Reforming food systems will require taking a long view, and determined people organizing at tipping points, says columnist. (Stock photo)

Reforming food systems will require taking a long view, and determined people organizing at tipping points, says columnist. (Stock photo)

OPINION: Food system reform can change world for the better

‘Long food movement’ could be a road map to curb our current global follies, says columnist


Watching Greta Thunberg’s three videos ‘One Year to Change the World,’ we learn that she spoke with Polish coal miners as well as climate scientists to gather solid information about the climate crisis. And we learn that she is under no illusion that people with power will take the action that brings the hope she seeks.

Tariq Fancy, former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, says “It’s not because they (money managers) are evil, it’s because the system is built to extract profits.” Or, as the Canadian Catholic bishops’ paper ‘Ethical Reflections’ pointed out in 1983, the economic problem is not profit, but the relentless and unethical maximization of profit.

As crisis piles upon crisis today, it should be obvious that it will take widespread and collaborative effort to shake off the human habit of spatio-temporal discounting (have here, have now, pay later). But only concerted action based on long-term thinking outside the boxes of entrenched power structures, by many more people with shared goals, supporting and strengthening existing organizations working for alternative ways of living, can turn the tide, even partially.

Into this conundrum drops a jointly constructed strategy, complete with tactical advice, called A Long Food Movement, by the ETC Group from Canada, specialists in global food activism, and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Services. The 12-page executive summary could be a road map for action to curb our current global follies. If we can reform food systems, we can change the world.

The summary first describes a grim scenario of continuing with business as usual. Politicians paralyzed by the immensity of the wicked problems will continue to surrender their responsibilities to corporate business. Corporate bosses incapable of weaning themselves off maximized profit will digitize, geoengineer and bioengineer, using algorithms mined from big data by artificial intelligences and delivered by robotics and without people. Results: pandemics, environmental destruction and social breakdown.

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The alternative scenario prevents agribusiness from engulfing global food systems. The casino of reckless gambles is closed down because determined people organize at the tipping points. Civil society develops the Long Food Movement through co-operation, inclusion and trust. Indigenous protectors and anti-globalist food sovereignty groups work together, re-structuring relationships while taking the long view built on wide-scanned information and braced for changes and disruptions. Peasant and Indigenous groups are already at work and will be supported by determined youth movements. Four pathways and 13 opportunities are outlined, taking advantage of ‘grey swan’ events (probable if unpredictable and precipitated by human error).

Conclusions reiterate that global agribusiness is disastrous and the alternative is rapid, collaborative civil society expansion. It is estimated that $4 trillion could be shifted from globalized industry to food sovereignty and agroecology, while cutting 75 per cent of food-system greenhouse gas emissions and delivering incalculable further benefits. There are risks of uncertainty and costs and there will be constant opposition and co-option attempts.

Maybe it’s too late. But what’s to lose that isn’t already being lost?

Marjorie Stewart is past chairperson of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at

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