Would you defend it by pointing out the abundance of choices offered in today’s average supermarket, estimated to be over 45,000 items? Would you cite that per capita spending on food has dropped significantly over the last 50 years, freeing up incomes to improve quality of life? Would you talk about how American innovation is not only feeding our citizens, but is also feeding the world? Or would you quietly ask what a food system is?
While perhaps it’s not “broken,” America’s industrial food system, which dominates food sales, has developed side effects that are accelerating in severity, especially diet-related health (e.g., obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies) and environmental (e.g., chemical toxins, soil degradation, carbon emissions) issues that can no longer be ignored.
The food industry’s insatiable drive toward cheaper, more convenient products has also disrupted the simple pleasures of cooking, eating and/or sharing meals with family and friends, turning food into an accessory, a lofty drop from once being an intimate part of our daily lives.
The good news is there is an increasingly vocal ground swell of advocates and experts working to reverse the downsides of industrial food, with the high-profile personalities becoming lightning rods for the powerful, entrenched corporate interests being challenged, which commonly label them as “elitist” or “anti-ag.” Such claims, both untrue and unfair, are designed to minimize any impact these knowledgeable voices have on public opinion and consumer spending. Look no further than industrial food’s aggressive reactions to the Food, Inc. documentary to see it in action.
One thing is clear, we can no longer allow industry to control the dialog, but fighting fire with fire, especially the use of fear to influence consumer behavior, doesn’t sit well, and would probably be less effective than other approaches. To that end I’ve attempted to define the concept of “Pro Food” based on a set of core principles that get at the heart of why I and others are dedicated to driving these principles into mainstream culture through communications and alternative food systems.
PRO FOOD IS…
What Pro Food ultimately becomes is up to those who recognize and embrace its ideal of healthy, sustainable food systems and make it their own. For it is up to all of us, from farmers to eaters, and everyone else who cares about the food they eat, to carry Pro Food forward and make its vision, its values a reality.
In some very interesting ways, Pro Food draws parallels with the early years of the Internet, when it was still isolated from the mainstream in government and university labs. People, especially entrepreneurs, were starting to eye the Internet as something that could revolutionize communications and collaboration, that could democratize things long centralized. At first, they had no idea what was going to stick, but began applying time, energy and money in search of winning formulas.
This is where I see Pro Food today, which makes it financially exciting for those with solutions to the problems we face. I look forward to joining them and others on this exciting journey.
Rob Smart is a food entrepreneur focusing on sustainable food, regional food systems and consumer retail experiences. He blogs on alternative food systems on Huffington Post, Civil Eats and Every Kitchen Table blogs, and micro-blogs on Twitter as Jambutter.