Last week I promised to elaborate on my cornerstones model and to explain how healthy food systems fuel growth throughout the economy.
A Clean Environment Comes First
Whenever I introduce the cornerstones, I always start with the environment. The reason I do this is because the environment came first. The natural resource base we live in and on predates humanity itself.
And what many of us fail to realize is that this natural resource base represents the first cornerstone on which our food systems are built. Our environment is literally our life support system and without the right quality of air, water, soil, and energy, healthy food just cannot be produced. So a clean environment, an environment that is able to cycle nutrients sustainably is essential.
In the natural world, local environments do a pretty good job of sustaining themselves. Wastes are recycled. Nutrients flow to support the living.
But human society has developed a unique ability to transform our environment in ways that disrupt its ability to sustain itself. We concentrate resources in some areas, and we extract resources from others. In doing so, we reduce our environmental quality, and therefore we reduce our ability to produce healthy food.
Strangely enough, we can still grow food. We can even manufacturer synthetic products that the food and drug administration identifies as food. But the nutrients, enzymes, bio-molecules, and microbiomes associated with these foods are not necessarily healthy.
Foods grown in an ecologically imbalanced environment may look perfectly normal. However, their capacity to promote good health is compromised.
Regenerative Agriculture Cleans and Restores the Environment
The second cornerstone is regenerative agriculture and regenerative agriculture can best be summed up as agriculture that restores the soil and the environment rather than extracting from it or exploiting it.
For at least 10,000 years, humans have been involved in agriculture. And within every culture and every population there have been farmers who took more from the soil than they returned and farmers whose practices regenerated the land.
Both regenerative and exploitive farming practices are as old as civilization. In free market societies, regenerative farmers prosper and exploitive farmers either change their ways or become increasingly poor over time. However, as societies grow, markets become more complex and middlemen, politics, and governments play larger roles influencing the food supply.
When this happens, it shifts the balance between exploitive and regenerative farming practices towards exploitation. This happens because more complex markets put demands on growers that stretch far beyond the simple problem of producing good food and trading it for a fair profit.
As Governments Play Larger Roles, Freedom to Support Healthy Food Systems Declines.
As any society grows, the rules of the game, get more complex. Markets become harder to navigate. Buyers and sellers have more middlemen acting between them, and government regulations restrict the flexibility consumers and producers have for meeting each other in the middle.
Even subsidies and social welfare that are designed to assist farmers and consumers can have negative effects by encouraging the wrong practices. The more regulations there are governing any society, the less freedom individual citizens have to engage in either self care or land stewardship. As a result, both self care and land stewardship decline.
This lack of freedom can actually cause a food system to collapse.
For a simple example, let’s consider the case of an urban supermarket cashier who cares deeply about the growing pools of plastic trash harming sea life in the Pacific Ocean. Nonetheless, every day, this young man fills plastic bags with food from people’s shopping carts and sends them on their way.
If he asks too many customers to bring their own bag, or complains too much to the store managers about plastic consumption, he might find himself jobless with his own survival at stake. Even in a democracy, financial dependencies keep most people from experiencing freedom.
I’m among the many who believe that most people value doing what is good for people and the planet. But as long as we are dependent on a paycheck from others, most of us will put the paycheck above those plastic garbage bags.
In a world, more conducive to free enterprise that same cashier might go home and invent a more eco-friendly alternative. He might create a whole new industry. But in the society run by large corporations, his odds of going bust, trying to bring his invention to market are just too high for most cashiers to bet on.
This lack of economic freedom is widespread. And when freedom is missing, people are more likely to exploit the land and the people around them as they struggled to survive.
Good Health, Supported by Good Food, is Necessary to Support Healthy Food Systems
Another factor that keeps people from all walks of life caught in a treadmill thatis harming our planet and threatening our food system is our health. Most specifically our environmental, dietary, and nutritional health.
When the quality of our environment and the quality of our diets deteriorates, we leave ourselves prone to chronic and infectious disease. As I’m recording this, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. But even prior to the arrival of COVID-19 60% of the adults in the United States had one or more chronic diseases.
This means more than half of the adult population is sick all the time. Sickness reduces our productivity. It reduces our ability to engage in regenerative agriculture or in any other industry. Sickness reduces our freedom because it limits our choices.
By this point, you’re starting to see that all the cornerstones overlap.
We cannot restore one without restoring the other three, nor can we continue to damage one without damaging the others. Anytime our health is reduced, our dependence increases and our freedom diminishes. Disease elevates our living expenses at the same time that it diminishes our ability to compete in the workforce.
In the best scenarios, sickness, forces some people to start eating healthier foods, start taking care of their body, and in the process, they begin taking steps that also improve their environment and either start producing their own food, or they start supporting those farmers whose growing practices promote nutritional quality.
Growers and consumers alike, who recognize that their food production and consumption choices are causing their personal or financial woes can be incredibly innovative. They can break free of the complicated ties that are separating humans from their environment. In the process, they create healthy food systems.
The food systems they create might be incredibly small, but this really doesn’t matter because an amazing feature of even the smallest food system is that when the four cornerstones are maintained, the food system itself grows. Resources start moving towards it (towards the food system). New businesses, new economic opportunities develop around it.
And because these systems don’t threaten the larger economic order, in fact, they reinforce it, this kind of growth, reaps benefits for everybody. Healthier communities grow healthier, workforces People with more money in their pockets can buy more goods and services. The corporations themselves experience regeneration.
Growth itself become sustainable. And our potential becomes unlimited.
Now that you understand the basic rationale behind my interest in healthy food systems, I invite you to subscribe to this podcast and tune in for future episodes. Each episode will feature strategies that can be used to build healthy ecosystems, grow food regeneratively,build personal or financial freedom or enjoy good health, please join me next time.