Feed The World

The seed of introduction:

“Since our break with nature came with agriculture, it seems fitting that the healing of culture begins with agriculture, fitting that agriculture takes the lead.”

~Wes Jackson

Sooner or later the question comes up, whether it is between two friends sharing a pot of stew made from local grass fed beef and their garden harvest livestock farmers gathered on a pasture walk, neighbors working together to tend a flock of backyard chickens, or organic vegetable producers discussing yields at a conference.

“But can we feed the world this way?”

Feed The World

75 or 100 years ago, such a question would never have entered your dialogue. To ask a  local farmer or homesteader how his or her production methods were going to feed the world would have been absurd. The local producer’s job was to support the family, the community, and his/her bioregion – not the world.

Following World War II, with the onset of the “Green Revolution”, feeding the world became a national mantra.

The question remains: Can the local, sustainable food movement in the United States feed the world? The answer: No. Nor can the industrial agriculture paradigm. No one can feed the world. One country cannot do it, nor can any specific model of production. The earth must be allowed to reclaim its natural productivity. That’s why we need local and regional food systems, designed to work harmoniously with local ecosystems. While certain ecological lessons may apply, it would be absurd to think what works for us in upstate New York for producing food is going to necessarily work in Africa. There is no such thing as a universally applicable production practice nor a universally acceptable diet.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about global starvation. But if enabling everybody to have access to good nutritious food is really our goal, we need to look deeper than crop yields and feed conversion ratios. In addition to the complicated politics involved, we need to examine our individual actions?

How are your daily habits impacting humanity’s access to a nutritious food supply? Our daily sustenance should not require that other people in the world go without nourishment. Our daily sustenance should not demand excessive fossil fuels for growing, processing and transporting the food to our tables. Beyond that, our consumption habits ideally should not be requiring people in foreign lands to destroy their own access to clean water and fertile soil for the sake of dyeing our clothing, building our electronics, or making our children’s toys.

Untitled design (3)‘Feed the world’ starts with individual accountability. It needs to be considered in every home, in every business. But the question must be reframed. Rather than asking farmers if the methods they use can feed the world, we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Do my choices help enable the world to feed itself?” If the answer is no, then it is time to make different choices.”

~Excerpt from Instead of Trying to Feed the World, Let’s Help It feed Itself by Shannon Hayes; Menu for the Future, Page 43.

Let the conversation germinate and grow:

  • What choices do you make that impact the ability for the world to feed itself?
  • What can you do today that will enable the world to feed itself?

Practical Exercise:

  • Find out what kind of farm your food comes from: agribusiness, family farm, industrial organic, etc.
  • Find out where your food is sourced – how far did it travel.
  • Create a team and join the Northwest Earth Institute’s 2017 EcoChallenge

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One Response to Feed The World

  1. Actually, I sort of disagree that no one agricultural paradigm can do the trick. Agroecology techniques restore soil fertility, sequester carbon and thus fight climate change, and work with nature. On the other hand, industrial agriculture/ “Green Revolution” hybrids-and-chemicals production erodes the soil, releases carbon into the atmosphere, and poisons air and water while breeding chemical-resistant weeds and pests and depleting the water table — and is ultimately completely unsustainable. This said, there are a multitude of specific agroecology techniques, and people will of course need to choose and use the particular ones that are appropriate for their own place, culture, and clime. But agroecology is sustainable where industrial ag is not, and when combined with other practices such as urban/suburban food production, switching cropland to growing food directly for people instead of using it to grow ethanol and feed for factory farms, and greatly decreasing food waste, agroecological practices can indeed be part of supplying enough food for us all.

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