Monday, October 15, 2012

Blog Action Day: A Collective Vote with Our Forks

Our food system is complex. Not just because we grow many different crops; or because climate change and land degradation are making it harder to grow them; or because they are shipped all around the world before landing on a grocery shelf. No, our food system is complex because the actors with an interest in that system are complex.

Take a moment to think. Beyond the farmer and the landowner (unless you are dealing just with direct markets), there are wholesalers, processors, procurers, sales and marketing people, grocery employees, commodity traders...the list goes on. But what each of these stakeholders has in common, from the smallest of the farmers to the head honcho of an agribusiness, is that his job, the relevance of his work, depends on you the consumer. 

However, while you can calculate the water footprint of your diet, or purchase only local, seasonal, and organic, at the end of the day you are just one person. Changing the food system is truly a collective effort. It means expanding the network of people making conscious food decisions, where the power of a group of eaters is larger than that of any single individual. And it is why this 'new' and 'alternative' food movement has attracted so much attention: it has shifted from a fringe fancy of hippies and tree-hugging organic farmers, to a more mainstream lifestyle focused on awareness of environmental, physical, and social impacts.

Moreover, the direct connection of eater and grower plays an important role in shaping and encouraging this collective action. This is something I see every Sunday, selling organic produce at the farmers market - the power that knowledge, trust, and motivation can have in changing an entrenched agriculture and food sector. As Michael Pollan noted in a New York Times Magazine article, "with the organic movement, consumers and farmers have shown how they can work together as cocreators of an alternative food system. We need to join together now, to recruit a larger and larger army of cocreators, to rewrite the rules of the game — and 'cocreate' a different kind of food system."

This is my third year participating in Blog Action Day, and the theme this year is "The Power of We." Past years have focused on a range of environmental and social issues: Last year's theme of 'food' coincided with World Food Day (tomorrow); In 2010 the theme was 'water' and I looked at payments for watershed services; and 'climate change' took the stage in 2009. But once again, every one of these issues involves a good or service in the public domain, where movement towards solutions will require cooperation and coordination.

To make large-scale lasting change, collective action is necessary. To learn about actions on the consumer end of the food system, read Oxfam's The Food Transformation. To enter the policy sphere, and take action on US farm policy, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's website.

No comments: