The round-up: the dark and light of Future Food

Beth-2014-1The past six months have provided us with a wonderful kaleidoscope of visions of future food — thought packages from a dozen leaders, thinkers and writers, published on our blog site every two weeks. I have had the privilege of knowing most of the writers for some time, and yet these pieces have revealed surprising reflections and new lessons. To wrap up the series, I revisited the blogs as a whole and offer some highlights and reflections riffing off them — quoting shamelessly with the aim of enticing readers (back) into their stories and nuggets of wisdom.

Our bloggers say that the future of food is dark and light.

Dark, because many of our current practices, culture and systems are proving to be destructive of our health, environment and communities. We see this in Indigenous communities whose traditional relationship to agriculture, land and food heritage has been disrupted, and who often suffer from food insecurity; in a seafood world mired by facelessness; in toxic junk food ads for KFC’s finger-lickin’ good nail polish; and in weather patterns which are now unpreventable, which for some farmers will be difficult or impossible to adapt to.

Light, because of the hope living behind the emergent edge of food which is hyper-local; the potential for land to deliver good yields without sacrificing biodiversity, nutrition and equitable returns to farmers; the willingness of entrepreneurs and food investors to live more lightly on the planet; the new-found ability of fishers and eaters to be reconnected through technology; and the current opportunity to create a joined-up food policy in Canada – for we live in amazing times with endless possibility. The light is also seen in the love of food described in each blogger’s comfort food and in the wealth of people, organizations and movements they call on us to follow for inspiration, ideas and vision about the future of food.
If the food system is a constantly moving pendulum, one side could be represented by the diafiltered milk described by Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc: it leads to efficiencies and lower prices for consumers. The other side could be represented by milk from the endangered Canadienne breed – adding diversity in the genetic pool and resilience to the food system. Andrew Heintzman foresees the pendulum swinging toward greater resilience (or sustainability), as evidenced by the top 25 US food companies losing $18 billion in market share while organic food sales tripled.

The efficiency end of the pendulum may mean lower prices in the short term, but they come at a high cost to the environment, our health and local economies. As Ruth Richardson points out, if sustainable, diversified and resilient producers are ever to succeed, we need to include the true cost of production in the bottom line. There is a need for a parallel movement to ensure adequate distribution of resources in our society so that we can all pay the real cost of food, meaning that no one needs to resort to food banks or low-quality food.
Hal Hamilton writes that we do-gooders try and sort out the heroes and villains in this story, but the actors don’t divide out that way. I know that when I drive out to our CSA farm to ‘pitch in’ for a few hours, the gas spent getting out there has outweighed any benefit our labour contributes, but it makes me feel heroic. As we design our work on the future of food in health care through Nourish, I try to remember that there are no villains but rather a morass of systemic barriers making it difficult to provide fresh, healthy and sustainable food in hospitals.
But a different world is possible. As we move into the future of food, let’s remember that it is history which shows us the astonishing things we can accomplish together.

Read all the blogs from this series:
  1. Future Food, by Beth Hunter, Sustainable Food Systems Director
  2. Back to the future: re-balancing our food systems, by Andrew Heintzman, CEO and co-founder of InvestEco
  3. Future Food: Conserving diversity for climate resilienceby Jane Rabinowicz, Director of the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security at USC Canada and Bob Wildfong,  Executive Director of Seeds of Diversity Canada
  4. The Future of Food: From the Personal to the Global, blog by Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food
  5. Technology takes us back to the future of fishby Eric Enno Tamm, General Manager, This Fish
  6. Reading the Future in a Glass of Milkby Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc, Sustainable Food System Coordinator, Concordia University
  7. Eating Responsibly: A Daily Challenge for Tomorrow!, by Florence Lefebvre St-Arnaud, Owner, Campanipol Family Farm
  8. National Food Policy and the Future of Food, by Diana Bronson, Executive Director, Food Secure Canada
  9. Three Thresholds from Worse to Better, by Hal Hamilton, Co-director, Sustainable Food Lab
  10. Catching seafood up with the local and sustainable food movementby Justin Cantafio, Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner and Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator at Ecology Action Centre.
  11. Northern Manitoba Community Food Security and Cultural Food Heritageby Carl McCorrister, retired teacher and member of the Peguis Community Garden
  12. Future Food: rebuilding the middle of the food systemby Jessie Radies, Local Food Associate, Northlands
  13. Who gets to decide the future of food?by Nick Saul, President & CEO, Community Food Centres Canada

This post marks the end of the Future Food blog series. Heartfelt thanks to all of the contributors, as well as to Adrienne Hiles and Sophie Silkes, co-conspirators in this project.