Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Food for Thought

From the reading pile over the last 24 hours are two pieces on food that I think are worth a review. the first is from a relatively new effort entitled Share The World's Resources: Sustainable Economics to End  Global Poverty. A blog from their site last week (August 9, 2013) "A Dialogue on Sharing Food" offers a simple, yet dramatically different way of looking at food and hunger. The author of this eight page missive, who would have benefited from some copyediting, nonetheless lays out his basic premise:

         Then what is the root of the problem concerning food? We might say it is the commercialisation of food, and the way in which the production, distribution and consumption of food is being manipulated in the wrong way for profit.

He follows this with a brief analysis of how food was handled before it was commercialized and hearkens us to reconsider how we share this basic resource - not  just in our community, but globally.

Off the new book shelf yesterday, came Colorado State University Professor Michael Carolan's Reclaiming Food Security,

whose pages I turned earlier this morning. Carolan seems to argue that our notion of food security has been hijacked and linked to simply the total production of calories. He would have us embed the notion of food security in Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 Inaugural AddressFDRL Photo Coll: 80-163(17); ©Wide World
 on the "Four Freedoms" - freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Carolan shares a Food and Human Security Index that attempts to measure how nation/states provide this level of security. Not surprisingly perhaps one sees that the US and UK are near the top of the scale. Carolan also highlights the role of imagination, a theme I have been returning to recently and the undercurrent of this blog, in his final chapter.

       The philosopher Charles Taylor  (2004) has written a remarkably lucid account of what he calls "modern social imaginaries" in a book of the same title. He describes how a "new conception of moral order" has come to grip Western societies. It began, according to Taylor, as "just an idea in the minds of some influential thinkers, but it later came to shape the social imaginary of large strata, and then eventually of whole societies," where it is now "self-evident" (p.2). Taylor is writing of the rise of a distinct political moral order, not about food security. But I see overlap between his idea of social imaginaries and what I have written about here. We seem to be locked into a food security imaginary that is inherently bound up with the arguments about the "need" to produce more food. Yet when that becomes the starting point of discussion it directs attention away from some important questions. Why do we think we need to produce more food in the first place? And at what and whose expense are we willing to achieve these gains in productivity? For example, the unforgivable amount of food we currently waste is one reason we think we need to produce more. By leaving those needs "unexamined", and building into our future food estimates all that waste, we are only making the task at hand all the more difficult.

     We also need a social imaginary that treats food differently from other commodities. As described by twentieth-century historian E.P Thompson (1971), there was, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, an "old moral economy" of provision that emphasized the common well-being of society and placed limits on the market. In this economy, millers, bakers, and other merchants involved in the British food system were "considered servants of the community, working not for profit but for fair allowance" (p.83). This is certainly an aim that would today enhance individual and social liberties in light of the tremendous concentration and market distortions that plague so-called modern agrifood chains. (Carolan,  p.169)

My suspicion is that the thoughts of these two writers are not very visible in the curriculum  most students of our land grant universities experience. And that is a scary thought.