I’ve been thinking about two aspects of the food movement that appear contradictory, and I haven’t yet reconciled the two. On the one hand, we seek to farm in a way that minimizes environmental degradation. After all, there is no way to grow food without inflicting some harm on the ecosystem. This suggests we use farming practices that are “sustainable.” It is true there are problems with the word sustainable (largely due to the fact that there is no way to enforce how the word is used; that is a topic for another day). Despite the fuzziness of the term, we all have an intuitive understanding of what we mean when we call for sustainable farming systems: farming that is as good for the earth as is possible. This means we are seeking to increase the production of food that is not grown in the standard conventional farming sector. In this category, organic methods are probably the most easily defined and enforced.
But we know that sustainably raised food and organic food sells for a higher price. So our request for sustainability in agriculture means we are also asking for higher prices, at least in the short run.
On the other hand, we believe all humans have the right to food – which includes geographic and income access. So food should be nearby and people should be able to pay for it. And the food should be healthy (ie not Doritos, despite Pepsi’s claim that Doritos are not so bad for you).
So I wonder how in the world can we meet both goals? How can food be produced in a way that is better for the earth, as well as be accessible to all people? The bulk of the food available right now is targeted towards accessibility, at least in terms of price, with no weight placed on environmental quality. Despite the emphasis on prices, at this point, we are not even meeting the goal of accessibility.
Those of us working on sustainability (organic, in my case) and food access should begin a dialogue. Let’s think about a balancing the need for food access (this is an immediate need) and environmental health (which determines our long run production capacity).