menu

Are Our Ideas About Sustainable Food Out of Date?

Are Our Ideas About Sustainable Food Out of Date?
Cities
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]

Cities
Trending

Garmin's New Smartwatch Is Challenging The Luxury Market

Design
Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Today

Airport Mural Puts Passengers In The Clouds

The installation in an Amsterdam terminal lets travelers float through a series of billowing 3D digital shapes

Trending

Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Retail: Technology Primer

See All
Automotive Today

DevBot Is An Intelligent, Driverless, Electric Car

The unmanned test vehicle from RoboRace is a preview of upcoming AI race models

Fitness / Sport Today

Turn Any Wearable Into A Mental Health Tracker

Cognition Kit is a software platform that lets people track and better understand their cognitive states

Augmented / Virtual Reality Today

AR Ski Goggles Make Racing Down The Slopes Even More Immersive

Israeli startup RideOn weaves digital overlays into the thrill of skiing with an unconventional pair of protective eyewear

Advertising Today

Japan Wants To Make 2020 Olympic Medals From Recycled Electronic Waste

The Tokyo Games could showcase the first-ever gold, silver and bronze awards made from discarded phones and computers

Culture Today

This Small Town Has Become A Hide-and-Seek World Championship Destination

An old abandoned village in Northern Italy has become a massive playground for over one hundred competitive players

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed august 24, 2016

Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight

PSFK Labs Today

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Syndicated Yesterday

What Could The Highway Of The Future Look Like?

As technology for automated vehicles improves, there’s a sharper focus on building a ‘smarter’ infrastructure where they can thrive

Design Yesterday

Plastic Wind Trees Are Bringing Sustainable Power To Residential Homes

These French-made turbines are offering a small, aesthetically pleasing approach to affordable personal energy

Home Yesterday

Dyson’s Wi-Fi Connected Fan Purifies, Cools & Heats The Air

The new luxury home appliance aims to be an all-in-one device for the connected home

Education Yesterday

Bringing Virtual Reality And Telepresence Robotics To E-Learning

This Learning Management System is embracing new technologies to reallocate teaching resources to where they should be going

Advertising Yesterday

Brewing Company Turns Car Emissions Into Ink

Tiger Beer has created a sustainable process to transform air pollution into supplies for street art

INSIGHTS COVERAGE

Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games
READ NOW

Design Yesterday

Space-Saving Sofa Has Extra Furniture Hidden Inside

Living in an apartment with limited space? This three-in-one bed transforms based on your needs

Culture Yesterday

Browser Extension Blocks Any Pages That Make You Unhappy

The software can detect your facial movements and prevent content that brings up negative emotions

Automotive Yesterday

Reserve Your Parking Spot Before You Even Get Behind The Wheel

A new Ford app allows drivers to select and arrange for a space in a garage to be available at the end of their journey, so they can travel worry-free

No search results found.