As we continue the discussions on the Agri-Supply chain and all that encompasses, and at the risk of just stating the obvious, political ideology places a significant role in the sometimes heated exchanges. On one side of the equation are the folks who are steadfast in their belief that it all starts with personal responsibility; generally speaking, these are the folks who are on the front lines supporting agriculture as great #agvocates should. On the other side of the SAME equation are the folks who believe that there are other factors in play within the system that need to be considered; these are predominantly part of the #ProFood movement. Now, I am always putting out reminders not to paint with a broad brush, so to be very clear, the above is not all inclusive. There are some, with no doubt, that do not fit this scenario. For the purposes of this entry, I will be using the above generalization to attempt to further our discussions and elicit feedback.
So, in my view, we need to see if we can elucidate this equation. There isn't a simple algorithm for this. It is complex with many different variables and outside influences like geography, family history, cultural practices, and many more. Personally, I think we all should be ecstatic that there isn't one set answer. This is where innovation takes hold, we learn to work with a myriad of individuals, knowledge is gained, and progress is made.
It seems to me that, after removing the "noise" from the data, there seems to be a disconnect. For the most part, I really do not think that the individuals I have interacted with that are on the Pro Food (all, I REALLY wish you would think of another name...polarizing) "side" are trying to demonize the conventional farming operations. There are those that certainly do, and to those, I call you on the carpet. We are not going to progress agriculture without the full support and participation of multi-generational farmers. As Albert Einstein eloquently stated: “The only source of knowledge is experience”. So enough is enough. What many of the Pro Food advocates are trying to do is break the hold large multi-national companies have on certain parts of our food supply chain. Actually, this is a laudable goal; however, it would do everyone on the Pro Food side to remember that honest, ethical, people work at these huge companies and DO NOT deserve the disdain they receive. They are working hard towards the exact same goal we all are. I have met them personally, and you don't know what you are missing. Another point in fact is this: The United States is a capitalistic society. The inevitable outcome /progression is that businesses grow; it's just what you do. Just look at Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Oracle, etc. Focusing efforts to prevent oligopolies from forming, or worst monopolies, is where efforts should be focused. Also, not all corporations providing food and inputs to the system are the devil incarnate. They do good things and will be a part of the solution to the looming crisis we are going to face.
To continue the disconnect from the other side of that coin; it is important to remember that one does not have to be deeply involved in an industry to ask questions and lay out constructive criticism. Isn't that what journalist like Edward R. Murrow did for the betterment of our country? As an aside, we need more journalist cut from the cloth of Mr. Murrow. For those of us working in #agriculture, we should, change that, need to listen to what the Pro Food "side" is stating. If we are to truly #agvocate for our profession, we need to take in and assimilate all data points, whether we like the data or not! This will ensure we distribute facts and have a real discussion. We are in unprecedented times given the lack of resources and expected booming population. How do we even approach such a precarious situation? Conventional?, Organic?, Permaculture?, Biodiversity? CSA's?, Local Food Economies? Yes, all of the above. There is room for everyone.
I would like to touch on personal responsibility. The position that it all starts with the individual is to simplistic. It negates the many facets of life that truly impact what happens in our lives. I just finished the book The Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. If you haven't read it, it is worth your time. He has a theory that there is no-one that is solely responsible for where they are. Each and every one of us has a cultural legacy that impacts us, and if we really think about, had help along the way, either through a lucky break, parents, right time/right place, and access. I tend to agree with Mr. Gladwell. This doesn't negate the brilliance of certain successful people. It just means that the opportunity was presented to these individuals that allowed them to use their smarts and work hard. I mention this so we can remember that not everyone who "doesn't make the right choice" is lazy. Sometimes, due to circumstances we are not aware of, it just is. This is painting with a very broad brush, and we all know what I think about that. Let's look at it this way:
If we only focus on corporations and negate Personal Choice, we will stifle innovation and not allow people to fail, learn, and progress. By allowing people to fail and then succeed, they will possibly build a successful business that grows and then start the cycle all over again. What an awesome circle! Now this is VERY simplistic and only one idealogical piece of the puzzle, but it is a good example of how political persuasion plays a role in the food debate.
There was a blog written by @ZacahryCohen earlier this week that was very provocative. It was about Obesity and how farmers should take some blame for this crisis in our country. Needless to say, it got the attention of a few folks, including myself. @JeffFowle and @AndyVance, two excellent #agvocates that I am proud to know and talk with via Twitter wrote responses in their blogs. Both are advocating that it is personal choice that starts it all. Referring back to the fulcrum diagram, would it not be prudent to realize that, yes personal choice is a key factor, but not the only reason? There are other factors that we need to be aware of.
One thing I can be sure of is that farmers are not to blame for obesity issues in our country.
It is a mix of people making bad choices, bad policy, and very effective marketing.
So how do we go about balancing the equation that we started with? Truthfully, we may not be able to balance the equation. Ideology is ideology and philosophy is philosophy; however, I am, and will always be, an optimist. The funny thing is that the equation cannot reach balance and remain there! It will always try to reach equilibrium and then an unknown force will cause more disorder. The fun, interesting, and exciting part is taking part in the attempts to balance the equation. This is what I am passionate about and what motivates me; it is about the journey.
Living things have no inertia, and tend to no equilibrium.
Thomas Henry Huxley - English Biologist