Food system needs fixing

  • Feb. 7, 2011 7:00 a.m.

If it takes a lily pond 30 days to be clogged by lily pads, doubling exponentially, on what day is the lily pond only half full? Answer: the 29th day.

Our national food system, along with those of the rest of the developed world, is broken. A summary of our situation has been made by Saskatchewan farmer, Mark Lane, whose article The Local Food Revolution Is Almost Upon Us provides most of my following information.

People are not being provided with healthy, minimally-processed food. Primary producers and packers are losing money. The environment is polluted by the run-off from feed lot farms and toxic pesticides and herbicides. Soil is depleted by over-intensive farming.

Industrial food production has led to migration from country to city and the globalization of trade in food.

Industrial food relies on massive and expensive inputs of chemicals and fuel, along with cheap capital and favourable government regulations and subsidies.

Our eggs come from factories crammed with chickens caged for life. Our pork comes from pig factories producing huge quantities of manure. Our beef is from cattle fed abnormally high-grain diets.

Canadian food is trucked across country or flown out of country, using up non-renewable fuel.

We produce a lot of food very efficiently, at the cost of proper nutrition, soil erosion, nutrient depletion, chemical contamination and immense quantities of the greenhouse gases fuelling climate change. Animal waste products are poorly managed. We are tinkering with and weakening animal and plant genetics and losing the diversity that creates resilience.

Animals suffer, food is vulnerable to bacterial infection, centralized regulation creates nightmares of red tape and food prices are starting to rise.

A five-per cent increase is predicted for next year in Canada, food riots are threatening governments in Africa and one-quarter of the U.S. grain crop is used for fuel instead of food.

All aspects of food production, processing and distribution need to be drastically reformed.

It has taken us 70 years to reach this state of excessive urbanization, and we don’t have much time to create resilient, local food systems or struggle with the immediate vested interests extracting the last elements of profit from the current systems.

The producer of a British TV series on child slavery remarked that liberal democracies periodically give ourselves permission to feel guilty about our careless ways, then forget the guilt and go right back to the behaviours of which we were ashamed a short time before.

There is a medical condition called anosognosia, in which a person who suffers a serious disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.

Are we suffering from anosognosia on a global scale?

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Foodshare Society and president of the new multi-stakeholder co-op, Heritage Foodservice. She can be reached at: marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.