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    Is Agriculture The Next Wall Street?

    normal_iil-ian-aj-0163The economic crash of 2008 forever changed the financial landscape.  Consumer confidence sank, investors balked, construction projects around the world halted, and recovery is expected to continue well into the next decade.

    I can’t help but think of Wall Street’s most recent implosion as a possible preview of what may happen with agriculture in the United States.

    After all, the economic crash was the end result of an unsustainable financial system.

    I use — as well as italicize and underline — the word “unsustainable” because it also happens to describe our food system.

    We are, currently, at the peak.  It all appears to be going well, as far as most people are concerned.  Fast food chains offer plentiful food for low prices, while the amount of available calories for each American is at an all-time high.

    You can’t help but wonder, though, how sustainable is the current agricultural system?  It’s becoming increasingly clear that the answer is “not very”.

    Increased pesticide and herbicide use over the past three decades has poisoned bodies of water and severely altered biosystems.  Cattle-feed operations produce millions of tons of manure each year, placing a huge burden on the environment.  Fish farms pollute nearby waters.

    There is no possible way in which the current food system — which essentially sticks up the middle finger at Mother Nature — can continue as is for another decade without serious consequences.

    Unlike the Wall Street scenario, there are no bailouts for the environment.  You can’t simply bring life back to a poisoned river or lake overnight, no matter how many millions of dollars you throw at it.

    This is not a doomsday prophecy.  I believe, more than ever, that we are at the early beginnings of what could be a powerful collective shift in how we view food.

    These issues can be often be daunting — at least they are for me — because it can be difficult to pinpoint what the best starting point is.  For now, I believe that informing others of how our current food system works is crucial.  There is no need for self-created pedestals, or belittling.  After all, each and every one of us, at some point, had absolutely no awareness about any of this.

    Similarly, “the sky is falling!” scare tactics often paralyze, rather than stir people into action.

    While activism and advocacy are great services to society, not everybody has the time, personality, or unbridled energy for headline-making moves.  You don’t have to be a policy maker to take action, though.  If you are part of a book club, suggest that one of your upcoming tomes be “Food Politics” by Marion Nestle, “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, or “Appetite for Profit” by Michele Simon.

    Are you a school teacher?  See if you can fit “Supersize Me”, “King Corn”, or “Food, Inc.” into your curriculum.

    Discuss.  Analyze.  Engage in conversation.  And, always, continue learning.

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    5 Comments

    1. Ken Leebow said on June 4th, 2010

      It already is.

      Wall Street, the oil catastrophe, the obesity epidemic … it’s all related. Our use of technology has far outstripped our ability to handle it.

      Sure we can create computer trading programs, manufacturing plants to grow food and animals, and oil wells to tap into. However, the truth is, we can’t handle it.

      Of course, we’re going to continue to move forward with technology “advances” so … hold on … for the next catastrophe.

      Ken Leebow
      http://www.FeedYourHeadDiet.com

    2. Dave said on June 4th, 2010

      Thanks for your optimistic spin. Indeed doomsdayisms never inspire me to take action and it’s a great peeve of mine. Where to start? With yourself, the roots baby!

      I struggle with the dogmatism and judgments veganism tends to inspire so again I echo your sentiments for keeping things constructive and positive to be the best advocate for change.

    3. Marianne said on June 4th, 2010

      Being informed is so key. I think alot of people’s inaction is due to their lack of knowledge. But if you can give people all of the information about their food system in a constructive, unbiased way, then they can make informed decisions for themselves, their family, and the planet. Too bad that information can be so hard to come by.

    4. adina said on June 4th, 2010

      this is a great post andy! i think about this all the time. what sucks is that you say “collective shift”, but even though we all have ultimately the same goal (save the environment), everyone is so angry and preachy and busy yelling at each other about what’s the right way and the wrong way. i think dave is totally right about the dogmatism and judgments. we all want to do what’s best, but there are endless amounts of things you can do to help. no one is going to listen if we yell at them.
      also, similar to the wall street scenario, i think it’s interesting that corporations have managed to manipulate us into hating on each other… wouldn’t it be nice if vegans and meat-eaters both turned all of their energy towards changing the industry instead of spending so much time arguing?
      again, i think this post (and blog) is a fantastic part of the solution.

    5. Andy Bellatti said on June 4th, 2010

      Adina,

      Thank you. This was a complete stream-of-consciouness post. I just sat at the keyboard and “let it all out”, so to speak.

      You make such a wonderful point about how food identities can end up causing unnecessary battles that are, ultimately, wastes of energy. I think everyone — vegan, macrobiotic, low-carb, etc. — ultimately wants high-quality food. And, I’d like to think, everyone wants a food system that respect animals, human beings, and the environment.

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