Volumes have been written about our current food system. Some schools of thought allege it is broken. Others claim it is a modern miracle.
Opinions fly on social media, blogs and in journals about the pros and cons of food production and consumption, such as:
- Conventional versus Organic/Sustainable/Biodynamic agricultural production systems,
- Grain fed versus Grass-fed beef,
- Dairy milk versus almond milk,
- Merits (or evils) of GMO technology,
- Urban needs for Permaculture/Vertical Agriculture/Aquaculture,
- The value of Local Agriculture:
- Know your farmer,
- Farmer’s Market,
- CSA (Consumer Sponsored Agriculture)
For a while, as an agriculturist, I actively participated in the online discussion (and debates) and tried to educate my non-farming friends. For example, I would explain to proponents of organic Ag that pesticides are used. I would share information about GMO technologies. I would talk about what would happen to our rangelands without active herbivore grazing. The list goes on.
It occurred to me that the discussions didn’t seem to be so much about food production; but rather, were about food consumption. It was not as if there wasn’t enough food. No, There was plenty. None of my friends or family were malnourished. They all had sufficient calories. In fact, many were concerned about being overweight. The discussions had inherent sub-texts. It seemed my friends and family were concerned about managing potential risks and making the best decisions possible for their health and, maybe, as a side note, for the environment, too.
Then! I had an Ah-ha moment! One day, I realized our discussions were about actually about the food choices we have the luxury to make because we live with such incredible food availability, abundance, and immediacy. All of which we take for granted. As Susanne Elizabeth Freidberg writes in Fresh, A Perishable History,
“For well-off consumers in well-off countries, choosing has become one of the hardest parts of eating. Is it best to buy organic? Local? Free-range? Omega-3-enhanced?
Yet most of the world’s consumers do not face the so-called omnivore’s dilemma. Such choice depends on having enough money as well as access to a myriad of modern technologies. Even seemingly antimodern consumer movements – the raw milk “ underground,” community-supported agriculture, locavores – rely on highways (paved and informational) [modes of transportation or refrigeration] that can’t be taken for granted everywhere”.
From that moment of “Ah-Ha!”, I stopped (or tried to stop) participating in the pro/con discussion of various food production or distribution systems, and started Celebrating our Agricultural Abundance.
My friends, family and I are extremely fortunate to live at this point in time and place and to be able to make active choices about what we eat. Through our choices we embody a form of empowerment for change, or conversely, for tradition. Hopefully, we will remain diligent in protecting our ability to make those choices.
Of course, there is always room for improvement:
- As an industry, agriculture needs to be more protective of our environment, while simultaneously remaining solvent and viable.
- As a society, we need to ensure that our children, elderly and poor have access to nourishment, regardless of where they are located.
- As a nation, we need to ensure a resilient food supply, which is capable of withstanding the whims of politics or nature.
- As an amalgamated culture, we can use our shared food histories as a vehicle for civil dialog about civil rights for all.