Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance has recently published his new book, Fair Food. In a time when so many people are looking for ways to find their way back to a life with good food and farming at its centre, this book is for you. And for everyone else who currently thinks our food system is fine and nothing’s wrong with it – this book is also for you. This book “tells the new story of food: how food and farming in Australia are dramatically transforming at the grassroots level towards reconnection, towards healing – of the land, of each other. It offers a compelling and coherent vision of how our future can be so much better than our present and our past, and how each of us can make a difference.” Sounds good doesn’t it. I had the chance to ask Nick some solid questions about what Fair Food covers, have a read below so you can get you mind ready for the book…La Via Campesina (the Farmers Way). Food sovereignty means a democratic and participatory food system at global, national and regional levels, in which farmers and communities collectively determine the purpose and design of their food systems for their own benefit, rather than the key decisions being taken by and for the benefit of the largest multi-national agribusiness and retail corporations
Part of the description of the book states that “Australia’s food system is more than just broken: it’s killing us.” How is it killing us?Many of the major crises and challenges we’re facing are directly or indirectly linked to the ways in which we produce, distribute and consume food. Climate change is already estimated to be causing 150,000 deaths annually, and even on conservative models of increased warming and extreme weather events, that number is expected to rise significantly. By some estimates half of greenhouse gas emissions can be linked to food and agriculture, when land clearing and land use change is taken into account. Land clearing, and especially deforestation, is also a major driver of biodiversity loss and species extinction, and much of it is linked to agriculture in places like the so-called ‘green desert’ of the massive GM soy monoculture in South America’s southern cone, the Amazon in Brazil, Sumatra and Malaysia, and Cape York in Australia. Hunger and malnutrition remain a scourge at the global level, and food banks tell us that demand for emergency food relief is sharply on the rise in Australia. Obesity is now spoken of as a pandemic, with type 2 diabetes now affecting 9% of all adults in the world and directly causing 1.5 million deaths annually. Farmers in Australia experience levels of depression and suicide at more than twice the national average, a symptom of how devalued the work they do has become in our culture and society. To put it bluntly, our collective wellbeing and future – and especially that of our children and their children – is at stake. The evidence is overwhelming that our current food system is not merely dysfunctional, it’s actively violent and destructive. Anyone who doubts that should read this photo-essay about the devastating social and environmental impacts of 20 years of uncontrolled expansion of the genetically-modified soybean monoculture in Argentina, which now occupies 47 mn acres, or 70% of all arable land in that country. It’s a devastating indictment of a system where money and short-term financial gain are prioritised above all else.
How have we got to this point where our food system is so broken?These and many related problems are the result of a global and national food system that suffers from an excess of concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few huge corporations across key sectors. In Australia we’re all familiar with the supermarket duopoly – Coles and Woolworths – and their increase in the grocery market share from 35% in the mid-1970s to around 70-80% today has coincided with an exodus of our farmers from the land at the rate of 7-10 per day. I and many others argue that this is no coincidence. More generally, the broken, dysfunctional and destructive food system is itself a symptom of our culture, which values money above all else. When short-term gain is prioritised as the highest individual and social value, and becomes the over-arching goal, anything becomes possible and permissible to achieve that end. Aristotle explained this very clearly, 2500 years ago, in his treatise on the Politics of Money, where he explained the distinction between oikonomia – the social and natural resource economy, the ‘good management of the home’ – and chrematistics: the art of manipulation of wealth, property and money in order to maximise short-term monetary gain. It’s pretty obvious what our ‘economy’ has become, and the consequences are very clear for anyone who wishes to see them. This is explained quite well in this short blog piece from Gaian Economics. I think that fundamentally the issue is that we have become disconnected and alienated from our food system – from the source of life – and so we permit all manner of things to be carried out. This is why I speak and write about food sovereignty as the ‘connected’ food system, the ‘healing’ food system.
You’ve talked to and written about farmers and urban gardeners. While drastically different scales, are both these types of growers important to our food system?Absolutely. We need many more farmers – particularly smaller-scale, biodiverse farmers practising polycultural methods of production. They are and will continue to be our ‘food bowl’. At the same time, we need an abundance of urban gardeners. The benefits of urban agriculture are multi-dimensional, from physical, mental and psychological health and wellbeing, to community building and resilience, to skill sharing and learning, to aesthetic enhancement of the urban environment, to creating habitats for bees, insects and birds. Urban agriculture connects us with our food system, and that’s critically important for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. And as a matter of resilience and food security, urban agriculture, when done well, can produce large amounts of food. Just ask Angelo Eliades, who yields in the order of 300kgs per year from his permaculture food forest in Preston.
What are the top things you think people can do in their own lives to help create a healthy, vibrant food system in Australia and the world?The answer is only limited by your own imagination and creativity. The most obvious way to take back some control over the food system is to grow some of your own food – and millions of us are, more than half of all Australians, according to recent surveys.
- Join a community garden, permaculture group or transition network. If you have kids at school, encourage the school to start a kitchen garden, and to include food literacy in the curriculum.
- Support your local farmers market if there is one nearby.
- Buy direct from farmers if that’s an option – and increasingly these days it is, with the internet (see for example Open Food Network).
- Encourage your local council to adopt a food policy, and create a local food network or coalition. Inform yourself about all these issues.
- Join the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, and help us campaign for systemic and structural change.