Everybody to the Table

There's an old adage that says the best way to get something you want is to help others get what they want. I believe that is so true when we start to think about our food system and how it will need to change in coming years. And we do know that the food system will change. Oil prices will be going up in the future, water resources will continue to decline and the earth's minerals will come closer to depletion. All of these will affect agriculture and farmers in ways that we can only begin to imagine right now.

At the same time, more people in third world countries will be entering the middle class, and those people will want to increase the fat and sugar content of their diets. They'll be seeking that same dopamine rush that the rest of us have been feeding on for most of our lives. The thing is, with nine billion people in the world by 2050, I don't believe that will be sustainable. It would require too much energy, too much water, too many resources and too much land. It would hurt the nutrition of crops because of poor soil conditions, too many pesticides and too much fertilizer. And at this point in time, I believe we don't know the long-term effects of GMOs that might alleviate some of those issues. Something will have to give.

Western cultures are already recognizing that something has to give. As diseases like diabetes and obesity take hold in those western cultures, more and more people will begin to seek out diets that reduce fat and sugar and provide healthier fare. While the names of the diets may be different, there is more and more agreement around the fact that meat and dairy consumption should be reduced, fruit and vegetable consumption should be increased and processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. In other words, the closer one can come to a whole foods, plant-based diet the better.

How will the overall food system respond? I think the answer to that question will depend on those of us who believe in the importance of a whole foods, plant-based diet. If, in the process of pushing change for the food system, we ignore the needs of those outside of the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle, then change is going to go badly and none of us may end up getting what we want. We need to remember that in order to get what we want, we need to make sure that others get what they want. Saying that there will be winners and losers is not a satisfactory answer to ensuring that we all get what we need out of the process. It's best when everybody gets something from what they want or need. While some may come out of the change better off than others, it's important that everyone feel that they won something. Otherwise, there won't be buy-in from the "losers" and that can hurt the process' results in the long run.

Here's what I want: Good, healthy, tasty and nutritious plant-based whole, not processed, food at a reasonable price that respects the farmer and offers a livable wage to those working the fields. That's a tall order, and not one that is easily achieved.

And if I were to push for that as a change, then I would get pushback from a whole list of people. Why? Not because they don't necessarily recognize the value in a vision like that. But moreso, because they have needs too that need to be addressed, and they don't see how my vision can be achieved without affecting their needs. For example, the farmer needs to make a profit to stay in business and to feed her family. Paying more wages to those in the field may not seem possible to the farmer given what the farmer receives for her crops each season. A pig farmer may not see how he will stay in business if people cut back on eating meat. Or heaven forbid, stop eating meat all together.

Those are just a few examples of how their needs may not at first blush appear to intersect well with what it is we want. And yet, these are not impossible hurdles to overcome. Changing how we farm can help. But I'm not a farmer, so I should not be telling anyone else how to farm. And yet, I can recognize that change is essential.

The answer is to ensure that they get what they need in the process of changing. That means bringing everyone to the table. Ranchers should be part of the discussion. Farmers should be part of the discussion. Chefs should be part of the discussion. Government officials, writers, bloggers, homemakers, politicians, food company executives, environmentalists, scientists, university professors and more should all be part of the discussion. By including everyone in the conversation, we can resolve our issues and accomplish noteworthy changes in the food system.

We can all share the vision and agree on that. But once we've agreed on the vision, then it's time to put down the swords and begin to do the hard work of figuring out how to accomplish the previously stated vision. It ends up being time well worth being spent. And who knows, maybe some new friends might be made along the way.

So, please, let's keep everyone at the table, and let's keep the conversation going. And in doing so, we can bring about strong, effective, disruptive change that is satisfying to all.