Sunday, June 19, 2011

NY Times Food Columnist Mark BIttman: Let's Change the Food 'Non-System'

Mark Bittman
I think I've been given 1/2 hour and I'm going to use talk about food safety and public health problems; land, water and air pollution; food shortages and spiraling food prices; tortured animals and chemical-laden food; antibiotic abuse and a antibiotic-resistant diseases; world hunger; local hunger; fertilzer runoff, phosphate shortages; species extinctions; global warming; chronic disease, spiraling health care costs...I probably could go a little bit longer.

All of these crises...can find at least part of their causes in our food non-system.

The time has come for governments and perhaps more important citizens to act to rationalize the system of food production...Our governments are largely and increasingly beholden to corporations. Because they rarely act unless they are pushed. They're often coming down on the wrong side of important issues. For example, we continue to subsidize industrial agriculture at a time when sustainable is not only needed to counter poverty and environmental destruction, but has demonstrated its effect. We're in the process in cutting funding to the FDA at a time when food safety issues are as important as they have ever been.

We're discussing cutting funding to the world's neediest at a time when we should be increasing it. When three out of seven people are malnourished, we could in fact argue that 50 percent of the human race isn't eating well enough. It's hard to say that there's a food system in need of fixing. It's more like bringing order to chaos. Don't get me wrong. We've unquestionably seen progress, as many of you know from your work.

But there are really two ways to approach the global problem of our food non-system. One is to say that we have to ramp up production to feed the world, and that's the argument that we hear so often. This is the common corporate and sadly governmental solution to every problem: produce more. Yet one could easily argue that producing more is what has gotten us into so much trouble, environmentally and even economomically. In fact, we produce too much...As many of you know we produce enough calories to feed everyone, and we're already in trouble.

And let's not blame coming generations for shortages. Poor people do not use a disproportionate amount of resources. Rich people do.

We need to produce based on need, rather than on potential sales. We need to produce intelligently, efficiently and fairly. We need to produce real food using sound agricultural methods.

And we need to get that food to real people.  We all know that our problem is not one of supply but of distribution.

But we also know that it's an issue of fairness, of justice, of responsibility.

The issue isn't economic, it's moral.

Excerpts from an address by New York Times food columnist and blogger Mark Bittman at a dinner hosted by Bread for the World and Ireland's anti-poverty organization Concern Worldwide on Monday, June 13.  The event was part of the 2011 National Gathering.

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