This post relates to the second week discussion of Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, exploring food policy issues and the effect of global politics on food systems. To prepare for the discussion, we read articles by Lester Brown, Danielle Nierenberg, Mara Schechter, Marion Nestle, Daniel Pauly, Sandra Steingraber, Guari Jain, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Lucy Bernardini.
A few paragraphs into this week’s readings, I realized how little consideration I give to global issues related to food. My personal focus is just that—personal. My interests are close to home and I choose grassroots activities that will make a difference here. I’m conceptually aware of broader, global issues, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that they don’t touch my heart very often. The shifting sands of global politics and economics are not familiar territory to me.
I was not alone, I discovered. Most of us found these articles difficult to read: a bit tedious. We spoke of not feeling a personal connection to big issues like food insecurity on a national level. We were loosely aware of the resulting “land grabs” by wealthy countries, which buy up agricultural land in poorer countries to ensure their own country’s food far into the future. As a group, we realized our lack of knowledge of our country’s farm subsidies and how they relate to the real cost of food. We dived into the dizzying world of seafood, puzzling over what defines sustainable, and who defines it.
I was not alone in admitting that I look for simple rules; when a topic (like sustainable seafood) becomes overwhelmingly complex, I bow out. Skip the seafood. The more complex the topic, the more I look for the bottom line.
We pushed ourselves to follow the suggested questions, but most of us seemed to be reaching for personal connections to the material to bring these lofty topics down to earth. We got there, little by little. Below are a few nuggets that I took out of our discussion.
- These are issues that we need to know about, so the readings and discussion are important. Perhaps applying more discipline to seeking out this kind of information would be a good thing.
- It’s okay if our political comfort zone is local, but we need to do our part by calling and writing to our politicians. We need to talk to people and voice our concerns—publicly.
- We should all learn more about the Farm Bill, know where the subsidies are going in our communities and what else the bill funds, even though we’re consumers, not farmers. Knowing that the Farm Bill supports aisle upon aisle of high-fructose corn syrup products in the grocery store is just sickening.
- When taking a stand on a complex issue like whether or not organic agriculture can feed the world, it’s good to be open to and consider the opposing points of view; too often, we listen only to people with whom we’re already predisposed to agree.
- Making ethical, sustainable, smart food choices is endlessly complex, but our actions are still important. For example, asking questions at food stores and restaurants is one important way to demonstrate our concern and prompt suppliers to learn more themselves. Where does this fish come from? How was it caught?
Pushing ourselves to understand global food issues is a good thing, we agreed. Although we didn’t say it this way, I came home with the feeling that it’s a good thing in the same way that flossing your teeth is good, or washing the underbody of your car. Important, but not compelling or from the heart.
Ours is an energetic group of smart, committed people, people who care deeply about food and are already living the changes we want to see in our communities. Even so, we struggled with this week’s topic. Several of us commented, in closing, that we hoped the next readings would be more energizing and personal. I came away feeling kind of powerless—the problem just seems so big. We don’t regret spending some time on the subject of global food politics, and I’m sure this information will fall into place over time in each of our personal frameworks of knowledge. Who knows, maybe we’ll be inspired to dig a little deeper and work harder to connect the global with the local in our lives.
“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” ~Wendell Berry