What if our economic system was modelled after natural systems? What if business operated collaboratively instead of competitively? What if companies’ shareholders and beneficiaries were their own community?
Most of us live in a broken system where the distribution of monetary wealth is becoming increasingly top-heavy, and the consequences of this push down and exploit the people at the bottom of the ladder instead of uplifting everyone. But there are entrepreneurs around the globe working with a different set of values and a different idea of what wealth means. Named after this alternative vision, A New Economy is a heavily-researched film from director Trevor Meier looking at democratic, cooperative and equality-driven ventures in various cities, mainly in Canada. It asks: “What if working together for the good of all was the most common business model?” The team pored over hundreds of case studies and whittled them down to seven inspiring social innovators for this film, including Vancouver’s own Sole Food farms, where employee and interviewee Lyle speaks with heartbreaking candour. Profiled ventures also include a cooperative brewery, an innovative independent hotel, and an open-source tech company.
David Suzuki pointed out that the economy is a human invention that we anthropomorphise and worship. It becomes the centre of everything at the expense of not only our planet but our people. It’s not sustainable (endless growth is not possible on a finite planet), and is given higher importance than what we truly value or need: family, friends, food, clean air and water, culture, community. The new economy innovators turn this on its head for a sustainable, human-centred approach.
Another approach not explored in this film is the gift economy. I recently listened to a very inspiring Permaculture Podcast interview with permaculturist Ethan Hughes in which he talks about this alternative form of sharing and spreading wealth. It’s well worth your time.
Ticket proceeds from the first film screening were donated to Sole Food — $2,742.90 that stays in the local economy and helps 35 people to keep making a big difference in a small city.
Uniform, flawless produce requires a heartbreaking amount of food waste. (Photo by rick via Flickr)
If we’re to feed the world delicious, nutritious food and halt climate change, we have to kill the supermarket.
There are many reasons why I suggest this enormous beast be culled. It thrives on the unsustainable industrial agriculture model of large-scale, monocrop food production, where food is not grown for taste or nutrition. It’s then shipped long distances, so you can eat lettuce in Vancouver in January. Even if garlic is grown in your region, you’re served up the garlic from China instead.
The produce section is a sterile place devoid of scent (the first sense to get us salivating), where the fruits and vegetables are uniform, barely ripe (if at all) and virtually flawless. It’s no wonder children don’t know their food grows in the ground or on a vine: the produce is so unnatural, it hardly seems a product of nature. Its sprawling, dizzying vastness is a maze that encourages overconsumption and takes up excess land to, among other things, allow for extra-wide shopping carts. It makes buying junk food more appealing than buying produce through a combination of store positioning, packaging and price, and this leads to disease.
I could go on; the reason I’m going to focus on here, however, is its massive — and one could suggest criminal — contribution to food waste.
Following several mentions at this past weekend’s Greenest City camp of how food prices have risen in the wake of higher oil prices, I was reminded again by The National‘s coverage tonight. They examined which commodities have spiked most, how our food spending compares to other nations and how to save money.
The prices for grains, dairy and sugar — the latter of which is non-essential — have risen by 10% to 30%, reaching in some cases historical highs. When comparing food spending — Canadians put 11% of their income toward it, whereas the Chinese spend 36% and in Yemen 80% — it’s important to realise that while our food spending has trended downward, our health costs have increased dramatically. This relationship between food and health spending has much to do with the quality of our food. So while the CBC’s reporter suggests 11% is a good number, I disagree.
Rising oil prices, a trend that will inevitably continue as supplies dwindle and economies recover, are a reminder of just how much energy goes into agriculture from the field to the plate. For Americans, the combined cost of transportation and energy accounts for more than 10% of the cost of US-produced food, with the majority of each dollar going to marketing. Factor in how much of our food comes from other continents — bananas, cocoa, sugar, seafood, rice — and watch that energy cost go up.
It starts out pretty depressing, but the TIME article “Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement” is an interesting read that shows both our progress and how far we’ve yet to go in achieving a sustainable, healthy food system. Bryan Walsh’s hopeful prediction of success and what it means for the environment as a whole is an interesting perspective with which I generally agree.
Will Allen harvesting (Photo credit: Growing Power)
Back-to-back films on agriculture at the World Community Film Festival this afternoon left me uplifted and feeling like change is on the horizon. Dirt! The Movie, Fresh and A Thousand Suns reminded me how many people there are who think like me — including those attending the event — and what amazing impacts these people are making around the world.
One farmer in the US took it upon himself to build a wind farm on his farm as security for survival. (Actually, I think that was part of Dirty Business, a film about coal and energy which followed. I saw four films in 6 hours, so please forgive me if I confuse them.) Will Allen, a former basketball player, returned to his family’s farming roots and started Growing Power, where compost is everything. Joel Salatin is a farming hero, Michael Pollan speaks the truth in terms people can understand, schools are tearing up asphalt for gardens, and rehabilitation programs for inmates are reconnecting people with the land.
It took me almost four years to find out that in 2007 the US Department of Agriculture approved commercial production of the first genetically modified food crop containing human genes, a “laboratory-created rice [that] produces some of the human proteins found in breast milk and saliva.” In my head, my reaction to this was incredible disgust mingled with angry expletives and a little bit of fear. From what I’ve learned about genetically modified organisms, this paves the way for the seeds to be patented — in other words, effectively patenting human genes. Patenting pig genes was bad enough.
I’m extremely skeptical that the “good intentions” of treating “children with diarrhoea, a major killer in the Third World”, are actually valid. Genetic modification has a history of being touted as a way to solve food shortages, but they wind up leaving GM farmers poor, and organic farmers sued when seeds contaminate their crops. As for these children, attempting to treat them with GM products — any negative consequences of which may be unknown — is akin to us focusing the bulk of our efforts on curing cancer and diabetes and almost completely ignoring prevention. We should be ensuring access to healthy food, clean water, and education. Whatever Monsanto and other GE agribusinesses say about solving developing nations’ problems with their products is complete bullshit.
In this fascinating TED Talk, Pollan talks about humans’ relationship with, or rather perceived dominance over, nature, corn’s dominance over us, and nature’s incredible systems at work on a farm.
“…If you think about it, this completely contradicts the tragic idea of nature we hold in our heads which is that, for us to get what we want, nature is diminished. More for us, less for nature. Here, all this food comes off this farm and at the end of the season, there is actually more soil, more fertility and more biodiversity. It’s a remarkably hopeful thing to do. … We can take the food we need from the earth and actually heal the earth in the process.”
Monoculture, by its very nature (pardon the ironic pun), is not a resilient agricultural system to begin with. More susceptible to disease because of genetic similarity, and terrible for soil health, it’s a venture with growing risks that are starting to outweigh its purported benefits. A new study is warning its lack of genetic diversity puts it at risk from a new enemy that doesn’t discriminate like fungus or insects do: climate change.
If the current reports of species loss around the globe isn’t already freaking you out, taste this:
The genetic diversity of the plants that we grow and eat could be lost forever due to climate change, threatening future food security, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday.
Experts from the Rome-based organization warned that the loss of biodiversity will have a major impact on humankind’s ability to feed itself in the future as the global population continues to rise to nine billion by 2050.
“There are thousands of wild crop relatives that … hold genetic secrets that enable them to resist heat, droughts, salinity, floods and pests,” FAO director general Jacques Diouf was quoted in the report as saying.
“Increasing the sustainable use of plant diversity could be the main key for addressing risks to genetic resources for agriculture,” he said. (Vancouver Sun)
I was criticized once by someone who didn’t believe that my choice to not buy broccoli from China and peppers from California in the wintertime would make any difference. I would indeed be acting alone and in vain if everyone lacked faith in the power of the collective. After all, revolutions and rallies are composed of individual people sharing a common purpose. My argument was that if enough of us did not buy Californian peppers in December, it would affect the amount purchased by the store that carried it, impacting up the chain and so forth. It seems like a naive thought but the popularity of eating local has been growing, and with good reason. Eating local and in season offers many benefits including support of small-scale agriculture and healthier, more flavourful food. In terms of climate change, supporting local agriculture and in tandem avoiding foods — especially processed and pre-packaged foods — that have travelled a long distance make a huge impact. Agriculture is as responsible for greenhouse gas emissions as is transportation, based on a system designed around accessing foods year-round and producing these foods in large quantities to be shipped long distances.
I hope my lack of writing lately is a sign of a good social life rather than exhaustion. Here is finally my experience at the recent slow food cycle.
The gems are often tucked away at the end of a road. Like last year’s treasures in Pemberton, the most wonderful spots in Agassiz’s slow food cycle route lay a ways down a road or off a nondescript path you only just had to trust would lead somewhere.
At one end of the self-guided, circuitous route through Agassiz’s sprawling farmland and country houses was a paradise I could not have expected. The Back Porch seemed to suggest with its name a rustic and romantic place. Greeted by dozens of bikes, we found ourselves on a farm that could have been transplanted from the artsy, organic culture of BC’s Gulf Islands. A pottery studio and coffee grinding shop occupied the first outbuilding, a unique combination that was at once odd and harmonious. Antique coffee grinders (ca. 1919) sat among vintage graphic design pieces which tickled my design nerd fancy!