Alphabet City: Final Discussion and Wrap Up

Can we be optimistic about the recent upsurge in the attention toward ‘where our food has come from’ or is it just another fad that will stop at the next trip to Starbucks?

Over the past three discussions The Walrus and ALPHABET CITY have tried to encourage debate about the way we grow, process, market, and distribute our food and how it links and effects us in a wide range of ways beyond the supermarket and the dinner table.

Discussion One centered around ALPHABET CITY’s open letter, a call to action, to discuss the problems and policies that center on food production and distribution in today’s food system. For a wider range of ideas take peak at the ALPHABET CITY book here.

“Local food sustainability needs to be central to discussions about our economy.” —Comment from Discussion One

“Food is our fuel. It builds bodies and impassions minds. Wars are fought over it. Peace is brokered over it.” —Comment from Discussion One

Discussion Two opened the debate on the eating locally. Is this a new urban fad or is this a new and sustainable alternative to shipping food from the far reaches of the globe?

“Growing food locally is not difficult. It can occur in the spaces between buildings, under and between our toes, amidst the concrete of the city. As a community arts facilitator and environmental educator, I’m committed to creatively seeking out the fertile spaces where we live.” —Comment from Discussion Two

Discussion Three looked at the lack the availability in the neighborhoods and urban areas that many Canadian make their homes, where fresh produce or a healthy meal is a long bus ride away.

“Food is a right. A livable planet for those who are young now and for those who have not been born is also a right.” —Comment from Discussion Three

Food is one of the most basic building blocks in our lives, yet our social, economic, and political interactions that go into bringing it from field to table are complex and far from perfect as our discussions have hopefully shown. If we are going to build a healthy and sustainable village, how do we manage these connections?

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3 comment(s)

Laura YoungOctober 29, 2007 18:41 EST

To The Staff:
I read twice the article you linked. Whatever do you mean? Whose food policy can change the food system in this case? And what would
the effect be?

Laura YoungNovember 01, 2007 05:26 EST

We've been looking at the food system in these discussions as if governments practice the ideology that all citizens are equally entitled to life, quality of life and an unedited version of truth. But what we view as inalienable rights others intent on self-enrichment view as unattainable for the majority and to be sacrificed for the “greater good” of corporatism, even in a democracy. How bad is it? Think of FEMA’s recent staging of a pretend press conference, where they had their own employees pose as journalists asking questions about the California wildfire. They’re so disinterested in the public, they can’t stomach being questioned about their efforts to serve the public.

The "local food" movement arose because citizens became aware that free market ideology has created an unsustainable and unhealthy export-based agriculture system in many countries, including our own. But since our governments have not rejected the free market system, we must understand that despite the requisite nice story that accompany political remedies (always with private ngo or corporate partnership) it is always a new spin on the old Milton Freedman theories. So Africa's suffering and can't feed itself? Introduce an export-based free market economy. Let the farmers pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Throw in public and private capital, and 10,000 farmers can band together (under the control of, say, Flamingo Holdings) to further degrade the land at a rapid pace and be globally competitive in the agricultural export business.
Changing organic standards to exclude air transport so that these farmers can't export under the thumb of free market carpet baggers is a good idea, but a better idea is to expose the fact that African parliament is still under the thumb of mostly free market whites, and there is no economic support for poor black farmers from their caucus and bureaucracies unless it involves free market ideals that will eventually put land back into the hands of elitists through economic rather than overtly political means.

An agricultural professor at U of Guelph laughed when I told her that perhaps our governments are allowing our farmland to be paved over and our aquifers suffocated because they feel we can be fed through developing countries like Africa in order to help solve their economic woes. She laughed. She's recently been to Ghana to help villages grow food sustainably and successfully. She feels that Africa has enough trouble feeding itself, and to view it as a viable agricultural importer is madness. I saw a Bayer CropScience ad in a news magazine recently that brings tears to the eyes, it’s so altruistic. A third world mom is standing with a basket of perfect produce, her son nearby, and they’re both smiling because they’ve been given the ability to grow their own nutritionally enhanced superproduce thanks to the pharmaceutical company. Wow. Wonder how much it costs third world farmers to buy the patented seeds.

But nevermind export-based agriculture. It’s coming to an end. “Import replacement” is the new idea. And guess what’s coming down the pipe for agriculture. Urban agriculture. Oh, not the kind romantically and poetically expressed by the writer in Discussion Two, between our toes, in the spaces between buildings amidst the concrete of the city. As in the FarmCity and Vertical Farm Project sites posted by Walrus. The Vertical Farm project speaks of an "impending disaster" if we continue with traditional soil farming, and the solution is projects like its own. Interestingly, the source of info for this "impending disaster" is NASA and the FAO. On another page, we see that to feed 50,000 people, the Vertical Farm needs 250 million kwh per year which is impossible for green energy to provide, and takes up one city block. (Makes their claim that traditional farming is a carbon and space hog look incredibly hypocritical.)

So why did this project ever receive free market and government support? The answer lies in a quote by Columbia University Microbiology Professor Dickson Despommier on the same website, a quote that you will find no less than 26 times if you google his name and the exact quote: “We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on earth”. (Don’t you love fascist repetitiveness of an idea to train the masses?) Hmm. Why would we want to farm in space? Well, even big oil knows we’re at the beginning of the end of big oil. According to car company techies, hydrogen is the most likely “green” energy to take over from fossil earth fuels. Two “hydrogen highways” are in the works in Canada alone. So where do we get hydrogen from since we need fossil fuels to make it on earth? NASA knows it’s on the moon, and the American government has given $100 billion to facilitate public-private partnerships to get it. Even Lockheed Martin is running an ad (Nov 2007 Atlantic Monthly, page 81), touting space as mankind’s ultimate hope. Never mind that they’ll make truckloads of money in the process.) No less than NASAs Chief of the Office of Lunar and Planetary Exploration invites “you” to consider living on the moon, as they’re “paving the way for the moon’s first pioneer settlers”. (Why The Moon? / Human Civilization video) What they don’t say is that since China, Russia, Japan, India, Germany, and other countries are planning on landing on the moon around the same time as the US. Your strip mining or other commercial settlement can be like the green zone in Iraq – the human equivalent of a flag in the ground claiming territory. And all the violence that goes with it. But don’t worry. Lockheed Martin’s got your back.

In 2006, my husband gave a speech at ideaCity. I hung around for the day and listened to the other speeches. A science fiction writer spoke of how he’s been commissioned by NASA to romanticize the idea of living in space for the general public. He spoke of the earth as an overdue mother’s womb, and like that fetus, we have overstayed our environment and need urgently to get out and move on from the planet. Ingenious. If the unedited truth were told to the masses, that we’re ruining the physical earth because of our stubborn attachment to free-market purism, and the elites of the world would rather gamble our last resources on trying to strip mine the moon than give up amassing vast wealth, we would be spurred to action. Instead, the free-market complex will continue to mirror our concerns and feed our fears to push and pull us towards our own serfdom in their man-made hell, where sunshine, soil grown food, and fresh water will seem an impossible luxury.

RickWNovember 26, 2007 07:06 EST

Jame Lovelock's notions will prevail (or some facsimile therof), catastrophically most likely, as we seem to be incapable of anticipating disaster AND reacting rationally to it. The rich however, think they an buy their way out of the coming "troubles", and that is what drives the corporate mindset.

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