Posted on Sat, July 28, 2012 by Slow Food USA
0 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, Food Justice, News, Current Events, Slow Food Chapters in Action,
Written by Stephanie Georgieff, President and Co Founder of Slow Food Redlands, California
I was recently invited to attend an event hosted by the newly formed US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance(USFRA) entitled “The Food Dialogues”. As I made my way down to Los Angeles, where the event was being held, I could help but think of the dialogues that I had recently had within my Slow Food Chapter during our monthly book discussion group. The topic of discussion we chose was Slow Money by Woody Tasch, a passionate plea for reorienting the economy in terms of what is good for food, farms and fertility. This, coupled with the release of a document from Carlo Petrini and Slow Food International entitled “The Central Role of Food,” which was recently sent to Slow Food leaders from around the globe and is designed to promote a major world debate outside and inside the Slow Food and Terra Madre network ahead of the World Congress on October 27 – 29, 2012. These topics, along with the massive event I was about to attend, had me thinking, more than ever, about the role food plays in every aspect of our lives.
Our hosts for the event, USFRA is an alliance consisting of a wide range of prominent famer and rancher led organizations and agricultural partners. “The Food Dialogues” was their second attempt to intersect with popular culture to create awareness around how our food is produced. To their credit, the four panels were populated with representatives from the full spectrum of food interests. Small organic farmers, growers for large corporations, representatives from major food interests, scientists, members of the media and non profits were live streamed in webinar format to anyone who desired to participate. I met representatives from the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the National Pork Board.
What struck me as I listened to the many panelists, was how central food is to so many dialogues, and yet those who grow it are absent from the conversation. On a deeper level this impression was a symptom of the main disconnect of our culture to the land. Los Angeles County had 20,000 family farms before 1940. This sprawling megalopolis of over 10 million makes up 27% of the states population. To think this concrete mass was once the largest food producing county in the United States is stunning. They now import all their food, mainly from where I live in the Inland Empire. We get their smog and they get our produce.
The recurring talking point in all of the panels is that modern agriculture is the best it has ever been. We were told again and again that farmers and ranchers are growing more with less, less water, less land, less people, less pesticides. We were told that the world is going to have 9 billion people to feed in a generation and the only way we can meet this challenge is with technology. Each panel reflected that there needed to be a choice for consumers and that all methods of farming are needed in terms of meeting this challenge.
What I came away with from this event was a great respect for the complexity of food issues and the gravity of our task ahead if we truly mean to change the global and national food system. We in Slow Food know our stuff. We have arguments for everything. For each talking point, I wanted to yell out a reply or question; I had my studies, my research, and my philosophical viewpoint. The interesting thing is that food is personal, deeply personal. When you witness the passion and stories of the farmers—how much they want to connect with their consumers and tell the sories of why they use or do not use GMO’s, the latest computerized gizmo and pesticides—it is all very profound.
Our food system is hurting us all, and is basically unsustainable. Tasch states in Slow Money, (which was inspired by Slow Food) “Slow Food is a convener, a community builder, a preserver and restorer of relationships. Slow Food nurtures relationships that are vital to long – term health… leading a process of cultural healing.” In a way, USFRA is a response to Slow Food. With its board members from DuPont, Monsanto and John Deere, USFRA is seeing that relationships need to be made, because their arguments for agriculture are being challenged. We all must eat; we all must live on this planet. The challenge is how to do this the most effective way possible that respects the lives of the present and future global community. I urge my fellow Slow Food Members to engage in these types of dialogues (preferably over an incredible meal) and to ask the right questions, continue to educate those around them, and set great examples for alternatives to the current food system. We need to make the “Central Role of Food” the focal point of the dialogue from now on.