by Marion Nestle
Mar 14 2014

Weekend reading: Balancing on a Planet

David A. Cleveland.  Balancing on a Planet: The Future of Food and Agriculture.  University of California Press, 2014.

Here’s my blurb for this one:

In Balancing on a Planet, David Cleveland sets forth the evidence for this plea: if our world is to have a future, we must engage in serious critical thinking about the practices and consequences of our current food system and find immediate ways to transform it to one that is more sustainable.

  • Great cover!

  • dgrreen

    What’s the working definition of sustainable? It seems to have become a buzzword in the food world, on par with ‘innovative’ in Silicon Valley. Can we start with a central working definition and then delegate next steps?

  • Steve

    You are right. The definition of “sustainable” is like the definition of “natural”. Everybody has their own. I would say that if you are not profitable at what you do then you are not sustainable. And if we go back to farming like we did 50 years ago, then we will spend a huge portion of our paycheck on food and many will go hungry. What is definitely NOT sustainable is our steadily increasing population that occupy more and more agricultural acres. Every year we have more people to feed and fewer acres to grow food on. To me that is the most alarming part and I think the tipping point will come sooner than many think. According to the article below we have lost 73 million acres of productive farmland from 1990 to 2012.This trend has to stop!

  • dgrreen

    Yes, Steve I agree that everybody has their own definition. You, reading this, are no less intelligent than anyone that would define the term.

    As students of the Marion Nestle Academy of Food Politics, why don’t we just define the term?

    We can call our new edible dictionary the Marion-Webster Edition because Merriam-Webster’s definition of sustainable is:

    1: capable of being sustained


    a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

    Is that definition sustainable? We can do better, can’t we?

  • Change starts with kids! We need to get kids into the habit of reaching for sustainable products rather than unsustainable. It’s as easy as reaching up instead of down.

  • Daniel Green (@dgrreen)

    Our discussion got me thinking. Here’s how my friend and I define Sustainable


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  • Del

    Our food system seems to be on a trajectory in which traditional, quality driven practices are displaced by short-term profit driven choices that exhaust or damage the land and adjacent natural resources. The word sustainable as an umbrella term for this dysfunction may be too technical and emotionally removed to make a difference. Perhaps something more readily identifiable by the majority of people would serve better. Any suggestions?


  • Del

    Just put the book on my reading list. Thanks!