Posts Tagged ‘food systems’

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.

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Saving Seeds (aka, Yes, your choices do matter)

Recently my housemate Jim took me to a garden that his friend cares for to harvest some of the abundance of veggies found there. The homeowners are wealthy retirees with a beautiful landscaped property, including a garden large enough to feed a small army. The two of them could never possibly consume all of the yummy vegetables they grow, so I was thrilled to spend time there.

My half an hour visit yielded 25 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, 5 pounds of huge carrots, chard, herbs and a few other random vegetables. But the tomatoes…ahhh. They had around 30 healthy plants of at least ten varieties. Because my own garden is pathetic, I was sooo happy to hang out in the 6 ft tall tomato vines, finding the ripest and most beautiful fruits.

I could go on and on about these tomatoes. But I’ll focus on just a few things I wanted to share.

The first dish we made with our newfound heirloom tomato wealth was a strange casserole with sauteed zucchini, mashed potatoes and sliced tomatoes on top. When I sliced into a 2-pound yellow brandywine, the center was still warm from the sun.

For me, the essence of food happiness is found in a fresh, still-warm tomato in all it’s delicious glory.

Because I love tomatoes so much, I did a little research into saving tomato seeds so I can grow them in my own garden next year. As I sliced carefully into each tomato, scooping out the seeds and goop into a jar, I thought about the cyclical nature of food. How each plant contains within itself the potential for hundreds, even thousands, of new plants. And how the only reason any of us are able to *live* is because of the variety and tenacity of plant life and all the supporting species that build our food system.

Real food does not come from a grocery store. It comes from the ground, nourished by soil and water and earthworms and bees and sunshine. This local food “movement” is quite simple at its core. We are rediscovering this most basic connection – of where our food comes from and why it’s so important.

I believe it is a basic human right to have access to healthy, safe, fresh food that nourishes us and others (like the bees). And I imagine how our food and how we eat it would change if we prepared each meal not only cognizant of where our food came from, but also, where our next meal came from. Saving seeds out of the tomato (or eggplant or pumpkin) means there will be more tomatoes, more meals. I now have the ability to nurture more life simply by being aware of how those plants grow and my part in it.

Even if you aren’t interested in (or unable to) grow a garden for yourself, you still have an enormous amount of power in determining the future of our food. If we want food that is delicious, healthy, safe, and available to all, then we must be aware of how our choices are impacting our food system. And because I’m now on a roll about the importance of food, I’ll make a few more declarations. Consider it a summary of how you can have better food.

Choose organic fresh food grown close to home. Learn where your farmers are, and get to know them. Seek out meat that is humanely raised, eggs that come from happy chickens, and food products from local sources. Give yourself more time to prepare food and share it with people you love. Stop throwing out food. Start composting, saving seeds, and growing them. If you can’t use it, give it away. Stop killing bees and grow more flowers. Invest in local food systems and ask restaurants where they buy their food. Take the extra time to read labels. Notice how your food tastes, what makes it better, and how it makes you feel. Stop pretending as if your choices don’t matter, as if you can’t change anything, as if what we put into our bodies doesn’t impact everything else. And when you are able, spend some time with plants and bugs and soil, and delicious tomatoes still warm from the sun.