If systems are about diversity, then is our food system actually, to a certain degree, healthy?
In agriculture there is Agroecology. There are complex adaptive systems. Multi-culture is thought to be better than a mono-culture. Permaculture promotes diversity as a key component in nature and change. All of these promote diverse systems in one way or another as not only the healthiest state, and also as the most natural state of the environment.
Instead of mono-cropping, we say multi-cropping. Instead of feedlots, we ask for something more manageable promoting different ecosystems. This is what makes for a healthy ecosystem: not too much of anything one thing. This also makes for healthy human system workings.
Within Permaculture and complex adaptive systems, it is lifted up that a healthy state is where there are a diversity of ideas, opinions, beliefs, solutions, cultures, and challenges as this enhances the creative potential for extraordinary social construction. In this world conflict is expected and desired. Conflict is seen as a normal and lively component of life. It brings learning for all parties involved and new ways of seeing and knowing. It creates a natural state of balance, of yin and yang.
But it seems that we only apply diversity to external systems and not necessarily to humans and how we work together. This is going to sound crazy. What if the food system is already a healthy, diverse system? Hear me out.
Out food system contains myriad ways of growing plants and animals. We have all types of farmers and ranchers, family farms, corporate farms, cooperatives. We have grocery stores, CSA’s, farmers’ markets, direct purchase, online purchase. The system has health advocates, environmental, animal and human advocates as well. There are advocates for large and small farms.
Maybe the problem isn’t diversity or changing it all to one kind of system whether western industrial or sustainable agriculture (this having a broad meaning and implication). Maybe it’s really about care-taking, colonialism and imperialism. The system is already broadly and robustly diverse.
We need to change the conversation. Maybe we can have industrialized and non-industrialized and everything in-between. What we really need is to reign in western “mainstream” farming practices and how we want this style of farming reduced, or within imperialism, how we want it removed. We need to dive deeper. This isn’t the real problem. The problem lies in soil and water degradation, seed control, farmworker and food system worker abuse, imperialistic farming practices abroad, and a colonial approach here. It’s anti-trust laws not being enforced. Lastly, it’s our never-ending need to find new markets to sell our goods because of our fear of a market collapse if production declines.
So what’s the real struggle we are for? Can we see a future where all these types of farming practices (industrial and non-industrial) exist as long as the environment, animals and humans are being cared for? The struggle is semantic and very important to delineate to focus our energies. The struggle is for a sustainable system that may contain all kinds of ways of farming because, first and foremost, that is what makes a sustainable system. We have a beautifully diverse food system already. The struggle is keeping it diverse by making sure that there isn’t one type overtaking the whole or certain sets of practices acting like a cancer, eventually killing the whole system. The struggle is maintaining a balance within our complexly large food system.