Slow Food Columbus

Imagining the Future Food System

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This article from Mother Jones raises some worthwhile and provocative points about the future of the food system, and the conclusions are most likely not what its readers would have anticipated:

When most of us imagine what a sustainable food economy might look like, chances are we picture a variation on something that already exists—such as organic farming, or a network of local farms and farmers markets, or urban pea patches—only on a much larger scale. … But that’s not the reality. Many of the familiar models don’t work well on the scale required to feed billions of people. Or they focus too narrowly on one issue (salad greens that are organic but picked by exploited workers). Or they work only in limited circumstances. (A $4 heirloom tomato is hardly going to save the world.)

The point is not (despite the arresting subtitle) that organic farming and local agriculture are passé, but rather, that in the quest for a food system that is both less broken and more sustainable, we might encounter some tradeoffs between sustainability and a large-scale emphasis on organic, local, non-GMO, etc., food. Such tradeoffs are, needless to say, the bane of the gastronome/ecologist’s existence; but if they exist, we’re better off understanding them than hiding our heads in the sand.

Does this line of argument imply the death of organic and local food?  Again, hardly; despite the rhetoric, there’s probably a substantially larger place for organic and local food in the author’s future food system than exists today.  But as the movement away from conventional agriculture grows, it will have to adapt, and the author has some worthwhile points to make about the difficulties of extrapolating current practice to a global scale, as well as some thoughts about more flexible models that might be of use in a more diversified food system.



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