Talking About Food SecurityBy
I came across this blog post written by Charlie Jackson, the Executive Director of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. ASAP is the area’s lead agency in promoting farmers, buying local, healthy eating, and a sustainable food future. Penned nearly four years ago, the post is just as applicable today as it was then, and its age ought to let you know just how far ahead of the curve ASAP has been.
I believe that what we choose to eat is important and can be one of the most effective and significant actions we can take to clean up the environment, protect our landscape and rural culture, and improve human health. It is a choice we can make three times a day that can have immediate and profound effects. It is a choice more and more people are making that has now become a local food movement to take back control of what we consume by becoming more mindful eaters.
Eating used to be intimately connected to farming. There was a time, not so long ago, when everyone knew where their food came from and trusted that their neighbor farmers would provide them with safe and nutritious food that strengthened local economies and did not pollute the community or exploit workers.
In the last half century, to the detriment of farmers all over the world, food has been treated as just another industrial product to be freely traded in a global market. This has removed farming, and its connection to the food that we eat, from most of our lives. Most of us no longer have any knowledge of where our food comes from, how it is grown, or who grows it. This leaves us impoverished, vulnerable, and disconnected from one of the most important things we do every day.
Today, Americans pay less for food than anyone in the world. We also have the greatest abundance of food choices in human history available to us. If our only goal is extremely cheap food that is widely available then our current food system is a triumph. If our goal, on the other hand, is human and environmental health, social justice, and strong local economies, it has been a terrible failure.
Now we are in danger of losing most of our farms in America. In the last century we moved from being a nation of a majority of farmers to one with less than 2% of the population in agriculture. Today there are more people in prison than there are people claiming farming as an occupation. The logic of a system that strives to produce food for the cheapest cost possible is for farm production to completely move out of this country to areas with more relaxed labor and environmental regulations.
Because the food system today is so hidden and disconnected from the act of eating, we all end up supporting a system that we would reject if it were made more visible. That’s where the local food movement comes in. It is a movement to make the invisible food system visible and accountable. It is about making eating decisions based on knowledge and values.
The ideals of this country were founded on the independence that came from being connected to food and farming. Thomas Jefferson envisioned a community of engaged farmers, free from outside influence and able to act independently. Because they owned their livelihood, citizens could make decision based on the good of the community. He wrote in 1785 that “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it’s liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”
Needless to say things did not turn out exactly like Jefferson envisioned. During Jefferson’s time most Americans were farmers. Today North Carolina has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in the loss of farmers.
What we have evolved into is a country of consumers. As consumers we have lost our connection to food and farms and with that loss of connection we have lost some of our liberty. Because we no longer have connections with food and farms we end up supporting an agriculture industry that is harming the land, turning animals into industrial inputs, and destroying rural communities.
The local food movement, I believe, is an important and fundamental step in regaining our independence and taking back control. As eaters we do have power. Every day when we decide what food we are going to eat we are making a decision about our rural landscape and culture, our health, and the fate of our family farms.