by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sustainability

Jan 4 2019

Weekend reading: A view of how to feed the world sustainably

The World Resources Institute has a new report on how to feed the world in a way that is sustainable.

The report is based on the premise that 56% more food will be needed by 2050.  Given that premise, the unavailability of more land on which to grow food, and the need to mitigate greenhouse gases, the report recommends (among other things) increasing the efficiency of production and managing demand.

I’d like to see some careful evaluations of the basic premise of this report as well as its recommendations, which seem to place a large burden on individuals rather than governments or corporations.  The word “corporation” does not appear in the report; food companies come up only in the context of food waste (a non-controversial issue):

Dec 19 2018

Indexes: Ranking Systems for Sustainability and Nutrition

Two new Index Systems rank countries for sustainability and corporations for promoting health.

I.  Sustainability Index.

The Economist and Barilla have devised a new, interactive Index that ranks countries on the basis of food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and the ability to meet nutritional challenges.  Its scoring system goes from 0 (terrible) to 100 (perfect).

The top ten scoring countries are:

None of the scores is exemplary.  The US rank is #26.

II.  Access to Nutrition Index

The Access to Nutrition Foundation (Netherlands) ranks corporations on their strategies, policies, and actions to address obesity and diet-related diseases in the US.

The overall rankings, shown here, are relatively low.  Some do better than others on governance, products, accessibility, marketing, lifestyles, labeling, and engagement.

The highest scores are for labeling.  The lowest scores are for accessibility.

Indexes like these are useful for understanding where we are.  They should inspire us to action.

Nov 16 2018

Principles for responsible international investment in food and agriculture

The Committee on World Food Security of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has a report out on this topic, well worth pondering.

 

Sustainability, respect, safety, health, transparency, accountability—all good ideas.  The trick is to put them into practice.

Aug 18 2017

Reports about sustainable and local farming: one after another

Sustainable Food Trust has a report on a conference on the True Cost of American Food.

Health is the obvious cost, but others include:

  • the cost of nitrate and pesticide pollution of ground and river water from agro-chemicals, which in some areas of the US are so high that the water industry is struggling to provide drinking water within legal limits,
  • air pollution from CAFOs shown to be increasing respiratory infections and other diseases in people living nearby,
  • the loss of biodiversity, including the decline of farmland birds and pollinating insects,
  • soil degradation and erosion from continuous monoculture crop production,
  • the human health costs to employees working in stressful conditions in food processing plants.

The American Farmland Trust and Growing Food Connections have published GROWING LOCAL: A Community Guide to Planning for Agriculture and Food Systems.

This is an enormously useful how-to guide to developing local food systems with lots of facts and figures .  Here is an example:

The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis , of all things, has issued “Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.”

Harvesting Opportunity…highlights models for collaboration between policymakers, practitioners and the financial community, and discusses research, policy and resource gaps that, if addressed, might contribute to the success of regional food systems strategies.

New Food Economy has an analysis by Katy Kieffer on who really owns America’s farmland

While urban commercial real estate has skyrocketed in places like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., powerful investors have also sought to turn a profit by investing in the most valuable rural real estate: farmland. It’s a trend that’s driving up costs up for the people who grow our food, and—slowly—it’s started to change the economics of American agriculture.

Aug 15 2017

Agroecology: it’s the hot issue in agriculture, but what does it mean?

If you are like me, you may have trouble understanding what this term means, but it’s the hot new word in alternative agriculture.

Farms of the Future says agroecology is the only way forward.  It is collecting signatures on a petition to make agricultural production practices tore ecological.

But what does that mean, exactly?

The Wikipedia definition is no help at all.

Agroecology is the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. The prefix agro- refers to agriculture. Bringing ecological principles to bear in agroecosystems can suggest novel management approaches that would not otherwise be considered. The term is often used imprecisely and may refer to “a science, a movement, [or] a practice”. Agroecologists study a variety of agroecosystems, and the field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be organicintegrated, or conventionalintensive or extensive.

Thanks a lot.

Does agroecology mean the same thing as sustainable agriculture?

Fortunately help is at hand.

Start reading!

 

Jul 10 2017

Rotating crops in Iowa–a better way to farm

I am a big fan of Wendell Berry, the inspiring Kentucky professor and farmer, long a leading and inspiring proponent of agrarian values.  He displays these values in his own life—he walks the talk—as well as in his many books, poems, and, these days, tweets (@WendellDaily).

Now there is a movie about him, “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.”  It’s a lovely and touching film about Berry’s early start and young family.  His wife and daughter appear in the film, but the contemporary man does not.  He says he doesn’t do movies (a position with which I am increasingly sympathetic).

The film documents what industrial agriculture has done to rural America—emptied it of people, communities, and a way of life (as Berry puts it, the Russians did this with police; we did it with economics).

The film also shows how going  back to a more sustainable production system is good for soil, animals, and food, and makes farmers better off and happier.

This may sound like fantasy, but here is the Union of Concerned Scientists with a new report documenting precisely those benefits: Rotating Crops, Turning Profits.

 

As UCS scientific director Ricardo Salvador wrote me in an email:

A valid critique of the [crop rotation] system, for all its benefits (saves soil, cleans water, reduces inputs and chemical pollution, increases biodiversity, reduces pest pressure, boosts yields and profitability), is that not all Iowa farmers could adopt the system without reducing supply of corn/soy, increasing their price, and thereby driving farmers back to the system. What is the economic equilibrium point? It is an important question.

The short of it, after our economist’s painstaking analysis, is that 20 – 40% of current Iowa corn/soy acreage could be transferred into the system without distorting market dynamics. Interestingly, approximately that amount of corn/soy land in Iowa is highly erodible and should not be in that system to begin with. Farmers attempt to force the issue because of current policy incentives. If instead that ground were put into the extended rotation, it would save megatons of soil and billions of dollars of environmental and health damage annually… All of this, at great profit to the farmer—it should not be forgotten.

This is important work and it’s just thrilling that the Register is writing about it.  I hope everyone in Iowa reads the editorial and pays attention to its lessons.

May 23 2017

What ag schools really need to teach: a report

The Association of Public Land-Grant Universities has just released a report titled “Challenge of Change” about how the USDA can do a better job of funding research to solve important problems in food and agriculture.

The challenge:

 

Traditionally, the effort to achieve food security has been largely focused on the need to increase yields in order to produce more food. There is now broad recognition that production alone will not solve the grand challenge. All aspects of our food systems must be considered: nutrition, food safety, food loss, economic costs, individual behaviors, incentive structures, and societal factors affect not only production, but also access and utilization. There is also now an understanding that production increases must be achieved in the context of water availability, energy limitations, and environmental impact.

The report concludes that universities will need to change, so as to:

  • Elevate Food and Nutrition Security to a Top Priority
  • Align University Resources and Structures for Transdisciplinary Approaches
  • Enhance and Build University-Community Partnerships
  • Educate a New Generation of Students to be Transdisciplinary Problem Solvers

To achieve food security, food and agriculture will need to change to:

  • Broaden the Focus Beyond Yields
  • Change the Food System’s Incentive Structure
  • Develop the Capacity of Universities in Low-Income Countries
  • Leverage Technology, Big Data, and Information Science Information

This is an important report because it comes from land-grant universities .  These are currently responsible for supporting industrial agricultural systems and virtually ignoring—or firmly opposing—sustainable agricultural production methods.

A challenge for change indeed.  I hope land-grant universities listen hard.

 

Dec 15 2016

Weekend reading: a how-to for sustainable food systems (again)

I’m not sure how this happened, but I posted the title and cover of this book in October without saying a thing about it.  My apologies.  Here it is again.

Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler.  Farm to Table: The Essential Guide to Sustainable Food Systems for Students, Professionals, and Consumers.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

 

This is two books in one.

The first part, Farm, is about the real costs of industrial agriculture, environmental and human, and what can be and is being done about them.

The second part, Table, is a how-to for restaurants, schools, and institutions who want to source from local farms and for local farmers who want to supply those places.

The book gives specific examples illustrated with charts and photos and provides theory as well as practice suggestions.

The chapter on marketing gives the seven Ps–product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence—along with things to consider and tips.

We have emphasized throughout this book that Farm-to-Table products sell themselves.  This is usually true once people have sampled their quality, understand their importance to the community and to the environment, and know where to find them.  The role of marketing is to facilitate those connections.

This is a great guide for beginners but there is plenty to learn hear for everyone.