Seed to Plate: Remaking our food system for a happy ending

Last week’s top grossing film, The Final Destination, brought in over 28 million dollars. If only everyone who bought a ticket to that horror flick could have instead seen Food, Inc., Robert Kenner’s documentary that reveals the frightening reality of our broken food system. The moviegoers still would experience a certain level of suspense brought on by ominous music and a high body count. What they wouldn’t get is the sense of relief that comes when the mystery is solved and they exit the theater.

Instead, the message of Food, Inc. sticks. The film gives us a peek behind the curtain of a highly mechanized food system designed to provide an excess of cheap food. Each meal we eat, unless completely homegrown, has resulted from farm worker exploitation, mistreatment of animals, farmers losing their livelihoods under attack from seed giant Monsanto, food safety scares from new strains of E. coli, and a costly, life-threatening obesity epidemic.

There is no silver bullet, no stake through the heart, no secret-agent gadget that will make this bad guy go away. What might happen (though not over the course of 90 minutes) is a gradual shift to a system that ensures community food security.

According to Mary Hendrickson, director of the Food Circles Networking Project of the University of Missouri Extension, “Community food security is about making sure everyone has good food, all the time, from non-emergency sources.”

It sounds simple, but it can’t happen until we create a just food system that keeps environmental and social costs in check while providing fair wages to those who grow, distribute and deliver our food.

“You don’t move overnight from a system where people are hungry and the cheap food that’s available isn’t good food,” says Hendrickson, who points to zoning for community gardens and farmers market vouchers for low-income and senior populations as steps toward a more just food system.

According to the Community Food Security Coalition, Community Food Security (CFS) is a comprehensive solution based on six principals:

1. Low Income Food Needs

Like the anti-hunger movement, CFS is focused on meeting the food needs of low income communities, reducing hunger and improving individual health.

2. Broad Goals

CFS addresses a broad range of problems affecting the food system, community development, and the environment such as increasing poverty and hunger, disappearing farmland and family farms, inner city supermarket redlining (the practice of providing inferior products to residents of certain areas, often based on ethnicity and income), rural community disintegration, rampant suburban sprawl, and air and water pollution from unsustainable food production and distribution patterns.

3. Community focus

A CFS approach seeks to build up a community’s food resources to meet its own needs. These resources may include supermarkets, farmers’ markets, gardens, transportation, community-based food processing ventures, and urban farms to name a few.

4. Self-reliance/empowerment

Community food security projects emphasize the need to build individuals’ abilities to provide for their food needs. Community food security seeks to build upon community and individual assets, rather than focus on their deficiencies. CFS projects seek to engage community residents in all phases of project planning, implementation, and evaluation.

5. Local agriculture

A stable local agricultural base is key to a community responsive food system. Farmers need increased access to markets that pay them a decent wage for their labor, and farmland needs planning protection from suburban development. By building stronger ties between farmers and consumers, consumers gain a greater knowledge and appreciation for their food source.

6. Systems-oriented

CFS projects typically are “inter-disciplinary,” crossing many boundaries and incorporating collaborations with multiple agencies.

In this series, I’ve written about some of the people working to move Kansas City toward community food security. These urban farmers, advocates, educators and community organizers are leading the fight to keep our food system from becoming more of what film reviewer Mark Dujsik called The Final Destination: “A quick, cheap cash-in.”

To find out more about Community Food Security projects and what you can do, visit these links from the Community Food Security Coalition:

Community Food Security Projects: http://www.foodsecurity.org/CFS_projects.pdf

What One Person Can Do: http://www.foodsecurity.org/what_you_can_do.pdf

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1 Comment »

  1. Shelley Brunskill said

    I can’t wait to see the movie Food, Inc. I had not even heard of it and it sounds similar to Micahel Moore’s series, several years ago, when he looked at chicken farms and the effect they have on the consumer, workers, and the people who live around them.

    This encourages me to begin growing at home and to attend our farmer’s markets more often as both will be beneficial to the environment, my family, and local farmers. Thank you for the information and all the tips on how to make our food system better for everyone involved – awareness is the beginning!

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