I think it’s a pretty normal human condition to criticize the status quo, and much more rare to produce an answer, especially reasonable actionable ones. It’s always easy to spot problems, and considerably less easy to spot solutions. And when dealing with a huge problem like food system and reform, it’s pretty easy to just want to chuck the whole thing, and just go play outside, then hunker down in your trailer and watch 3 seasons of Homeland in a week.
Well, I did that. But my perfect blend of couch potato and adventure/explorer was not to last, as my self-conscious reminded me to get back to work. It did this by sending me a stress dream where I got a comment on the blog indicting me for being such a downer in response to my preachy meat article. The commenter (my subconscious) called me out for not only bringing everyone done, but not providing any hope for anyone. Why am I focusing so much on what people are doing wrong? Isn’t there something that people are doing right?
What it says about me and the post modern world that I need to talk to myself through a fantasy digital correspondence is a wholly different topic that may need to be addressed with a professional. But the me-commenter had a point.
A fantastic article came out on NPR last week that I feel provides a great view-point and tempered response to the Rolling Stone article’s sensationalism of meat production.
While the advice to developed, wealthy countries remains “eat less meat”, researchers want to provide a more global context to this. From the article:
Given the range of human nutritional needs and the different ways of raising livestock, Herrero and co-authors argue, decisions about how to make meat and milk production more sustainable should probably be local ones. In other words, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” blueprint for sustainability for farmers.
That’s because when it comes to raising livestock, the contradictions abound, the authors note.
One example? While animals provide nutrients for farmers’ crops (think manure), their waste also pollutes the land and water. While grazing animals can be beneficial to a grassland ecosystem, overgrazing can destroy it. Questions of health can be equally complex: Animal milk and meat are critically important sources of protein and other nutrients for many people – especially the poor – but they also contribute to obesity and chronic disease.
What this means is that a cattleman raising 10 cows on cruddy grassland in Zambia and the manager of a major Kansas feedlot have starkly different priorities when it comes to how they manage resources.
And the authors say the same goes for consumer choices about animal products in rich countries versus those in poor countries: While most Americans could forgo a third serving of bacon for the week, mothers in Cambodia may very well need to seek out more milk and chicken for their children.
But that nuanced global perspective is missing from the conversation about meat production, Hererro says.
So, while understanding that a meatless and livestock free globe isn’t necessarily the best solution, and isn’t really a viable option, what does that mean for us in the developed world? Cutting back on what you consume, but also focusing on a de-centralized farming system would be a good start. With community supported agriculture organizations becoming more and more popular, the next step is beginning to coalesce in many cities. The newest trend in the local food movement is development supported agriculture. Similar to CSA model in which consumers own a share in a farm, developers and city planners are beginning to plan for land that includes food production. This includes things like community gardens, orchards, and even livestock.
This integration of farming and residence is an economic boon for farmers, who frequently have the dilemma of getting food to the consumer, and revitalizes the notion of the neighborhood farm which fell out of fashion in the post-war urban exodus in favor of the insular suburban developments we see today. It also spreads the cost of large farm purchases out into the community and not place it solely on the farmer, where a large machine purchase can break the farm.
These sort of DSA communities are already enjoying a lot of success in areas like Fort Collins and Atlanta, and its easy to see how this type of model can be parlayed into subsidized housing to help alleviate food security and health in impoverished areas.
Ain’t that neat? Kudos to everyone working out there to move food reform into a positive actionable response. While I know these solutions are being developed out of a much more egalitarian motives to improve their communities and whatnot, I mostly appreciate it from the selfish stand point of being able to say something good, and not feel like an accusatory d-bag. Without having to worry about being such a bummer, I can really focus up on Homeland.
To read more about development supported agriculture, check out this article, again, from NPR.