I think there are several things wrong with our current food system, from the FDA, labeling, lobbyists, Farm Bill, Monsanto, etc. However, I believe the greatest challenge to creating a sustainable urban food economy is the ability of humans to reestablish or recreate our relationship with land (and ocean, to a certain degree), particularly as society becomes more urbanized. I think in today’s society, too much emphasis is put on what is the quickest and cheapest solution (and not just necessarily when it comes to food). Ultimately, this is the process of everyone to be involved in his or her food system, and create his or her food story, if you will. The food we produce and consume should be healthy, accessible, and affordable. It should be a benefit to the environment and ecosystem, produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.
This eventually becomes agroecology and food sovereignty. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council is developing a food action plan that creates healthy, affordable, sustainable, and fair food, ensuring the community’s food production, access to and affordability of food, land and natural resource stewardship, job development, and public health and equity in the local and regional food system. This establishes a democratic food system that includes everybody from the farmer to the grocer to the server to the consumer.
One important piece in our readings that resonated with me was the bit about “the dumping of food at prices below the cost of production in the global economy, and the domination of our food and food producing systems by corporations that place profits before people, health and the environment.” America floods the international market with corn (among other things). It costs less to grow corn in Iowa and ship it to Africa than it does to produce and sell corn in Africa. That’s pretty astounding. Accordingly, food should not be grown exclusively for commodity; and food should not be an industrial/artificial process.
5,000 Mile Salad was a superb graphic. Consequently, I believe the first step in creating and establishing a sustainable urban food economy is educating society and giving consumers knowledge about food system/processes. The environmental implications of putting a hamburger patty (or let’s just say red meat consumption) on your plate are immense (deforestation to create farmland and land to graze, fertilizer and water to grow grains to feed cow, transport of grains to feed lot, water for cow, methane, soil quality, transport of slaughtered, water for sanitation and processing, packaging, transport to consumer, etc.). The “foodshed” of meals have grown exponentially; it is estimated that the average meal in America travels 1,500 miles from farm to fork. Additionally, consumers in the U.S. still manage to put 40% of our food on rubbage trucks and send them to the landfills (where they rot and spoil and release methane, all while people domestically and internationally die of starvation or are malnourished). This abhorrent misuse of food sounds eerily similar to the issues of water and energy that we are confronting.
I think education is key because, similar to many other facets of life, there is extensive inequality built in to our food system. I think education will bring attention to and alleviate the food deserts that are present in low-income neighborhoods, where fast food restaurants and convenience stores, not grocery stores or markets, are the main source of food. These are typically only good for high calorie, high fat, high sugar, low-nutrition menu items.
I think education will introduce people to the environmental hazards and carbon chain that that is directly linked to the industrial food system, such as the pollution and carbon associated with food production, including, but not limited to, farm machines, fertilizers and pesticides, erosion, deforestation, transport, packaging, etc.
Education will dispel the notion that organic is a niche market and large-scale, industrial farming is the only solution to feeding the growing population. Small, organic farms produce more and are healthier (soil, ecosystem, etc.). People should understand that our current system has been developed to accommodate revenues and commodities.
I think on telling stat is that one time, around the turn of the 20th Century, Los Angeles County was the largest agriculture producing county in the country. Now, only 1% of food consumed in Los Angeles is produced/sourced locally, even when a majority of nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts are grown in our backyard. Urban farming is a great start and agrotowers may ultimately be a part of the solution, but education is the most important aspect needed to create a foundation of food sovereignty and to recreate our food system.