What Does Real Change in Our Food System Look Like?

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Obesity, chronic heart disease, depression, cancer, diabetes, malnourishment are all components of our failing food system. Worldwide we produce enough calories of food to feed the entire planet, but due to inequality and distribution of power there are billions of people that are starving. Here in the United States we have a different problem; the food we are eating could be killing us. In land based agriculture we often over use artificial chemical fertilizers, growth enhancing hormones, and antibiotics. In most open ocean fish farming we use artificial color in the feed to make the fish look like wild salmon, we over stock the pens so disease is commonplace, and the finished product is less nutritious than its wild counterpart. Additionally we abuse the use of preservatives in order to cater to our industrialized distribution of the food. These examples and many more show the alarming discrepancies between how our food used to be produced and how it is produced today.

The communities in which we live depend on the infrastructure of the old food systems. Rather than keeping jobs in the USA, however, corporations are shipping products overseas to be processed by cheaper labor. This doesn’t come without additional price tags, including child labor, green house gas emissions, inferior food safety standards, loss of domestic jobs, increased trade deficits, and lower food quality. We need to wake up and realize this isn’t okay; big changes need to happen.

There is a reason why large multi-national corporations don’t want consumers to see behind the doors of their production or processing facilities. The industrial food production system is structured to maximize output, minimize input, and maximize profit. What is missing is the humane, logical, reasonable conditions in which we would want animals to be raised, the commitment to using our natural resources sustainably, using minimal additives in order to provide our bodies with maximum nutrition and healthy antioxidants to fight off illnesses.

Now how do we change that? The answer is one bite at a time. In the famous writing of the Tao Te Ching, Laozi stated, “The journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.” This saying teaches that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point; something which only begins with one first step. The same goes for the food system. We have to learn to be conscious consumers, choosing to support local fishermen and community supported fisheries like Tre-Fin Foods from Ilwaco, Washington, which catch, process, and distribute their own albacore tuna directly to consumers and restaurants. This is how we become active citizens who stand up against our current un-sustainable food system.

Portland, Oregon and the surrounding area is an amazing mecca of food culture, world-renowned chefs and restaurants, bio-dynamic farms, non-profit organizations fighting the good fight, and a consumer base that genuinely wants to do good for the environment and for their bodies. Portland has a burning desire to learn, grow, and do things differently than the status quo. We are hungry to learn and change; we just need the information. It’s in communities like this that real change happens. We have the opportunity to be leaders in our nation by leading by example.

Changing a massive food system takes a whole gamut of folks. It’s people like Jeremy Coon, who is investing in infrastructure in the fishing port of Garibaldi, OR to make it easier for fishermen to offload their catch and sell direct to small buyers, instead of being forced to sell to the massive seafood processing and distribution companies, which have been alleged to price set and manipulate the market for their own financial gains. It’s non-profit organizations like Ecotrust, which is investing millions of dollars into a food system hub that provides a platform for local farms and fishermen to store and distribute their products into the Portland metropolitan marketplace. Finally, it’s the consumers who choose to shop at the small local artisan store or marketplace, or better yet farmers market, where they get to talk with the producers and support them directly, which in turn puts more money in their pockets by going around the mainstream food system channels.

That’s how we change a food system, one step (and dollar) at a time.

About Lyf Gildersleeve

Lyf Gildersleeve is a second-generation fish monger who actively promotes and protects sustainable use of our seafood resources. He owns Flying Fish Company, a retail fish market, meat market, and oyster bar in Portland, Oregon.

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