Why Our Food Systems Need a Radical Overhaul

Yves here. Perhaps I am not sufficiently in synch with the modes of exhortation used by some on the left, but I wasn’t keen about the original headline, “Why our food systems must be transformed.” “Transformed” to me sound too magical and pain-free. The article does explain how human food consumption as presently structured is consuming far too much in the way of planetary resources. I’ve been saying for quite a while that we will all be eating lower down on the food chain. If we don’t start getting in front of these food supply issues soon, change will be forced on us regardless.

By Seble Samuel, an Ethiopian-Canadian geographer, storyteller and climate justice advocate based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She campaigns for climate-resilient food systems, sustainable mobility and zero waste. Originally published at openDemocracy

Seble Samuel/CCAFS. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Our food systems face a perilous moment: they are surpassing the fundamental ecological limits of the Earth while leaving billions of people overweight, undernourished or lost in food deserts. As we enter ever further into the climate emergency, continuing to transgress these socio-ecological limits is both immoral and impossible if we want to preserve healthy communities on a habitable planet.

What exactly are we gambling with?

Currently, almost half of global food production relies on conditions that cross planetary boundaries of sustainability. As of today, we have deforested, degraded or otherwise transformed about 50% of the earth’s entire land surface to grow food.

However, the vast majority of agricultural land is used to grow feed to fuel the industrial production of livestock, glucose syrups and biofuels, and this problem is growing day by day. The accelerating expansion of agricultural territory has damaged ecosystems and increased water stress, biodiversity loss and species extinction. On top of these problems, the agricultural sector has become the single largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions globally, wreaking havoc on the climate.

The marine world has fared no better, since we have depleted coastal and freshwater fisheries at an alarming and often non-rechargeable rate, while continuously sucking up around 70% of global freshwater use for agriculture. Excessive fertilizer use and runoff into streams and rivers has left algae blooms and dead zones where marine life simply can’t survive.

But despite this ravaging of the Earth – supposedly to feed and sustain our survival – we are failing to keep up with rising demand for food and provide nourishing food globally. Around two billion adults across the world are either overweight or obese, while more than 820 million are undernourished.

Of all the food produced globally, around one third is lost or wasted from farm to fork. In the poorest corners of the world, communities are plagued with food deserts where healthy and affordable food is simply a mirage.

The problem doesn’t stop there. By 2050 there will be almost 10 billion people living on the Earth, which means about 2.2 billion more mouths to feed than today. The critical question, therefore, is how to create a sustainable food system that can feed and nourish this growing population within known and predictable environmental limits.

One thing is clear: we won’t be able to do this by using current dysfunctional food systems; instead, they have to be transformed, but how?

A number of initiatives have been launched to tackle various elements of food systems transformation. One new initiative, Transforming Food Systems Under a Changing Climate, brings over 100 organizations together to identify the most strategic levers for change and the most urgent actions we need to take collectively.

The key elements of this transformation require revamping the entire agricultural infrastructure to tackle our socio-ecological food crisis in order to create food systems that are de-carbonized, diverse, inclusive, circular and resilient. An indispensable element of this revamping concerns our diets, so what will we eat in a transformed food system?

Shifting diets is a key component of the agricultural overhaul we need to make. At present, the world of food is riddled with contradictions. For example, the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that half of the world consumes 50% more protein than they need, mainly from red meats.

This level of consumption is demonstrably unequal, with overconsumption across the Global North and scarce consumption across much of the Global South (with the exception of Latin America). Animal-based food intake is set to increase by more than 70% by 2050, particularly across lower-income countries where current meat consumption is small.

Meat supply per person, 2017. Source: Our World in Data 2020.

This trajectory of rising meat demand globally will be impossible to sustain. Not only is the overconsumption of red meat triggering public health crises in the form of high cholesterol, heart disease and cancers, it is also generating the largest portion of agricultural emissions – and is therefore the biggest contributor to the trend to surpass ecological boundaries. In fact, the Global Footprint Network estimates that we would require 1.75 Earths to meet the future human demand for meat. But of course, we only have one Earth.

As our collective food choices continue to threaten the planet’s integrity, we need to radically rethink what we eat, since each choice weighs very heavily on the ecosystems of the Earth. The higher we climb up the food chain, the more destructive the impacts become on landscapes, freshwater use and emissions.

Resource consumption by food type, 2010. Source: WRI Creating a Sustainable Food Future 2018.

To curb this destruction, we have to shift what we eat individually, collectively and at scale, particularly across high- and middle-income countries. Consuming lower on the food chain, finding alternative proteins, building agro-biodiversity, eating locally and promoting plant-based diets will need to become commonplace.

According to a report from the EAT-Lancet Commission, this planetary shift in diets means that our plates will be filled with more whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but less red meat, starchy vegetables and refined sugars. It also means we have to waste much less food generally.

These changes will be exceptionally important across the Global North in order to secure a dramatic drop in agricultural emissions and free up the ecological space for much of Africa and Asia to meet their dietary needs, especially in terms of protein. The diversification of diets to plant-based alternatives will allow for healthy climate-friendly eating while reducing the largest driver of agricultural emissions: beef and dairy consumption.

To make this happen we will need to end subsidies for processed and environmentally damaging foods, and replace them with support and incentives to healthy, affordable and locally-sourced alternatives. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that agriculture globally is propped up by USD $600 billion in annual subsidies. What we choose to subsidize therefore has a massive influence on dietary outcomes, especially for low-income communities.

We will also have to create public health campaigns to promote these alternatives and make clear to consumers that there are ecological and health consequences that stem from their food choices. Just as there are cigarette warnings, our food must reveal its true contents and the risks of eating it.

An indispensable element of this transformation is that we eliminate food waste. This can mean redistributing excess food to the hungry, taxing all food waste, and creating circular food systems that use compost to return food scraps to the soil. In the Global South, we need to modernize transport and storage infrastructure to tackle the brunt of food losses during the post-harvest period and processing.

The challenge of reducing the environmental impacts of what we eat by closing food, land and emissions gaps while moving towards a food future that can feed 10 billion people healthily and sustainably by 2050 is a herculean task. But it’s also a challenge that we can tackle collectively if we decide to grow our food and feed ourselves in a radically different way.

In the era of climate emergency, such a collective shift in our diets is no longer optional; it’s a necessity for a healthy, sustainable and equitable future – for both people and planet.

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41 comments

  1. Keith Newman

    The lifestyle of the developed world involves vast consumption of resources. The burden of agriculture, tourism, large houses, transportation, the war machine, all serving those wants needs to be curtailed. How to do that? Demand sacrifice? Politically that is a non-starter absent emergency conditions. If shortages did emerge the underprivileged peoples of the planet would be forced to endure them. That is the purpose (in large part) of the war machine.
    The solution in my view is to reduce considerably the population of the developed world. The remaining people could still consume a lot but their numbers would be far fewer and the burden far less. The meat consumption map shows which countries need to reduce their population…

    1. Susan the other

      It would not be a bad policy to ration meat, especially beef and pork. For those of us who are diehard carnivores (me), being rationed would be a good transition away from old habits. Making animals free range is another good step.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If we “ration meat”, what kind of “meat” is it that we will be “rationing”? If we ration factory-feedlot carbon-farting meat, we will have less of a bad thing, but it will still be a bad thing. Whereas if we forbid factory-feedlot meat totally and altogether, that will be one bad thing that we have entirely abolished.

        If we eat carbon-capturing range-and-pasture meat, we are eating a good thing. If carbon-capture range-and-pasture meat is priced the way it should be, then it will be rationed by price alone. Farmer Brown of North Dakota, who has been referenced before, charges $20.00 a pound for his range and pasture carbon-capture beef. And he gets it , too. That is rationing by price.
        And THAT beef is a GOOD thing, because it captures carbon.

        And in fact, the more carbon capture range-and-pasture beef that people eat, the more carbon gets captured on all the carbon-capturer farms in the world. So carbon-capture beef should be rationed ONLY by price. The more of it that people decide they can afford to buy and eat, the more carbon bio-capture those “green beef” consumers are subsidizing.

        Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat. Lead the money around by the nose.
        Carbon-farting agriculture should be exterminated from off the face of the earth. Carbon-capturing agriculture should take its place. Eating as much carbon-capture Green Beef as one can possibly afford is one way to do that.

    2. Adam Eran

      …an excellent case for more wars to curtail population growth.

      Meanwhile, you can eat tree bark with good salsa. “Sacrifice” is not an accurate description of abandoning animal foods. I’ve actually lived in Louisiana (state vegetable: butter) and ate lots of meat and seafood there, so I know what it is to enjoy those things. Now, I’m more than 30 years vegan, and feel I’ve never eaten better, nor been healthier…so “sacrifice” would imply I’ve given something up. Not so.

      I’d say the author’s request to terminate ag subsidies is justified, though. Especially since 40% of ag income, says Michael Pollan, who quotes one farmer saying the subsidy system is “like laundering money for Cargill and ADM.”

  2. Ignacio

    I see that Spain is amongst the worst in meat per person though we eat a lot of pork and less beef. Anyway I love the legume picture and I love legumes: Garbanzo beans are my favourites followed by lentils and all kinds of beans, kidney beans that make some of our best winter meals. Though in many cases these are cooked with some meat. I like making and eating ‘cocido madrileño’. And I am in love with Ethiopian cuisine.

  3. The Rev Kev

    I can think of a few changes. End monoculture, grow food locally and don’t transport it across the country for consumption, ban growing crops for export until the food consumption needs of that country are filled first, ban the sale of meat on one or two days a week, get rid of those ships which act as virtual vacuum cleaners for fish and go and put a tonnage limit on them.
    But I’m still not eating bugs as some have suggested.

    1. Off The Street

      Across history, who willingly ate bugs? Who continued to eat bugs when there were any alternatives to hunt, gather or pastoralize?

      It is not unreasonable to associate eating bugs with avoidance of starvation, as a last ditch effort to survive during uncertainty, famine, pestilence or other troubled times. Scotty from Marketing and others have their work cut out for them.

      1. EMtz

        In much of México, insects are considered a delicacy. Chapulines/grasshoppers, particularly, roasted and sauteed with chile lime salt and served in a warm corn taco with fresh and sliced sweet onion. Some people like to add guacamole. In Oaxaca, these insects are encouraged to gather during the rainy season in fields where they are fed certain native plants to make them more sweet and succulent. I was skeptical at first but I’ve developed a taste for them.

      2. EMtz

        In much of México, ants, ant larvae, even scorpions are considered a delicacy. Chapulines/grasshoppers are a seasonal food, sautéed with chile lime salt and served in a warm corn taco with fresh cilantro and sliced sweet onion. Some people, mostly gringos, like to add guacamole. In Oaxaca, these insects are encouraged to gather during the rainy season in fields where they are fed certain native plants to make them more sweet and succulent. I was skeptical at first but I’ve developed a taste for them.

    2. Hoppy

      I like the local food concept in every way.

      But food security in the era of climate change will likely require ‘help from thy neighbor’. As well as subsidies to keep local farms in business after climate induced crop failures and/or a farmer’s constant friend/foe…the weather.

  4. Hoppy

    “the overconsumption of red meat triggering public health crises in the form of high cholesterol, heart disease and cancers”

    A very questionable statement. Obesity from sugar and processed foods is the cause of the real public health crisis in our diet.

    1. carl

      Yeah, the gratuitous swipe at meat reduced the credibility of the piece for me. I’m really really tired of the diet wars at this point.

    2. Ignacio

      This argument is not correct. Sugar is indeed a problem but this doesn’t mean there aren’t other problems with our diets. You cannot blame everything to sugar. Meats and processed meats contain unsaturated and trans-insaturated fatty acids, and though these are high energy components that can be used and stored, they are also the source for low density lipids whose accumulation can be harmful and a source for cardiopathies. The Am. Heart Soc. recommends a drastic reduction in those intakes.

      1. Hoppy

        I’m not sure that is settled science, even if it is a heart society recommendation

        What we know is being overweight, even a little, may dramatically effect your lipid profiles.

        Maybe if we were all slim and looking for an edge, the red meat recommendation ‘might’ make sense.

        But for (most?) Americans, cutting back on sugar and processed foods will likely lead to better health outcomes, especially if they are overweight, than worrying about red meat intake.

        Processed meats I won’t defend.

        It’s a hot area of research. Like the USDA food pyramid, politics prevails.

        Just one example of many that says the science in inconclusive.

        https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2019/4729040

      2. Paul Whittaker

        suggested reading “deep Nutrition” vegetable oils and sugar the two big causes of modern ailments. the veg oils when heated (which most it) contain mega trans fatty acids, pufa’s and free radicals which cause havoc. “Sugar is cancers favorite food” is a quote from the book.
        As for local I remember 70’s UK exported 30.000 tons of chicken to France and France exported 30,000 tons of chicken to the UK. numbers may not be correct but the proportions are. Why, well we give subsidies to farmers/companies to export goods………

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        The Am. Heart Soc. may well be thinking of corporate feedlot shitmeat which ate petrochemical GMO shitcorn and shitsoy and built up all those shitfats in their own bodies. Which the people who eat corporate feedlot shitmeat then eat.

        What is the fatty acid profile and levels of pasture and range beef? How would a diet permitting a certain amount of “green” beef solely and only compare to a corporate shitmeat diet?

    3. Adam Eran

      Sorry, that’s not what the studies say. See The China Study, an account of the largest-ever study of the connection between diet and health by Columbia biochemist Colin Campbell. His conclusion is that animal protein is implicated in all the chronic health problems that beset the first world now, including obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease, artery disease, autoimmune diseases (lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis), diabetes, even Alzheimers. Campbell is legit, too. Among other things, he previously discovered the mold-based carcinogen aflatoxin.

      To me probably his most eloquent argument is the fact that Campbell grew up on a dairy farm, eating plenty of meat and milk, and now tours the country promoting the whole foods, plant based diet.

      If you have Netflix, take a look at The Game Changers, Forks Over Knives, and What the Health?. They make a pretty strong case that animal protein is a less-than-optimum source of food.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Science should zero in on the health effects of strictly pasture-and-range shinola meat as against feedlot shitmeat. And also compare the health effects of pasture-and-range shinola meat as against various kinds of vegetarian and vegan.

        It would be nice to know what all the real truths really are.

  5. jackiebass

    A problem I see is the form the food is in when we consume. There is too much processed food. That’s because every step in processing means profit. Also a problem is where people consume their food. There is too much eating out of the house. When I worked most people bought their lunch somewhere instead of bringing it from home. For breakfast the stopped on their way to work to get something to eat. Many often stopped on their way hone to pick up a take out for the evening meal. One person I worked with never cooked at home. All three meals were from an outside source. That was for 365 days each year. The biggest driver for this is work. My mother didn’t have an outside job until I was14. My dad worked in the factory. We had a garden for produce. Most houses had a vegetable garden and some even raised chickens and even a pig. Today both parents, if there are two, work away from home. Older children have part time jobs. We have been made to believe that we need every new gadget that come out. Every member of the family has a cell phone. They aren’t cheap. There are several TV’s in the house. Each driver has their own car. We have become captive of consumption. All of this eats up valuable natural resources. Farmers used to be small family owned farms. The farmer was a steward of the land, Today farms are big corporate owned farms. Many of them are only there to make the biggest profit off the land. They don’t take care of it but exploit it. when the land is no longer productive, they will simply move on. This is neoliberalism at its finest.

    1. carl

      Exactly right. I believe the food industry refers to processing as “adding value.” For example, I once saw packaged hard-boiled eggs at Costco, for people too lazy to boil an egg. Of course, most of the processing is not so benign; most of it adds all kinds of ingredients that you’d never voluntarily choose to put in your body, so that it tastes better or has a longer shelf life or something. Whatever the reason for the processing, it has nothing to do with making the food better for human consumption.

      1. a different chris

        Not exactly right – although I agree with your post (and the one above about meat being blamed) but the hit on “never cooking at home” is not well thought out.

        A restaurant can feed your family of 4 way more efficiently as far as “food waste” than you can. They have people absolutely dedicated to minimizing waste. And other efficiencies, like making a lot of stuff (again professionally) at once, with one stove that’s heated up once, instead of a suburban neighborhood with everybody preheating.

        Oh, and a real restaurant with actual china doesn’t have all those brown bags and plastic baggies waste.

        Now things chip away at that, such as if you have to get back in the car to go out to eat (do note though that the car is generally necessary in the US for grocery trips, and if you want “fresh wholesome” food then you gotta go at least once a week if not more).

        1. jackiebass

          Have you ever worked in a restaurant? The idea that they are more efficient can’t be verified by an independent study. In most homes there is little waste. People take portions the size they will eat. In my house leftovers become lunch. I go to a small bar restaurant with a limited menu. Their main dish is spaghetti. No pizza, French fries or burgers are served. In effect they serve one thing. You can have a dish of spaghetti in 5 minuets. Everything is pre cooked . The noodles are cooked cooled and put into hot water to warm up as needed. The sauce is cooked and some kept hot on the stove from 11:00A.M. to 10:00P.M. The water to heat the noodles is kept hot all of that time. To say they cook a large amount at one time might be true for some things they serve but not all. A relatively big restaurant probably has several cooks preparing different things. So to say the stove is heated up once, things are cooked and then served, just isn’t true.

          1. polecat

            I will chime in, just to mention that any food waste .. even including some cooked meat scraps (Gasp!) go into our compost bins .. AFTER our laying hens have had their fill first ! We throw out absolutely no food – it is consumed by either the human household .. the Hens ( who return the favor by producing copius amounts of poop, daily!).. or the worms, and other fauna/flora that hang out in the Compost bins .. to become spreadable Garden Gold annually ! Incidentally, I save any leftover charcoal from the woodstove, to be crushed into smaller aggregates, to then be added to our raised-garden beds each Spring. ‘Waste Not / Want Not’

            I will admit that we are probably a small outlier within our town’s boundries …

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              But if your fellow townspeople ” could ” do what you are doing, then someday they just may do what you are doing. It could start from your visible first example.

              1. polecat

                There are others around town doing what they can. But I perceive that for many, attempting to achieve the vestiges of the Murican Dream is still paramount .. they’re still ensconced in the old paradigm, and have yet to realise how things have changed, since the turn of the century. As I may have mentioned recently, I consider both Trump and Sanders are as nothing if not change-agents .. in an unpredictable, and at times unraveling future .. towards a new equalibrium. Covid19 is going to help bring it on … in spades !!

                Buckle up Kiddies .. and get your gardens going, as if your life depend1ed on it !

        2. carl

          My problem with restaurants is the same as with the food “industry”: they are in business to make a profit, by selling food. This food is going to be prepared, by and large, with the cheapest ingredients they can get away with and not affect the taste, specifically a lot of cheap vegetable oils, which have a lot of Omega 6 fats, as does most processed food. Also, the food in restaurants is optimized to taste good to most people, even if it means using excessive amounts of fat and/or sugar. My cooking at home, in contrast, is optimized for my health.

  6. Scott D

    No mention of the topsoil destruction, fossil fuel use, and water pollution that stems from millions of acres of corn being grown to produce ethanol at a net energy loss? It’s the modern equivalent of turning gold into lead.

    1. a different chris

      Is it really a net energy loss? Do you have a link? *NOT* that I’m supporting it, but I always saw “8 barrels to make 9” which is hardly inspiring but not a net loss.

    2. Susan*

      Indeed. Topsoil loss is a massive issue. Also, the article is focused on consumers rather than farmer regenerators. Clean water, air, carbon sequestration in the soil via appropriate methodology has amazing capability to restore aquifers, relocalize the small water cycle and cool the planet. I think Michael Pollan’s small volume gets it right: eat food, mostly plants. Not too much.
      For those who would like to better understand the important role of regenerative agriculture I can recommend soil carbon cowboys, and the lectures of Walter Jehne. Without the postwar nerve gas pesticides and bomb remains fertilizer inputs of the green revolution, farmers practicing regen ag can mitigate climate change and provide more nutrient dense food for everyone while increasing their own profitability. Exhale y’all. It’s begun.

  7. upstater

    Increased consumption of nuts is puzzling from a resource perspective. Many or most nuts in the US come from groves in California that require fast amounts of water for irrigation. Almonds require a gallon of water for each nut! All of these desert grown nuts are very water intensive. Less water than beef, but still a massive amount.

    Hazelnuts are more sustainable, but not widely used in the US.

  8. Amfortas the hippie

    the most important sentence in the article:
    “To make this happen we will need to end subsidies for processed and environmentally damaging foods, and replace them with support and incentives to healthy, affordable and locally-sourced alternatives.”

    fruits and veggies and nuts are considered “specialty crops” for the purposes of farm subsidy.

    and it’s not only lack of subsidy—-becoming an
    “Approved Source”…ie: being able to legally sell a tomato to a local cafe…is arduous, and often requires a small farmer to satisfy regulatory requirements that are geared to(and written by) Big Ag…which all but removes any profit motive, unless you Go Big.
    an example is eggs….back when i was actively yelling at congresscritters about this, i did a lot of research on egg regs specifically.
    to be legit, one cannot have a chicken house and yard eggs. the regs encourage Gigantism. the only way to make your certified, legit egg production viable is to build 10 giant egg barns…to become an egg factory.
    it’s essentially the same with fruits and veggies…although the regs are easier to get around.

    not mentioned in the article is one of my biggest peeves with bidness as usual: barriers to entry in the distribution.
    you can get all compliant with the government regs and be completely legitimate…but then be told that your local store won’t take your produce…you have to take it to the warehouse, first(this really happened)…300 miles away.
    or you have to obtain a “vendor number”…which i understand, in theory, but…which is often all but impossible to get.
    when i was growing organic certified fancy lettuce and greens, produce manager at the nearest Real grocery Store took a look at my samples, and said “yes. bring me 50-100# per week.”.
    but when i did, i learned only then about the vendor number, and set about obtaining one.(even ten years earlier, this was not a thing)
    took 2 years, 3 million in insurance, and navigating a whole lot of clerical hurdles that have nothing to do with the quality of the produce, and everything to do with limiting the competition that the giant growers have to face.
    it’s possible to get through all this(I came close, but bad luck intervened at the end)…but it’s hard, and costs a lot of money.
    once you do all this, the head guy at the warehouse will take issue with the packaging…”industry standard” for bagged fancy lettuce, for instance, is a special ziploc that is made by a sister corporation to the cartel of Giant Lettuce Corporations in California…ie: my direct competitors.
    they’d sell those bags…but at a cost that totally removed the profit incentive.
    this bag issue, after everything else, is what drove me out of legitimate farming(again,it wasn’t like this even ten years earlier)
    these are esoteric issues for the majority of people, I know…but if we really want to change the food system for the better…so that we have some semblance of food security and local ag and all the rest…then tackling them is paramount.
    for the current pandemic, as i said, I’m going Long on the gardens…and it will be totally Black Market Gardening.
    which is insane, if you think about it.
    rant: off.
    off to vote

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      I should add the caveat(there’s always a caveat), that some people do manage to break through the nonsense and get their blackberry jelly, or tomatoes, on the shelves…i am acquainted with quite a few folks who have.
      but the one’s i have known got in before it got so crazy(grandfather clause), or were wealthy to begin with*, so don’t need to actually make a living.
      my favorite grocer(heb) treats their employees pretty well(which makes up for some of their failings)…and has made a big deal out of Locally Grown and Organic for 20 years.
      my nearest store does have some local tomatoes and spinach…both run by (relatively) rich people, with greenhouses and infrastructure galore….and connections to local wealth and power.
      anyone else must go through what i did, with the vendor number, etc.

      as for “Organic”…when they federalised Organic Certification, it all but ruined lifetimes of work and advocacy by people like me, who had built Texas’ pretty derned good certification program…and the “industry” that we built from the ground up.(at the time, i had Hightower on speed-dial,lol)
      again…all geared towards Corporate Ag wanting to horn in on that growing market that folks like me had identified and built.
      the regs are a shambles…and the big boys can get away with so many “exceptions” that the term “organic” is meaningless.
      on the other side(the bottom, as it were) I couldn’t get certified now if i wanted to….just the regs for manure handling alone would nix the whole thing…because i am not a giant corp with a separate Division for manure and compost(and sewage sludge).
      regular folks going into a store and buying “organic” produce think they’re thereby saving the world…but that’s far from the truth.
      Burn it all and start over.
      Parity Pricing, Local, Sustainable, and with a face and an address(Know Yer Farmer)

      (*winegrapes are an example of this latter….the hurdles are nuts…one must go hang out at the soiree with the grandees…at $100 per plate…to even get a foot in the door. the quality of the grape…let alone the ethics of it’s production…are never even mentioned. what matters is who you know “in the industry” and how fancy your clothes are. winegrapes are an extreme example of what’s wrong with ag)

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I believe you have identified why so many of the farms around where I live stick with growing soybeans and corn, with the actual farming done by latter day share-croppers [at least that’s what I’ve been told]. The share-croppers can build the production scale needed to overcome the many market barriers you identified. The land-owners benefit from the state property tax benefits from holding a minimum of five-acres of what can be classified as “farm property”.

        I believe market barriers similar to those you described for farming are holding back small producers in many areas of our economy. Strange how “it wasn’t like this even ten years earlier”.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      A lot of those barriers-to-entry requirements which you are describing will have to be overtly and specifically outlawed in detail.

      If co-ops and farmers markets which don’t impose such requirements are also able to buy and re-sell enough production from organic farmers to support them in business, then that is another outlet for their production, IF they do not subject you to these same ” our special bag at our special price” barriers.

      There is perhaps another attemptable thing. Someone here in Ann Arbor created the Argus Farm Stop where farmers who also sell at local farmers markets can sell more and more reliably at Argus Farm Stop.
      I believe it is some kind of consignment arrangement. Argus gets 20% of the money from whatever sells and the grower gets the other 80%. The farmers markets are becoming partway a Vendor Display Zone for farmers who also sell more-of-the-same at Argus.
      http://www.argusfarmstop.com/

  9. Tom Bradford

    Industrialised farming was just taking off when I was a boy and I still remember a local countryside of small farms at the center of a patchwork of hedge-bounded fields and small copses.

    This, of course, was not a natural landscape as 500-years earlier it would have been small villages working the three-field system in the immediate vicinity surrounded by large areas of natural woodland supplying building materials, firewood and game.

    Now, though, even that countryside of my youth has gone as the hedges have been bulldozed and the ditches and streamlets piped to create the vast fields suitable for modern bus-sized machinery.

    Once long ago I asked a local farmer why one of his fields was a particularly odd and patently inconvenient shape even for his modest tractor and five-furrow plough. He told me that each field on his farm reflected its unique soil-type, drainage and orientation so that anything planted in it came ready for harvest at the same time. All gone now, and the variation erased by modern, bland seed-types, chemicals and brute force.

    The same has happened in the wine industry. In the old wine-growing regions the vines were grown in higgledy-piggledy paddocks each reflecting its unique soil etc and producing wine of a distinctive nature – possible because all the viticulture was done by hand. Now vineyards cover tens of hectares squared off for the efficient use of machines, with the resulting wines uniformly bland and characterless.

  10. Jenny

    Well as far resource use is concerned the new lab grown meat products use upto 80% less resources. If they can get the price down, it may help a lot to reduce resource usage. Or we can all just eat the rich 😆

  11. rtah100

    The graph of land-use in this article makes no sense.

    It takes the same amount of land to graze a cow for dairy as for beef, probably more because she is eating for two much of the time. But the beef cow appears to require 8-10x the land area to deliver the same calories.

    I suspect this is an artefact of ranching. In the UK, beef cows are raised on grass in small herds grazing in fields, moved between fields every few days. In hotter, drier, emptier countries, they are allowed to room freely across vast ranches. So the land use looks more but this is land will *never* grow a bushel of wheat and the cows are not necessarily treading all that heavily on its ecology compared to a wheatfield on arable soil. In the UK, sheep are farmed this way on upland (boggy / rocky, useless for arable but sheep do OK). The graph falls apart once you realise that acres are not fungible but differ in the farming practices they can support.

    I also think it is just plain wrong because at the end of the dairy cycle, you have beef! It requires no extra land at all.

    It looks like the author believes meat is bad and has picked arguments and presentations to suit.

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