Dotmocracy on Food Issues

In some of the projects I work on, we sometimes use ‘dotmocracy’ (recently re-worked and re-pitched as ‘idea ranking sheets’) to figure out where the group stands on ranking or ultimately choosing between several options. This is useful if, for example, you have finite resources and have to pick an approach or approaches for allocating them.

For example, at a January 2015 UBC Farm Symposium (Vancouver, Canada), participants were asked to rank several kinds of agriculture: conventional, organic, gmo, and urban farming. Specifically we ranked these according to how well we felt they met certain needs or targets: feeding the world’s population, producing healthy food, having a positive impact on the environment, and contributing to social justice or ‘fairness’ for the people involved in producing the food. We were given a bunch of green dots to indicate ‘Yes – I think this method of food production is good at doing ___’, red dots to indicate ‘No’, and yellow dots to indicate that we weren’t decided or needed more information.

Naturally I wanted to put yellow dots everywhere. 🙂 I ALWAYS NEED MORE INFORMATION!

Questions or points we brought up were things like:

– Urban farming can be organic or not…it’s not typically large-scale due to space restrictions, so mechanization and lots of chemical inputs (and/or GM seeds) would be very unlikely, but you could certainly use pesticides and chemical fertilizers on an urban farm if you wanted to. You could also urban-farm in a lot of different kinds of spaces, and you could grow a lot of different things. So whether or not urban farming is environmentally-beneficial really depends. Of course you can and should always look at what most urban farmers in an area are actually up to, and base your judgement on those facts. But in theory, it depends.

– When we say ‘healthy food’, that could mean several things. I personally put a red dot under the ‘producing healthy foods’ column for the genetically modified foods table. But not because I think it’s necessarily unhealthy for a human to eat a GMO; rather, I don’t think that a corn plant can qualify as a healthy food when it’s genetically modified to produce an insecticide. By definition, it’s no longer a healthy food for arthropods. And bugs gotta eat too! Bugs see corn as a food; but bt corn is not healthy food for a bug. You might think this perspective is ridiculous because that corn is being grown specifically for human use (to be refined into products that will be ingredients in processed foods) and we don’t want it to get all bug-eaten, but the thing is, it’s hard to keep traits like the bt expression from spreading to other crops and plants that may or may not be intended for the same use. Besides, I sometimes think it’s important to take a step back and remember that even though our primary and ultimate goal may be to feed all the humans in the world…we aren’t the only ones that have to eat. And if the bugs don’t eat something, ultimately we all die.

– When we say ‘feeding the world’s population’, technically we produce enough food to feed everybody enough calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients  right now (that is, everyone could be fed a nutritionally adequate diet). But obviously that just doesn’t happen because of, you know, access and entitlement and that stuff. Just because there’s stuff out there in the world that you need, doesn’t mean you’ll ever get your hands on it.

But as for the future – will we be able to produce enough food so that everyone could theoretically have a nutritionally adequate diet in say, 2050 – that’s more ‘iffy’. And there are lots of little ‘what ifs’ that have yet to be determined. Like will most of us want to eat meat? Or will a bunch of us decide to eat insects as a protein source? Basically, what kinds of foods will the world demand? And will the wealthy consumer continue to be allowed to eat whatever they want (viewed another way, will food manufacturers/retailers continue to be allowed to market and sell whatever they want), or will governments and other interest groups get involved? What will our population be in 2050? We tend to treat this population outcome almost like a predictable given (we predict that the population will be X in the year Y), but it does actually depend on interventions we may or may not take.

BTW, ‘Interventions’ regarding population size and growth sounds draconian and scary even to me, and I’m the one who just said it. I don’t mean it like that though, honest. An intervention could be a measure to ensure that everybody on earth has access to free birth control, or a measure to decrease poverty and increase social security in regions of the world where population growth is highest…There is good evidence that better education, health, and economic security lead to more stable population growth rates.


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