Are Our Ideas About Sustainable Food Out of Date?

Are Our Ideas About Sustainable Food Out of Date?
Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 11 march 2009

The ways our food is produced, packaged and shipped stand at the center of an ongoing debate about the health of our planet and ourselves, but the key to creating a sustainable system may rely on our collective ability to accept a realistic solution as a opposed to a perfect one. And this involves a concerted effort on the part of not only producers and consumers, but policy makers as well.

If we examine the farming methods in our country, we find a polarizing set of standards – industrial monoculture machines that favor high yields and high profits and smaller outfits that focus on growing numerous crops using a methodology that is less invasive and more closely mimics nature. Within this landscape the prevailing attitude seems to be “all or nothing” and there’s very little room for alternative approaches in between. In his Mother Jones piece, “Spoiled: Organic and Local Is So 2008,” Paul Roberts wonders whether this narrow viewpoint has now seeped into all of our discussions about food, prompting him to ask, how do we fix the current system without the fits and starts along the way? The short answer is, we probably don’t.

Working off of a popular definition for sustainable food put forth by the W.K Kellogg Foundation – ecologically benign, nutritious, produced without injustice and affordable – Roberts discovers only about 2% of the food purchased in the U.S. qualifies under these rigorous guidelines.  As bleak as this statistic might be, he merely mentions them as a point of reference, showing us the distance we have left to travel unless of course, we change the direction of where exactly it is we want to go.

And while the above definition may have our best intentions in mind, it fails to consider the most important point – how do we stay sustainable while feeding the growing population? Former director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Fred Kirschenmann, notes that real sustainability hinges on questions of “whether the food system can sustain itself – that is keep going, indefinitely, in a world of finite resources.” With some estimates placing the world’s population at 9 billion – 70% in or around cities – by 2050, we have to take a hard look at scaling up to meet that need.

Of course, there’s no reason we can’t fold these two perspectives together into one uber-definition, but before we do that, perhaps we need to rethink our priorities. Our conversations can no longer be solely framed around buzzwords like local – our fascination with food miles – and organic – pesticides vs. manure – or a wholesale dismissal of big agriculture – which at the very least needs to be applauded for its efficiencies – but need to entertain a broader perspective as we seek practical, hybrid solutions to our food issues. To that end, Roberts leaves us with several thoughts to ponder:

  • Instead of completely ending the use of synthetic fertilizers, dramatically reduce the need.
  • Accept that shipping globally is necessary for ensuring every nation’s food security, but rethink what we’re transporting and where.
  • Leverage the best practices of farms on multiple scales. Using large operations to produce commodities like grain and smaller outfits to grow locally.
  • Redirect money to support research and farmers willing to risk testing new models – poly-face farms etc.
  • Drive demand by requiring federal agencies and food programs to source from local and organic producers. 

Mother Jones: Spoiled: Organic and Local Is So 2008

[image via “Hungry Planet” appearing in Time]


Dubai And The Future Of Humanitarian Design

Design & Architecture
Technology Yesterday

Concept Camera Designed To Only Take Unique Photos

Camera Restricta is tool that prompts photographers to only capture one-of-a-kind images

Design & Architecture Yesterday

Fragrance Will Release The Smell Of Data If Your Private Information Is Being Leaked

The device is designed to create a physical cue for the potential dangers lurking online


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Retail Yesterday

LYNK & CO Is A New Auto Brand That Promises Mobile Connectivity On Wheels

Online access and mobility sharing are driving the company to disrupt the auto industry

Related Expert

Yves Behar

Industrial Design and Brand Development

Travel Yesterday

Become A Citizen Of The First Nation In Space

Asgardia is a new concept for a floating society above Earth

Entertainment Yesterday

Speaker Displays Song Lyrics As Music Is Played

The device is able to generate the graphics on a translucent screen and retrieve the words from a connected database

AI Yesterday

Travel Assistant Scans Your Emails To Make Planning Easier

This AI add-on will sync with your inbox and sends reminders to make sure you don't miss anything important


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Health Expert: Nutritional Meal Replacements Are A Solution To Corporate Wellness

Ample Foods Founder Connor Young explains why supplements are the next food trend coming to the workplace

PSFK Labs Yesterday

PSFK Picks: Top 5 Performance-Enhancing Wearables

Our new report looks at innovations pioneering the future of performance through intelligent activewear and predictive analytics

Millennials Yesterday

FOMO Survival Kit Helps Millennials Cope With Social Anxieties

The satirical product is meant to be a playful diversion for people who feel like they are missing out

Food Yesterday

New York Restaurant Uses Tomato Sushi As Its Newest Meat Alternative

fresh&co is using sous vide Roma tomatoes to create a vegan option that has the texture and taste of tuna

Advertising Yesterday

Red Bull Converts Sao Paulo Payphones Into Data-Driven Bus Schedules

The booths allow city residents to check local transit times through a simple toll-free phone call

Retail Yesterday

Why Experiential Events Could Replace Trade Shows

Marketers are seeking creative and impactful new ways to connect with influencers

Children Yesterday

Modular Kit Teaches Kids How To Make Their Own Robots

MODI features magnetic modules and a platform for programming to encourage experimentation

Infants Yesterday

Work Table Doubles As A Baby Seat

Designer Kunsik Choi created the furniture to facilitate emotional communication between between parents and their children

Technology Yesterday

Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Streamed

Bill Baird's new album explores the relationship between time and music through a website crafted by design team, One Pixel Wide

Technology Yesterday

Wearable Device And Lamp Recreate Beautiful Sunsets In Your Home

Sun Memories can record up to six hours of natural light and reproduce it via a connected light at a later date

No search results found.