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Slow Food Nation '08
September 26, 2008 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Slow Food Nation '08 was a four-day conference with a panel of food luminaries (Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser, ..) to discuss the future of food in America. Sessions included The World Food Crisis (1:13), Climate Change and Food (1:20), Building a new food system (1:22), and more (streaming video, MP3 download, transcripts).
posted by stbalbach (12 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously the solution is stockpiling McDonald's hamburgers for the apocalypse.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:25 AM on September 26, 2008


It also featured a really expensive farmers market, a few yards away from the regular farmers market.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:39 AM on September 26, 2008


Here's some amateur food porn from the "Taste Pavilion"...
posted by twsf at 10:41 AM on September 26, 2008


The solution for a world wide beer shortage is not more microbreweries. It's massive vats of Bud. As much our (bourgeois) aesthetic preferences rebel against factory farms and the Midwest generally, it's small scale subsistence farmers, not agribusiness, that's deforesting the Amazon. It's trivial and ignorant to tout local agriculture in one of the most fertile regions on the globe when people are having to destroy depleted land to avoid starvation.

Global food trade, founded on the US's unparalleled agricultural productivity, is a requirement for supporting the Earth's population. Like the consumption of meat, slow food and local agriculture in the first world is a luxury we can't afford.
posted by Ictus at 11:34 AM on September 26, 2008


There's already enough food being grown, or so it's always stated. Why isn't the supposed bounty of America actually reaching those people that need it? Large-scale petroleum based agriculture isn't sustainable and small scale biointensive growing methods get a lot more food per sq.metre than agribusiness does, but the inputs are labour and compost, instead of petrochemicals.
posted by glip at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2008


massive vats of Bud

Budweiser is NOT something to which we have some sort of natural right (even here in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch's world headquarters). Like soda, it's a mostly-water product with a huge multinational marketing industry and distribution infrastructure. People were creating mild (and not-so-mild) alcoholic beverages in lots of ways, using lots of different ingredients, in different parts of the globe for centuries before the advent of homogenous crappy beer. But alcohol is, arguably, a nonessential beverage; on to your points about food.

It's trivial and ignorant to tout local agriculture in one of the most fertile regions on the globe when people are having to destroy depleted land to avoid starvation.

I'm not sure who the "destroy[ers of] depleted land" are in your example...or what land you're talking about. But although subsistence farmers in many places sometimes cause problems by clearing forests (erosion, decreased air quality, pollution from runoff, higher temperatures, ...), industrial agriculture often does the same thing on a much bigger scale. As far as people avoiding starvation: when subsistence farmers who used to grow a variety of crops switch to monoculture of one or a few cash crops, they're more vulnerable. Pests or disease could more easily wipe out all the food they're growing, or an unexpected drop in the price of a particular commodity (wheat, olive oil, etc.) could suddenly make their crops worth much less.

It's trivial and ignorant to tout local agriculture in one of the most fertile regions on the globe (...)
Global food trade, founded on the US's unparalleled agricultural productivity, is a requirement for supporting the Earth's population.


I think slow-food and locavore types would disagree with your use of "fertile." It's not that most soil in the US is especially good for growing crops--although of course different crops like different kinds of soil and climate. We're "fertile" only in that we use so much fertilizer and pesticide and plant crops so close together and in such bulk, we produce a lot. By doing so, though, we're making the soil less fertile, and we end up trying to put depleted nutrients back into the soil with more and more chemical fertilizers. Michael Pollan would say that it's analogous to the way we process foods to an extent that makes them lose a lot of nutrients, then add synthetic vitamins and minerals to the processed foods. We end up with a bunch of toxic agricultural waste and a lot of fossil-fuel power dedicated to producing food that's pretty crappy--not just crappy in a bourgeois aesthetic sense but from a public-health and nutrition standpoint too.

Certainly the global trade of processed foods is not going to go away any time soon, and when people can't afford or get to fresh food, processed food is better than nothing. But even if you believe meat-eating doesn't have a place in anyone's diet, please don't assume that there's no role for locally-grown vegetables, fruits, seeds and grains in either the developed or the developing world. That's just....well, nuts.
posted by homelystar at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


>Global food trade, founded on the US's unparalleled agricultural productivity, is a requirement for supporting the Earth's population. Like the consumption of meat, slow food and local agriculture in the first world is a luxury we can't afford.

There are many more forces at work on the Amazon than just small subsistence farmers. The Amazon is being deforested for its valuable mahogany and other types of wood. Brazil has a lucrative industry in timber and that's a large part of what drives everyone, from big logging companies to small loggers, to clear more rainforest.

Actual free trade for food might be an answer to food shortages, but it is certainly nothing like what the US has been doing since WWII. We might be producing a lot of food, but that doesn't mean that we're feeding the world. Food insecurity is, in a large part, a political problem [PDF].

Our current farming and aquaculture system has some pretty scary downsides. I agree that we've set up a pretty efficient distribution method for our factory system, but this doesn't mean we can't come up with another efficient model for local food. As it is, having every local farmer drive a truck into the nearby city to set up a stall is wasteful (though maybe not for long if we can switch to cleaner vehicles), but we should weigh this against the algal blooms and other problems (mentioned in the "has some pretty scary downsides" links above) that come with factory farming. In fact, maybe Sysco could use its existing infrastructure to help make this work. On top of that, citydwellers can start their own little gardens for an extra little boost.

Don't get caught up in your ideology. We have evidence that our system is hurting the food supply and the environment and that means we need to make changes.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2008


this doesn't mean we can't come up with another efficient model for local food

I'm working on it! Since I opened it up last year, it's spread to 35 communities throughout North America. We're closing in on a million dollars of local food sold this way. A drop in the bucket compared to the total food dollars spent, but it's a quickly growing start.
posted by ewagoner at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


What homelystar said.

And...Ictus...a couple fo questions for you.

As a devoted locavore and someone who takes local food seriously, I'm quite curious to know if I have been missing something, so I wonder if you provide some sources to your assertions that subsitence farmers are responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon. Genuinely curious here...

As for fertile and America's unparalleled agricultural productivity, the problem here is that industrial farming practices not only demineralize the topsoil, but they erode it as well, requiring more and more fertilizers to be poured on to get production from the same amounts of land. The issue here is that the land becomes dependent on fertilizers for its sustainability. If something catastrophic were to happen to fertilizers, including price spikes making them no longer affordable, or the depletion of raw materials, it would be very difficult to return to organic agriculture practices on what is now very productive farmland. It's not that it isn't impossible to fix and rebuild soils, but it could take a very long time. Even a few months is a long time when you are talking about going without food.

So I think a trend towards more local sources of food and bringing people closer to their food is not a bad thing and, while not practical to do everywhere this week, it is a trend that I sense will be more and more important in the next few generations.

Your thoughts on what the future might demand of agriculture?
posted by salishsea at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2008


My peeps and I were at Slow Food, shooting for our urban farming documentary. This stuff is hot hot hot right now, and for a good reason. Thanks for the post and the links to the videos! Self-links, duh.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2008


homelystar: The beer thing was a metaphor.

I'm well aware of the environmental cost of conventional agriculture, but it's slight in comparison to the alternatives. To produce the same amount of food on a small scale without fertilizers is actually impossible. I read somewhere that without nitrogen additives the Earth could only support 4 billion people. To try anyway would mean total deforestation and using, and using up, all arable soil anywhere. Seriously.

I couldn't improve on your arguments against small scale farming. Regardless of its cost and sustainability, there are literally no alternatives to conventional agricultural that don't involve condemning billions to slow death. Local organic foods are a niche luxury product for the extremely wealthy, relatively speaking. They may confer distinction, but they don't confer karma. In comparison, convincing first-worlders to stop eating meat would drastically reduce ecological damage and increase the food supply without killing anyone off.

Grimp0teuthis: Please don't mistake me. Organic, local farming is strictly preferable in every aspect except feasibility and is the source of some of my fondest childhood memories. Regardless, roughly 40% of the Earth's surface is used for agriculture or raising cattle. I hope it's not too glib to point out it all gets eaten. Massive factory farms are a prerequisite to maintaining our population.

salishsea: This page opens with "Almost half of tropical deforestation is caused by subsistence activities on a local level by people who simply use the rainforest's resources for their survival." Also on that site is this chart, which breaks down Brazil's deforestation by cause. Cattle ranching and subsistence farming make up 93%. Commercial agriculture is 1%. It's just the first result on Google, though. The bottom line is commercial concerns aren't going to bother with marginal land because the economics suck.

As for soil fertility, I just stumbled across this article. Note that North America has the lion's share of the best land and that chemical fertilizers require a certain level of soil quality to be effective.
posted by Ictus at 3:33 PM on September 26, 2008


>To produce the same amount of food on a small scale without fertilizers is actually impossible. I read somewhere that without nitrogen additives the Earth could only support 4 billion people. To try anyway would mean total deforestation and using, and using up, all arable soil anywhere.

Feel like providing some support for those broad claims? Where did you read it?

I'll admit that in my 10-minute look around the web, I haven't found a decent source that addresses whether local food principles can feed the world population. It does make sense to me that the local food movement risks giving up the benefits of specialization, but I wish someone would do a formal study to confirm it.

The best I could find is a ScienceBlogs post that mentions and links to efforts to set up a more efficient local food distribution system

So far, the local food movement seems primarily concerned with environmental impact and freshness of food than with production quantity (though no source I've seen has claimed that it actually takes this as a tradeoff). In the meantime, the arguments for organic farming practices are much stronger:

-Here's a survey of recent studies arguing that organic farming is at least as productive if not more so than conventional farming.

-Here's a recent study that argues the same thing, also mentioning nitrogen fixation. [Abstract only unless you're a member of the Cambridge Journals system, sorry]
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:44 AM on September 27, 2008


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