I propose that over the next 7 years we will be passing through a time of significant change in many areas of our lives. I trust that we will ultimately see a better world than we have today and I also realise that the transition phase is our most vulnerable and risky time.
This then begs the question, 'what are the most important things for us to be doing now to make this passage as gentle ride as possible?' On that list no doubt would be *to develop resilient sources of food and water from within a localised region of cities and towns* to ensure minimal disruption in the event of economic, environmental or political shifts which could disrupt imported food.
This book presents a fun and positive way to start building resilient sources of food and water in your own town.
These writings are a perspective from the vantage point of an international food entrepreneur. My recent experiences in the food game have opened my eyes to the enormous scale of our modern food systems and the significant impacts they have on the ecologies, societies and economies of the people that we cohabit this earth with.
The start of my my food career was in 2003 when I purchased a wholesale patisserie in Marrickville, Sydney with 3 friends. During this time I learnt the ins and outs of pretty much every link in the food supply chain from grower - transport - food production - warehouse/wholesale - retail and hospitality. My most recent food venture, prior to my work with Ooooby, was a marketing and supply chain management company for international industrial scale food products seeking entry into the Australian market. Within 1 year and 3 months of market entry, we achieved sales exceeding $1million in a single month with steady growth thereafter.
My perception outlined in these writings have come about from direct experience, countless conversations with industry experts and by placing myself in a diverse flow of new and open media.
I hope that this book will inspire you and offer some clarity and guidance for participating in the emerging foodscape.
In the spirit of thriving, I invite you to come and play together in new ways around food so that we all eat well and to feed us all well and at the same time improve our social and ecological systems.
Today we are bearing witness to possibly the most revolutionary series of global events in memorable human history. These events are culminating into a collective shift that will likely touch and deeply affect each and every one of us.
This shift is already well underway in many parts of the world and each day we are all accelerating towards a tipping point that may make our current way of life a mere memory in what will seem like the blink of an eye.
It seems inconceivable, because whilst humanity has endured events of enormous proportions during our lifetimes, most of us have remained relatively unscathed and unchanged. Throughout our lives we have watched from the safety of our cushy living rooms as cataclysmic events have been taking place in an increasingly rapid succession. Record breaking heat waves, Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the deluge caused by Hurricane Sandy, Christchurch earthquakes and on it goes. Our television screens have been like telescopes enabling us to observe whilst feeling far removed and disconnected. However, have you noticed lately that there is a growing uncertainty and a kind of 'change in the air' in the real world just outside your own front door?
If you're not sensing this air of change, then take a look at the evidence which clearly shows that people all over the world are quite conscious of it. The steady unravelling of the financial systems that underpin our economy, the occupy movements, the rapid increase in energy and food costs, nations on the brink of financial collapse, growing concern around climate change... and on and on it goes.
While corporate media is hyper-focusing on sports, drama and banal entertainment, there is a growing groundswell of street level movements which are rising spontaneously, simultaneously and in ever growing numbers. These self organised groups are responding to real world issues that are directly impacting their lives.
Everyday people, like you and me, are waking from the hypnotic state that the mass media culture of modern living has held us under. Average Joe's are starting to see cracks in the 'system' within their own realities and are now looking around for sense and meaning. This questioning stance is allowing new kinds of dialogue among peers from which higher levels of clarity are emerging. Through these conversations the web of connectedness is being built which unifies us into cooperative and coordinated movements for better systems.
These movements are typically focussed on correcting social behaviours in all sorts of arenas such as the environment, energy and economy.
In my opinion the best way to address these issues is to focus our attention on creating social activities that enhance and regenerate our natural ecosystem. The one aspect of our lives which has the greatest impact on our ecosystem and which is common to us all is food. Food underpins everything in terms of how we interact with environment, energy and economy.
By focusing our collective efforts on the tasks of building new interconnected localised food systems, we are being most responsible and effective in handing the torch on to our children.
The crux of the matter is that our food systems are largely at cause of many of the global issues that we are facing. Long distance supply chains consume inordinate amounts of resources. Massive monoculture crops alone are one of the greatest contributors to environmental depletion, poisoning of our soil and spiralling diet related health issues. By addressing our food systems, we are applying energy and action to the most strategic leverage point of all.
This book is being written to provide insight into our existing dominant global food systems and a practical understanding of the emerging renaissance of human scale food systems which bring hope for a better way of life.
This book is also an invitation for you to participate in the peoples advance toward more sustainable and truly fulfilling local lifestyles that offer hope for our future generations.
1. The me/we cycle.
2. Where have we been?
3. Where are we now?
4. What are we facing?
5. How can we respond?
6. What is our vision?
7. What are our objectives?
8. What are our resources?
9. Who are our allies?
10. What is the game plan?
11. How do we coordinate?
12. How do we protect ourselves?
13. How do we interface with existing authorities?
14. How do we deal with setbacks and disappointments?
15. Why bother?
16. Getting started.
Food systems throughout history have been the primary shaper of our cultures, traditions and vocations. Of the 4 needs at the base of Maslow's hierarchy; air, water, food and sleep; food is the most complicated to fulfill.
It takes knowledge, skill and coordinated human effort to obtain food. The getting of food is our primary labour. No other task matters without first handling our ongoing requirement for food. We are first and foremost slaves to our hunger.
Also throughout history, the control of food has been the ultimate means for controlling people.
'Control oil and you control the nations; control food and you control the people'
- Henry Kissinger 1970.
Since time began, control of our food source has been our most important and immediate concern for survival. So it goes that control over the food source of others is effectively control over the other all together.
Humanity has thus participated in an ongoing game of 'take and take back'. It is a game that has always and is still played between two groups; the minority and the majority. It goes something like this.
Let's start at a point in the cycle where the majority is in control. Food systems that are majority driven tend to be fair and centred around equal distribution of basic human requirements. The political systems under majority rule are guided by ideologies akin to democratic socialism. The social order is flat and weblike. The people in positions of leadership are typically heart driven more so than head driven and they are nominated by others into their leadership roles. They are less in pursuit of status and gain their satisfaction by participating in social type activities in the rhythms and flows of the natural order. Based on heart driven consciousness, personal identity is more derived from the 'we' than the 'me'. This 'we' identity typically extends beyond present time to include our ancestors and our descendants. Because of this the people are motivated to enhance and optimise natures bounty in a way that doesn't deplete the resources required for our offspring to continue on in a state of wellbeing. Life is good, or so it seems.
Then, as night follows day, dissent pokes up its little head among a pioneering minority who primarily identify themselves as 'me'. These people start to have imaginings of change. They begin to see that life is an opportunity to create something new, something outside of the collective 'we' mentality. The 'me' perceives itself to be independent and capable of shifting into new unchartered territories. The 'me' thinker considers 'self' as separate from others and views social order in a hierarchal manner as opposed to a flat web like manner. The goal of the 'me' thinker is to be at the top of a hierarchy which, by it's very nature, can only accommodate a small minority of the people. The two primary devices for this ascent is shrewd intellect and coat tailing.
And so the games begin.
'Me' thinkers need people 'under' them in order to rise to the top of the hierarchy. So they entice 'we' thinkers with promises of increased happiness, by way of material possessions and status, to become one of 'us'. 'Us', the collective term for 'me', automatically implies the notion of 'them'. Thus the 'us and them' mental model is constructed.
In order to facilitate the hierarchy, status units are introduced, known today as titles and money. These status units are issued by those at the summit to those directly beneath them and cascade down. By doing this, a middle class is created between the top class and bottom class. The middle class forms an alliance with the top class based on a lingering hope that the middle class will one day rise to the heights of the elites.
As more and more 'we' thinkers buy into the 'me' mentality the 'we' status quo begins to crumble. Gradually over generations an increasing number of people migrate from the code of the mundane web like social order to the exciting and progressive code of the hierarchical social order and thus a new 'me' status quo is established.
In this hierarchical world, it is by perfect design that the few at the top of the pile experience opulent abundance while multitudes at the bottom are devoid of many of the basic requirements for sustainable life. It is important that the hierarchy has the middle class to act as a buffer and tiered line of defence between the mega rich and the ultra poor. By keeping the middle class under the impression that they are destined to enjoy the good life, the majority of the population is in favour of the hierarchal status quo. The stratifying effect keeps resource conflicts between those of marginal differences toward the bottom of the ranks.
As time marches on food and other resources steadily flow from bottom to top, filtered at each level by the spending power of each strata, which results in the majority and finest food being made exclusively available to the minority at the top of the hierarchy.
Then eventually as more resources go to less people at the top and less resources are shared among the many people in the middle and lower classes, a shift of consciousness begins to occur in the middle class stratums. This significant proportion of the population begins to see that quality of life is getting progressively worse just when they were expecting it to be getting progressively better. This disillusion sparks anger and resentment which eventually culminates in a tipping of the scales whereby the middle class start to switch their allegiance from the wealthy few to the poor multitudes who they now share their plight with. As the middle class wake up from their mass delusion, the 'me' code gives way to an acceptance that 'we' is a much saner way to ensure a sustainable and genuinely enjoyable life. As this realisation spreads, rapidly growing numbers of people 'opt out' of participating in the 'me' game and begin to connect with those around them to establish new ways of fulfilling their life requirements. The first of these being food.
I personally have observed this cycle occur in my own life.
I remember as a child my identity was very much about how and where I fit into my family. My esteem came largely from our family esteem and I felt secure knowing that I was very important to the group of people I lived with. The Russell 'we' was a significant part of my identity. Growing into a teenager, I began to identify myself with my close friends and peers. In doing this I was expanding my sense of identity to a broader 'we'.
It was sometime in early adulthood however, that I started to view myself more as an independent 'me'. This 'me' attitude slowly and gradually became stronger and more dominant. At the time I was completely unaware of the shift that was taking place. My experience was simply that I wanted more. I wanted more stuff, more self significance, more freedom, more money. The getting of more became an obsession. Every moment was somehow infected with a seeking for an opportunity to make something more of myself. My friends began to lose their appeal as people who I could simply enjoy mutual company, instead I viewed them as either potential partners in accumulating money, or I saw them as prospects that I could sell something to. I became obsessed with the pursuit of making my life 'mean' something for the whole world to see. The funny thing is that, as absurd my behaviour was, nobody ever said anything about it to me, because at some level 'we' were all buying into the same 'me' game.
My twenties and early thirties were spent in a relentless pursuit of accumulating the things that make 'me' special. This resulted in some great successes and some spectacular failures. The drama was constant and the game was dizzying. Eventually, in what felt like overnight, my hard and persistent work paid off. My latest business venture ticked all the right boxes. I finally had the money and significance that I had been yearning for. Yay!
But then something happened. The feeling of personal success began to fade. Life moved on and I realised that now I needed to work very hard and stay focused on the dollar just to maintain the elevated lifestyle that I was experiencing. I felt disappointed because I had thought that breaking through my money challenges would be like finally arriving at my coveted destination after a long and arduous journey. But it wasn't the case. My long yearned goal was just the base camp to an infinitely high mountain ahead, of which there is no final summit. It was at this point that I started to question the whole 'me' game. I began to notice how being 'successful' created kind of separation between me and everyone else. I could see that I was becoming protective of my possessions. Like the seagull who just scored the biggest chip, I wanted to eat the whole thing on my own. I began to feel more important than others while my arrogance and narcissism was going through the roof.
Gradually I noticed that I had managed to separate myself from the people in my life who are actually the most important element to my true happiness. This 'me' game wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Pretty bloody lonely really.
Returning to the 'we' way of viewing the world hasn't been an overnight phenomenon and there is still ‘me’ thinking happening as well. The last 3 years have been a very gradual process of letting go. I still find myself clinging to personal significance, however when I remember to let go of it all being about me, I rediscover a feeling of arriving at the destination I like to refer to as home.
I suppose in a way the 'me' journey may be a requirement to really appreciate the genuine state of 'we'. In any regard, I feel blessed to be back amongst my fellow humans with a sense of belonging and appreciation for each persons contribution no matter how big or small.
Consider the story of Adam and Eve. It took place in a food forest where all basic needs were met. The food was no doubt fabulously rich of nutrients and teaming with life. Well that’s where we have been in the deep deep past. More recently we learned to tame nature into an agricultural systems where we were able to feed more people without the need for wandering from place to place. We have lived for thousands of years in this state of applying natural food growing cycles to a human designed system which has allowed us to apply our minds to more conceptual ideas hence the advent of agriculture being the starting point of a rapid evolutionary path relative to that of other earthling species. This human scale model of food production seems to have been quite stable as it, when done properly, revitalised the soil as it produced food.
A relatively recent and major disruption to the sustainable agricultural model was the advent of the ‘Green Revolution’ which took hold in the late 1960’s. The Green Revolution refers to the application of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to the agricultural sector and was at the time credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. However within 50 short years the Green Revolution has become the facilitator of an industrial food system which has arguably produced more harm than help. These synthetic food production methods have radically altered the nutritional value of our food resulting in skyrocketing cases of food related diseases. The other radical change caused by industrial food is the concentration of control over most of the food on our planet by very few corporate elites resulting in mind blowing inequities when it comes to who gets fed and who doesn’t.
The sobering reality is that today we apparently produce enough food to feed 12 billion people with a population of only 7 billion yet over 1 billion people lack access to sufficient food. The problem of starvation has never really been a problem of production, but rather a problem of distribution. This means that people are starving in some parts of the world while in other parts of the world people are overloaded with copious quantities of poor quality food that is either causing an epidemic of diet related disease or is going to waste.
However, all is not lost because it took only a generation to cause this big problem, so with concerted effort it should only take a generation to correct it. The question is how?
We are in the beginnings of a food renaissance and it is a very fertile time. We are coming out of the winter of the industrial age and reconnecting with the romance of wholesome, authentic scrumptious food. Farmers Markets are becoming more and more plentiful and a growing number of people are on the hunt for fresh local food. The future is bright and the burgeoning urban farming movement offers a realistic solution to the many problems befalling established industrialised food.
It would be remiss of us however to celebrate the fantastic progress being made in the local food space without also recognising that we have a long way to go on the road to abundance. Things will likely get worse before they get better, but we’re all in it together so it won’t be so bad. We have a great deal of challenging work ahead of us and we have what it takes to get the job done. The challenge we face today in building a new food system is, in the words of the Food Commons folk, “an entrepreneurial pursuit of unprecedented scale”. Indeed the food challenges over the next decade are arguably the greatest human kind has ever faced.
We’re facing the best of times and the worst of times. On one hand we are witnessing an accelerating number of people rallying together to live more sustainably, while on the other hand we are bearing an accelerating onslaught of environmental impacts from our ecological ignorance throughout the industrial age. In terms of food, we are on one hand seeing farmers markets popping up like mushrooms and on the other hand facing a growing proportion of artificial food and an accelerating rate of diet related illness.
The problems we face are huge and can only be solved if we can get enough people to share the load and work together in a coordinated fashion. Fortunately the crowd is growing, it’s just a question of whether we can grow fast enough and get coordinated before the buzzer goes off.
It’s like being in the final minutes of a high stakes basket ball game with just one 3 pointer needed to get us over the line. The team moves into positions, the nod is given and everyone knows what needs to happen. In what feels a bit like slow motion, I believe we are now in the middle of that fleeting but glorious moment where the winning moves just might be played to perfection ending in a sensational swish from beyond the 3 point line.
In our case, the 3 pointer represents achieving the required critical mass of people living sustainably to begin to reverse the effects of our past mistakes.
When considering a response we must first make sure we are solving the right problem first. When being faced with enormous challenges from multiple angles like, climate change, peak oil, global economic fragility, world war etc, we need to somehow perform triage in order to arrive at the best first move.
I am proposing that of all the large scale global problems vying for our attention, our food problem is at the top of the list. Building a resilient and sustainable food system is our most urgent and most important task.
Let’s look at each one at a time.
Climate change. It is becoming clearly evident from the change in average temperatures over our lifetime, that something is happening which is interrupting our ‘normal’ ecosystem cycles and creating havoc. The most plausible cause of climate change is an overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Food is responsible for x% of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Therefore, reducing CO2 emissions by shortening the food supply chain along with other methods is one of the most effective ways to address climate change.
Peak Oil. Peak oil means that oil based energy will become increasingly more expensive. The more oil we extract from the planet the more non biodegradable plastics and toxins are put into our environment and the more expensive oil will become. Food is responsible for x% of our total oil consumption. Therefore, reducing oil consumption by reducing artificial inputs into agriculture and shortening the food supply chain is one of the most effective ways to respond to peak oil.
Global Economic Fragility. It is widely accepted in all levels of society that we are amidst great economic uncertainty and fragility. The US Dollar is at breaking point in terms of debt to other currencies and the rest of the world wants their money and power back. Food is responsible for x% of global trade. Therefore, creating many local food economies to mitigate the effects of global economic shifts is one of the most effective ways to respond to global economic fragility.
World War. Not many people dare to mention this however it is clear that tensions are mounting between the super-powers as resources are beginning to become scarce. In the event of war our globalised food systems would be targeted as a way to deprive certain regions of food. Local food systems means regional sufficiency. Therefore, creating many local food economies is one of the most effective ways to reduce the impacts of war.
No matter what you worry about, by focussing on fixing our food system, you can be pretty sure you’re being highly effective at reducing the likelihood or severity of your worries.
The most effective response is to do things that you’re already doing, but in a different way. By simply replacing your existing shopping habits with new choices based on a local bias, you will be making bigger difference than you could imagine.
The next most useful thing is to spend time in the garden growing uber local food for yourself and possibly to others as a way to earn a bit of extra pocket money.
And then there is sharing the story of local food with others. This is a fun way to make a positive difference. The more people who have a bias for local the faster we will correct the existing imbalance in our food system.
So that’s it to begin with;
- shop local,
- grow food for yourself and others,
- share the local food idea