‘Our Food System Is Very Much Modeled on Plantation Economics’
And in the United States in particular, because of our history, not very long ago, the people that performed all of the jobs that I just listed right now, or their equivalents, those were performed by enslaved people, people whom we forced to do this for no pay, for no compensation; we appropriated their labor. And that era is not that long ago. As everyone listening knows, emancipation didn’t occur, at least officially, until 1865. But the fact is that emancipation never really came to agriculture, in the sense that we still don’t pay the full value of the labor that’s required to make the entire system work.
We need a food system that is fungible, that has redundancy built in. The so-called efficiencies that have been built into the highly specialized industrial model that we have right now, we are now learning, do not serve us when you have a situation where a single thing that is unpredicted takes out one pillar of the food system, and then the whole thing comes crumbling down. That’s not the kind of food system that we need. We need one that is more distributed, meaning that there are more nodes within the food system that can respond in the volumes and quantities and the formats that are necessary for where people are going to be using this food.
Now, a very good example of that is that the farmers that are doing well right now are the so-called small-scale family farmers. These are folks that produce in volumes, and who redistribute in local and regional networks, where they can respond very quickly, to where the schools are now becoming redistribution points for SNAP, for instance, or for school food that needs to be picked up by students that otherwise might not have access to that food, because they’re not coming to school every day, and so on. Or through farmers markets, another very important redistribution method which is very fungible. So we’re learning that that’s actually what works; we need to invest more in these kinds of highly distributed systems, and less in the highly concentrated systems.