Completing the trio of postings recapping the Washington Post’s Future of Food Conference…
Putting the Earth at the center (again): Wendell Berry claimed, “Our fundamental problem is destruction – nature versus human interest.” As Prince Charles pointed out, soil is being washed away 10x faster than nature can replace it. We must increase fertility of the soil first and foremost because, “Our capital depends on the health of nature’s capital.”
Wes Jackson, President of The Land Institute, believes human cleverness has been inadequate when it comes to “outwitting” nature. Rather, we need to mimic it – with mixtures of perennials, bringing the process of the wild to the farm, and adopting the ecosystem as a conceptual tool. We’ve learned by now that nature can’t be ignored or abused without some consequences.
Prince Charles also brought up water usage: 1 lb of industrially produced beef requires 2,000 gallons of water. That ratio seems just a bit out of whack, no? Current conventional agriculture techniques are favored, creating negative externalities (a topic on which Jeffrey Hollender has opined). Farm subsidies and the costs of damage to nature are not factored into pricing.
Viewing the issue of sustainable food through a wider lens: Various panelists urged the audience to think of sustainable food within a larger lifestyle and worldly context, and Prince Charles’ speech echoed this idea of interconnectedness.
One example: Lucas Benitez, Co-Founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, insisted that “human rights are primordial,” so they are part of sustainability, too. Organizational consolidation and purchasing power at the high levels trickles down to lower consumer prices, and therefore, a lower wage to workers. A UC-Davis Study determined that increasing the wage for agricultural workers by 40% would only mean a $16 annual increase in each consumer’s annual spending. Like Big Green Purse says, consumers can change the market.
Despite the dire situation in which we find ourselves, Wendell Berry was incredibly eloquent and offered several no-nonsense, rational strategies to get back on track.
Hope for “The Future of Food”:
- Don’t “move on”; instead, stay put!
- Learn the sources and costs of economic lives
- Abandon the delusion that damages from the industry will be fixed by more industry
- Abandon the notion that we’re too good to clean up our own messes
- Don’t work or think on global scale; rather, do what is proper to your abilities, and don’t break what you can’t fix
- Create locally adapted economies based on local sunlight, local intelligence and local work
I agree with Mr. Berry: if we can invent the nuclear bomb and go to the moon, we can solve the issues of hunger.
– Adrienne Weil