn’t amazing, I think it’s worth sharing.

In answer to the question: describe your vision for an ideal global food system.

The optimal global food system would provide for the needs of people without sacrificing the long-term health of our plant, animal, soil and water systems. An ideal food system would acknowledge the inherent value of all of life, and be unwilling to destroy other species through environmental degradation, population loss, over-consumption or poison.

Our current food system has disconnected from its source and has caused us to ignore the consequences of how we grow, raise and eat our daily meals. Almost 75% of the US population is now overweight or obese, while malnutrition contributes to more than half of the world’s cases of child mortality.

In contrast, a better global food system would demonstrate three primary qualities: resilience, relationship and what I’ll call “healthfulness.”

Resilience is the capacity of a system (and its components) to adapt, repair, and build long-term system performance. A resilient food system would have distributed means of production, storage and distribution. Food security would not lie in the hands of a few small food companies or government agencies, but in many small producers. Other hallmarks of resilience include redundancy and diversity. The 2010 flood in Pakistan killed nearly 2,000 individuals, but the long-term impact of losing more than 200,000 head of livestock and 17 million acres of fertile land is yet to be seen. A resilient food system would fulfill the needs created by crop loss due to disease and disaster.

Relationship is about understanding the interdependent connections between all aspects of the system, including its impact on other systems. Mindful production decisions would be made considering the impact of and relationship between pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, water and soil. The crops we select would account for nutrition as well as how their growth fits inside the ecosystem. Effort would be made to thoughtfully determine what, how and where we grow food. Healthy communication would exist between growers, ranchers, distributors and others involved in providing food. Decisions would be made for the greatest good for all involved.

Healthfulness is the inherent ability to contribute to the well-being and health of all participants in the system, including people, plants, animals and the soil, water and air that sustain them. Healthfulness is the expression of vitality, responsibility and contribution of all participants. An ideal global food system would measure the impact of each component, and incorporate healthy feedback loops to help participants at each system level understand what’s best, and modify behaviors that don’t support the healthfulness of the system as a whole. Here’s an example: in our current system, the value of a cow is extracted as the amount of money that can be made from her parts, in the form of milk, meat or hide. But this perspective fails to acknowledge the systems that the cow represents. The extraction of a cow into parts has led to unsafe, unhealthy, and inhumane systems of beef production. A healthy food system will acknowledge and include ALL of the parts of the system that is a cow. If any parts of that system are dysfunctional or unhealthy (such as the waste of the cow polluting the water supply, or the cow itself being unhealthy while alive, or the processing of the cow exposing the butchers to unsafe conditions), then actions would be quickly taken to repair the unhealthy parts and restore them to something more healthy.

A healthy, resilient and connected food system is possible. It will take changing the underlying systems of governance and wealth distribution, and the definitions of profit and ownership. It will mean restoring the ability of all people to participate in the growth, production and control of their food. It will require personal and community responsibility, and the creation, nurturing and sharing of better means of production and governance. We must provide better examples of how food can be provided, and share these means with all involved. Every seed planted and nurtured with long-term health in mind will make a difference, and move us closer to a more just and sustainable world.

Cooking Away My CSA Challenge

Today, through the magic that is the Intarwebs, I was contacted via Twitter by Heather, a journalist and foodie in Chicago who recently joined a CSA program. Realizing that she’ll soon receive boxes of seasonal produce every week, Heather created the Cooking Away My CSA challenge, to connect other techy CSA members to share ideas, recipes and stories about CSA membership.

I like her idea for a few reasons: last year, our farm was devastated by hailstorms that ruined crops of tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and more. Week after week, we received bunches of kale, dill and beets, and then weeks and weeks of cabbage. This is the risk you take when you join a CSA. And sharing ideas about what to do with the dozens of beets still in your fridge is a lifesaver. (our salvation: Beet Cake) But more importantly, our desire to be more connected to our food is becoming very loud indeed.

Although I’ve had a (barely used) cooking blog for years, I realized that my love of food and all things local has expanded far beyond my own garden. There is a major movement in our communities to have more farmers, more markets, more ways to connect with our food. We are so disconnected from this primary source of health and well being, of our very existence, and I think we’re finally revolting.

This revolution is taking various forms. In India, farmers are committing suicide because of being overwhelmed by debt and crop failure. This year, Chinese soldiers forced Tibetan farmers to plant their crops at gunpoint, and some refused. In other places, the growth of farmers markets and seed purchases hail increasing interest in growing, cooking and preserving our own food. This spring I helped to start a project in Denver focused on connecting local food growers and establishing more food gardens. And my organization is in the midst of launching a food business incubator, to nurture the development of more food related businesses in our own community.

I believe that all of this is happening because we’re waking up to the pitfalls of a society that has valued profit above all else. What happens when mega corporations own all our sources of food? If we continue to treat one another and our resources as simply numbers on a spreadsheet, we will continue to suffer.

Our CSA starts in two days. Gerry has already called me, excited about her first year as a CSA member. She told me about how her family goes through jam faster than she can make it, and how she’ll use the fruit from her share to stock up on yummy preserves. When I shared my envy about her jam making skills, she proclaimed, “well, I’ll just come over some weekend and show you how to jam! It’s SO easy! Then you can teach all your friends how to jam, too.” What may seem to be a small statement, a casual offer to share a recipe, to me is so much more. In that one offer, Gerry shared the essence of what it means to be human. It is our nature to freely share what we know and have. Joining a CSA or shopping at a farmer’s market or teaching a stranger how to make jam is about so much more than food. It’s about remembering and relearning how to take care of ourselves and one another.

Local food can be our access to stronger, healthier communities – from the community of cells and organisms that make up our bodies,  to our neighborhoods, towns and cities. And beyond that, to our ecosystems and social systems and nation states. And it starts with people like Gerry, being intentional about how she eats and sharing her food knowledge with others.