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27 January 2018


Food Tank had a recent interview with Nick Jacobs that is really worth reading to learn Agroecological.
Food Tank: In your report on health and the food system, you discuss the recurrent ‘evidence problem.’ Where are our knowledge gaps?
Nick Jacobs: There are genuine gaps in our knowledge of how food systems impact health. For example, only a fraction of the chemicals already introduced for commercial use have been tested for their potential endocrine disrupting (EDC) effects. Even for well-studied substances such as nitrates, the total negative effects are still under investigation. There is often significant complexity to wrestle with.This complexity cannot, however, be an excuse for inaction. The underlying drivers of these health risks are in fact crystal clear. Many of the most severe impacts trace back to industrial food and farming practices. By perpetuating poverty, driving climate change, and degrading ecosystems, industrial food systems undermine the basic conditions for health. It is not ‘evidence gaps’ holding back our ability to act. It is the ability of powerful actors to set the terms of the debate. Industry-sponsored science has muddied the waters for decades, taking advantage of the inherent complexities and helping to sow doubt in regard to key dietary health risks (e.g. in relation to sugar). Beyond this, powerful actors have been able to shape priorities by emphasizing specific types of solutions. For example, the need to deliver cheap calories via mass production of uniform crop commodities has, for decades, been promoted as the answer to world hunger. However, the commodity supply chains developed to meet this bottom line have systematically generated poverty wages and abusive conditions, while relying on the use of chemical inputs with severe environmental and human health impacts. Too often, industrial agriculture is simply reinvented as the solution despite its unresolved and spiraling costs.
FT: How do we come to a mutual understanding on controversial issues to take necessary actions?
NJ: We need to start asking the right questions in order to prevent the debate being co-opted by narrow framing and one-dimensional solutions. We must urgently ask whether industrial food and farming systems can move beyond trade-offs and offer an exit strategy from the current cycles of environmental degradation, poverty, and ill health. In asking this question, we must consider the economic incentives and power relations that are part and parcel of industrial food systems. Not some alternative reality where companies self-regulate, politicians are immune to billions of dollars of lobbying, and consumers have the time and resources to sustainably source each item of food. In this light, the answer to the question is a resounding no.
It is, therefore, crucial to turn our attention to systemic alternatives. One in which healthy people and a healthy planet are co-dependent. Agroecological systems are showing huge potential to reconcile productivity gains, environmental resilience, social equity, and health benefits. We need to know more about the impacts of these alternative systems, and which policies can help them to thrive. However, we already know enough to establish a clear direction of travel: a wholesale transition to diversified agroecological systems must become the guiding principle for food systems reform. New forms of food systems governance are required to facilitate this transition. Ultimately, integrated food policies are needed to prevent health risks from falling through the cracks and to align various policies with the objective of delivering environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable food systems.
FT: How do you promote sustainability when social and cultural influences run contrary?
NJ: Current food trends are double-edged. There is a growing interest in what we eat and where it comes from. This manifests itself in different ways, from participating in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes to shopping at organic markets or photographing home-cooking for Instagram. In general, anything that raises awareness and sparks discussion about food is a step in the right direction. It is a major challenge to harness the growing interest in good food and to build it into an interest in sustainable diets and sustainable food systems. In other words, being a ‘foodie’ must increasingly mean taking an interest in the health of those producing our food, the health of the environment, and the total footprint of our diets. At present, this awareness tends to be sporadic. People are often at an arm’s length from the realities of food production. It is up to people to ask questions about the food they and those around them are eating, and it is up to all of those working in the food movement to help connect the dots at every opportunity. Building bridges between those advocating for good food and those advocating for basic food security is also crucial. Ultimately, both depend on a different and more equitable economic model for our food systems. Defining what this model looks like is something IPES-Food will continue to wrestle with over the coming years!

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