As Albert Einstein once said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” While we shouldn’t overlook the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can hope that the crisis has a silver lining — one that we might find in our food system.
For years, academics and eaters alike have realized that our food system is “broken.” It’s wreaking havoc on ecosystems, endangering vulnerable communities, and has been unsuccessful at feeding our growing population.
Setting the table for a new food system
The current pandemic has shed light issues exacerbated by COVID-19 and those emerging from the current situation. These observations provide insight into what can be fixed.
Recently, Food Tank explored what it would take to build an improved food system — one that’s restorative, regenerative, diverse, inclusive, and can support our fragile planet while feeding a growing population.
They helped collate a collection of essays in Agriculture and Human Values that shares the viewpoints of farmers, journalists, scientists, chefs, and other food system stakeholders.
Four key action steps to inform food activism efforts
1. Eliciting significant change suddenly and dramatically is possible
Social distancing quickly became the norm worldwide because it was critically needed. Similarly, innovative responses to our food crisis can also happen within our agricultural systems. To make this happen, there are a few main concepts we must consider:
- Systems thinking
- Strengthened social safety nets for food smallholder and family farmers
- Knowledge sharing from Indigenous peoples, smallholder farmers, women, and youth
- Inclusive, community-level action
- Fact-based decision-making
- Recognition of the right to food
2. Agroecology is necessary for a post-COVID-19 food system
According to Miguel Altieri and Clara Nicholls, our destructive industrial agricultural systems are causing warning signs, especially the vulnerability to pests and diseases.
We must realize that human health is closely linked to animal and ecological health, and to preserve all three, we need farming systems centered around cultural, social, and environmental conditions. Simply put, we need agroecology.
3. “To free ourselves we must feed ourselves.”
Leah Penniman, author of "Farming While Black" and founder of Soul Fire Farm, discussed food apartheid in her essay. A post-pandemic food system needs to be one that provides resources to BIPOC individuals.
BIPOC communities face high levels of food apartheid (limited access to fresh and healthy food) which has been exacerbated due to COVID-related vulnerabilities. Five major shifts are required to foster a food system that’s more just and sustainable.
- Land redistribution
White Americans own more than 98% of the farmland in the U.S. We need to redistribute the land so that all communities can produce food.
2. Justice for farm workers
More than 75% of American farmworkers are “foreign-born” and subjected to an array of oppressive and exploitative conditions. Moving forward will require us to provide these essential workers with protection.
3. Localized mutual aid
We can learn a great deal from the West African tradition of “dokpwe” or “konpbi,” which places great importance on caring for all members in our communities.
4. Ecological humility
According to the Otura Tukaa Temple, where the Yoruba religion is practiced, “Humans have forgotten our humble place as the younger siblings of the plants and animals on earth. We have become arrogant and imagined ourselves as supreme and central.” Recognizing our humble place is important in creating post-COVID food systems.
5. Universal food access with dignity
We need approaches that strengthen food distribution models championed by Black communities (cooperatives, CSAs, food hubs, school meal programs).
4. We can look back at previous economic collapses for inspiration
As Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen discussed, the threat of economic collapse is minimized when considering the societies who’ve faced it before, such as those in late-90s Siberia. The authors elaborate: “Many people survived without support of the industrial economy by relying on Nature’s economy in combination with traditional culture.”
The U.S. is fortunate to have some of Earth’s most abundant soils and many areas booming with ecological and cultural capacity. Even when economic capacity is limited, these can make our “back to the land” dreams happen — and it’s clear that they should happen.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the 72 articles published in Agriculture and Human Values. If you’re an eater, grower, or thinker — so all of us — then this collection is definitely worth a read. Share your thoughts and ideas with your fellow organizers on WeAct.