Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food System Reform

At present, the majority of my mental power is (or, at least, should be) on urban farming in Senegal.  But, because I’d like my eventual career trajectory to concern the US food system and how we can make it more sustainable, I try to keep my attention focused, if only marginally, on US food system dynamics.  There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep up, but I try.

I first started getting interested in food systems when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal (1992-96).  When I came home, I got my Master’s in Agroecology and Sustainable Systems.  At the time, in the late 90’s, it seemed like there was a quickly growing awareness of how sick our food system had become.  If I remember right, ‘organic’ was still not a mainstream term, and spring salad mix was considered weird.  Back in those days, a ‘salad’ in a lot of places was still mostly iceberg lettuce. 

Things have changed a lot in the last ten years.  I’ve been reading various blogs and various organizational positions.  Most of the people who feel strongly about the food system seem to take a position that more regulation will be needed to fix it.  I am not in that camp, however, and tend to think that too much regulation and government intervention is what has created such a sick food system, which I’ve discussed in another blog entry.  This article is the latest thing I’ve read on food system reform, and contends that reform isn’t even possible because people have to work too much.  Eh.  I’m not convinced. 

First off, I disagree with the basic premise of the article that food system reform isn’t happening.  Despite the government’s advocacy of the agri-industrial complex, I think we are in the midst of a major food system reform.  That these changes are taking place is not because industry and government are willing to change the terms, but because people are actually taking the food system back.  People everywhere seem to be taking a greater interest in where their food comes from.  Community Supported Agriculture, for example, is still growing according to Local Harvest.  There are more and more young people who are choosing farming as a career, and the number of farmers’ markets continues to grow throughout the US.

Secondly, blaming poor eating habits on a lack of time is a cop out.  I'm a single mom who works and is writing a dissertation. I plan menus and find recipes that are quick, easy, inexpensive and which use actual primary ingredients, i.e. food, rather than food-like industrial products.  It is a matter of priorities.

Lastly, if it isn't already screamingly obvious, no one should wait for the government to implement a 'better' food system.  We all used to be more responsible for our food system and for feeding ourselves. Then, government policies and programs effectively transferred control of the food system to industry. It seems to me that the continuing growth of CSAs, homegardens, and farmers' markets means that people are taking it back. What we have to be careful of is government trying to put the kibosh on it.

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