Leveraged 21st Century Opportunity:
Multiple Human-created Problems in One System point to One Human-powered Solution
For 60+ years, American voters’ food attention and resources have been over-focused on creating a global food system, to the detriment of every local farm and food economy in the world, including local food economies in the U.S. Symptoms of local food system disfunction are manifest in every American community, in every sector of community life:
Public health: Reduced lifespan, skyrocketing healthcare costs
Increasing infant mortality
Hunger, malnutrition, over-nutrition, mono-nutrition, eating disorders
Epidemics of obesity, diabetes 2, cardiovascular disease
Suicides and chronic mental health problems of farmers, mothers, and other caretakers who can’t make the $$ and hours add up no matter how hard they work
Education: Loss of basic life skills and cultural heritage
Loss of food literacy (nutrition, health, soil, water, climate, energy, history, culture, biodiversity, farming and food traditions)
Loss of food skills (growing, shopping, storing, cooking, feeding, preserving, composting)
Reduced competency in collective decision-making, especially through government
Confusion about money, banking, basic financial operations
Economy: Local economic instability
Food dollars do not stay in any local community — rural, suburban, urban, Fewer and fewer stable local jobs
Social: Demographic and social instability
Farmers are an aging population
Farm children are not farming and often move from rural areas
Rural population is declining, urban neighborhoods are over-crowded Personal and community demoralization
Natural resources: Depletion of natural capital
Farmland loss, loss of biodiversity
Soil, water, air degradation
Human exhaustion, illness, and premature death
Energy: Over-consumption and climate change
Fossil fuel use in transportation, farm inputs
Over-advertising of over-processed of foods
Emergency preparedness: No food reserves
Only 3-6 days worth of food in most communities
(homes, grocery stores, warehouses)
Civic engagement: Low quality democratic participation
Low voter turnout in most elections
Frustration and polarization in public discourse
Little opportunity to be food citizens
Faith: Loss of faith in ourselves and in the universe
Loss of faith in the world as our natural home
Loss of faith in adults to create and maintain homes for all children
Loss of faith in ourselves to create a nurturing and beautiful human world
Policies causing problems
These problems have largely been created by U.S. federal policies (and U.S.-led international policies) that have over-focused on maintaining a cheap food policy in the U.S and creating a global food economy that is preventing real people from feeding themselves in communities all over the world. These policies include (but are not limited to):
- taxpayer subsidies throughout the food chain
(e.g., transportation, water, export-import)
- tax code inconsistencies
- corporate personhood
- banking and financial regulations
(private control of nation’s money supply)
- lack of anti-trust enforcement
- lack of farm and labor price parity (with capital)
- Farm Bill
- FDA food safety regulations created for an industrial food system applied to local food system
- Child Nutrition Act
- No Child Left Behind (teaching to the test instead of teaching life)
State and local policies are also part of the interwoven complexity of food system laws, rules, regulations, and interpretations that
- over-focus on segments of an increasingly global food system where distances between segments are getting greater and greater
- are obstacles to every adult’s capacity to feed themselves and to feed those in their care on a daily basis..
One Human-powered Solution:
Building a Complete Food and Farm System framework by Becoming Food Citizens
The solution, as transportation planners discovered in the 1980s, is to build on fundamental universal assets and life cycles, rather than overbuild for a single component (in the case of transportation, automobiles). Following the first oil crisis, adults all over the U.S. realized that American communities and transportation networks had been OVER-developed and OVER-planned for the automobile. Grassroots organizations were pointing out to planners and other government officials that they had forgotten
(a) about walking, bicycling, wheelchairs, and public transportation in the design of street infrastructure,
(b) that self-determination, inter-connectedness, and diversity are core principles of healthy and resilient life systems.
Transportation planners started partnering with everyone else in developing Complete Streets principles to ensure planning for ALL modes of street transportation especially the most basic self-propelled modes — walking and biking.
Complete Food and Farm system
Just like transportation advocates in the 1980s, food policy advocates are now developing a COMPLETE FOOD AND FARMS SYSTEM set of principles.
Technically, a Complete Food and Farms framework would integrate 3 levels of food systems and apportion resources according to each system’s distance from the foundation — the Household’s connection to the earth:
- Household. The household as the fundamental unit of human society is the fundamental building block of a Complete Food and Farm System.
- Local food system. Concentrate on a given community’s ability to feed themselves, day in and day out.
- Global food system. Incorporate the global food system as a component that works for any community to
- obtain foods that it cannot grow itself
- obtain foods that it needs in an emergency
Complete Foods and Farms proposes that for every taxpayer $ spent on food and farm initiatives, a majority of that $ should be targeted for re-building household economies and local farm and food economies — the capacity for people in a given household and geography to feed themselves and those in their care.
Becoming Food Citizens
Putting together a COMPLETE FOOD AND FARM conceptual framework (and then implementing it) will require massive re-education of every U.S. adult — voters, legislators, planners — and all other eaters. As John McKnight (The Abundant Community), Mark Winne (books, articles, interviews), and others have separately identified, American adults need to learn how to be food citizens, not just food consumers.
As the late Chris Bedford wrote, “A consumer relies on faceless experts enforcing increasing complex regulations to determine their quality of life and food. A citizen takes responsibility for not just the source of their food, but the system that produces and distributes food. A citizen is engaged in a continuing conversation with farmers, neighbors, and their community on food as an essential element for community health, social justice, and survival.” (COMFOOD list-serv, November 26, 2010)
Food Citizenship: A 21st Century Leverage Point
Food is not an optional consumer product. Food is a basic need for everyone, but food needs and availability change from one person to another, one family to another, one community to another, one country to another, one stage of life to another.
Our need to eat every day is the most time- and resource-consuming activity that humans do, connecting every area of our personal, cultural, communal, and economic lives.
Food is not just a widget. It is a daily expression of human relationship — with each other and with all life. Eating well requires a constant myriad of decisions and connections to obtain the most nourishing food every meal, every day, year in and year out. Eating well requires a myriad of daily caring, coordinated activities to enable us to find, produce, harvest, process, aggregate, store, package, distribute, sell, prepare, eat, and compost.
Food is a daily, immediate need that requires every adult’s on-going vigilance, knowledge, and skill to feed themselves and to feed those in their care, in coordination with other adults who must do the same.
Food is a daily pleasure that everyone likes to talk about.
Taking Stock in 2012: Why this Survey Now?
The good news is that there have been adults in every U.S. generation who have been food citizens and have maintained food system awareness and knowledge. Continuous immigration into the U.S. has brought food citizens from other countries and cultures, enriching discussions of what it means to be a food citizen.
The even better news is that for the last 10-15 years there has been an astronomical growth in grassroots groups, organizations, and coalitions who are teaching themselves about food systems and helping others to learn. Food citizens can be found working in every U.S. community on
- farmers markets
- community gardens
- food scrap composting
- food hubs
- food as medicine
- urban agriculture
- food policy councils
- farm-to-school initiatives (garden, cafeteria, curriculum)
- workforce development (farmer training, soil remediation, food safety, food service, renewable energy as a farm product, etc.)
- shared commercial kitchens
- farm and food incubators 2012
- farm and food entrepreneurship
- whole farms (diversified farms)
The bad news is that even with so much activity, so many people and organizations working on food and farm issues, food is still not on the list of top ten national issues in the election. Food is not even on the long lists compiled by election watch organizations.
The purpose of the Food Vote 2012 Survey is to dig into the mechanisms for making “food” a campaign issue.