The din around the fiscal cliff grows louder every day, perhaps it is time to raise our voices to ask an important question: what happened to the Farm Bill? There has been some debate about the food stamp program or debate on genetic modification of crops but what if we resolved to start over, from a blank sheet and set up the food system that would benefit both producers and consumers and be prepared for dealing with climate change. Here are some of the things on my wish list for a better food system:
1. Better food choices at home: while the awareness about eating “local” is laudable , everything cannot be grown locally so if we find ourselves buying “local” tomatoes while stocking up on snow shovels, it means that we are buying produce that requires greater resources because it is being produced out of season. Instead, let us try to eat in season, experiment with produce that actually grows in this season and expand our culinary abilities. Also, if a food producer has to sell only locally they might either not be able to meet demand (in which case we would have to go without) or is left with a surplus which does not sell and he cannot ship it elsewhere because of the insistence on local food. Most of us in the food debate consider the consumer’s point of view. Let us also hear what the farmer thinks.
2. Change agricultural practices: adapting to climate change is not just about producing food under a different set of weather conditions, it should also be about using better farm practices like growing trees on farms to prevent soil erosion and sequester carbon, preserving biodiversity, green manure among an array of possibilities.
3. A fair food system: let us recognize the hard work that goes into producing our food; long hours in all kinds of inclement weather often involving hazardous chemicals and equipment. The number of people ready to do this is small and yet we do little to bring in those who are ready to work in this area. We need to provide a decent life and dignity of work for immigrant workers on American farms.
And when we go to a restaurant and are happy to see that the food is “local” and “sustainable” and the chef has so many stars, let us also think about the restaurant worker. If you want to know if your server or cook is being paid a fair wage or get paid sick leave, there is now an app for that!
4. Renew rural life: when it is openly stated that there is a disconnect between urban and rural communities with the latter being isolated and cut off from the mainstream, it is crucial to take action. Farmers today are older and fewer in number than before and as they become less able to farm the land, farms may be sold off to urban property developers or be purchased by large farms. To create a vibrant farm sector, it should be made easier for younger people to farm, offering financial aid or improving infrastructure where needed.
5. Plate and Planet: every time we make a food choice let us think not just of how it will be on our plate but how it will impact the planet. A recent study shows how yields of major crops are falling, and preparedness to deal with climate change is hardly robust so when we push a certain technology or practice, let us consider the global situation as well. Changing tastes in America might lead to positive change here but global hunger and access to food should also be considered.
And, finally, in this, as in other debates, let us be civil with those who disagree. Perhaps this wish list will remain just that: wishes, but can we at least resolve to stop name calling on Internet discussion forums because someone disagrees with us on a point of policy? We are all people, no one is a “shill”.