Did you know that it’s possible to be obese and still be starving? It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? Yet that’s what’s been happening for the last hundred years or more, all around the world, particularly when we watch traditional people groups start eating the nutritionally empty foods of industrialization.
Paul Roberts, journalist and published author, foresees a world where we won’t be able to afford nutrient-dense foods — a world where empty calories make us fat and kill us off. He calls it The End of Food, and in the video below he gives a brief overview of his position.
Most of you are familiar with the story already. It’s the story of industrial agriculture and its unquenchable desire to make food cheaper, bigger, faster. In the videos below, created by my friends over at Cooking Up A Story, Roberts leaves us with a few fascinating talking points.
First, most of the problems we have today in our food system began as solutions. He starts by telling the story of Thomas Jukes — the man who solved a global food crisis by figuring out that administering sub therapeutic levels of antibiotics to animals made them grow bigger, faster. Of course, we know what kinds of problems that has caused.
Second, the problem with our food supply is systemic. Any attempts to solve it that do not address the system as a whole will simply leave us with another set of problems. His own predictions for the future of our food supply are quite dire, mostly because the entire global food chain is so unstable and oil dependent. We all remember how rising fuel prices last summer set off food riots in various parts of the world.
Of course, system wide change doesn’t happen overnight, so Roberts argues that we need to put the wheels in motion now to get us to where we want to be.
He begins by positing that we need to come up with a new story to sell consumers. We need to build consumer awareness of what’s currently wrong (ala Food,Inc.), and we need to set their expectations appropriately. (Consumers need to understand that they will not get a food system back that cuts their food costs every year, or that allows them to get any food they want any time of year from anywhere in the world.) And we also need narratives that expand the discussion and bring in a new audience.
Although we’re building awareness right now (hopefully Food Renegade is doing its own small share), there’s not enough critical mass or concern to fundamentally change the system. Roberts argues that when we do get to that critical mass, we won’t have the tools necessary to change the food system because we’ve turned over research to the private sector.
Don’t get me wrong, I love private sector solutions and generally prefer them if they spontaneously arise. But the nature of economics can’t be denied. The private sector will only research what will turn a short term profit. They can’t afford to do otherwise. So, when it comes to re-thinking our food supply, we will need to get our federal government involved somehow.
Roberts has a few ideas for what governmental policy changes would make the most sense, and I’m not sure what I think of them.