It’s been called “illuminating” by Chef Alice Waters, “a must read” by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and was dubbed “an important, accessible book on a crucial subject” in a recent New York Times review.
Intrigued? You should be.
As author Dr. Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of Fair Food Network, describes in his new book Fair Food, Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, “The food system that evolved to bring us abundant food at low cost has grown out of control, nourishing us by destroying some of what we hold most precious: our environment, our health and our future…[our food system] is broken and needs to be redesigned.”
Hesterman helps us understand what “food system” means by taking us on a journey following one crop, corn, from production to sale and consumption all the way to the end of the cycle – waste. When I think about corn, I think of corn on the cob so fresh and juicy it barely needs to be cooked. I had no idea the corn I envision makes up “only about one-half of 1 percent of the total corn crop grown in the United States.” The vast majority of corn is “field” corn. Often grown from genetically modified seeds, field corn is sprayed with herbicides and insecticides. Less than half of the field corn crop is fed to livestock, a little gets exported, almost a third becomes ethanol, and the remainder goes into processed foods and even non-food items.
Hesterman argues that a fair food system is equitable, and free from bias. He explores the plethora of unintended consequences endemic in our current food system such as: declining food quality, environmental issues, loss of farmland, problems of food access and food security, diet-related illness, worker exploitation, and an aging farmer population, among many others. As Hesterman reminds us, “…when any of our systems are broken, the pain is usually felt first – and worst – in those communities that historically have been excluded from opportunity and access. In the United States, this usually means inner-city, low-income communities, which are often communities of color.”
Fair Food starts with the problems to be addressed, but it doesn’t linger. Quickly the book moves on to solutions by providing examples of programs working to improve access to healthy food, provide healthy working conditions, and create equitable access to resources. Hesterman both describes and strives to foster “a redesigned system, one that is healthy for people, communities, and the environment.”
At times there is the tendency to vilify the big producers (big = bad, right?), In one of my favorite model examples, Hesterman encourages us to not count the big guys out. He suggests that changing the food system will need the support of major players. Players like Sysco, the largest food distributor in the United States.
Sysco’s CEO was concerned. Some of their growers were using too many pesticides and practicing poor land management techniques. Sysco realized they had the potential to have a major impact in changing agricultural practices. They worked with Cornell University to learn about and implement integrated pest management (IPM), a system designed to use the least amount of synthetic pesticides necessary, and only as a last resort. After five years, Sysco’s growers reduced their pesticide use by more than two million pounds. If like me, you hadn’t heard about this before, you might wonder why Sysco hasn’t been tooting their own horn about their accomplishments – it’s because they believe they still have a lot of work to do!
Hesterman argues that our food system needs to change locally, with big companies and institutions, and via legislation. I love Hesterman’s response. He says, “We need to shift from conscious consumers to engaged citizens.”
That’s a powerful call to action, and he backs it up by suggesting a variety of routes, from changing personal food purchasing decisions to advocating for governmental reform of public policy. I know I’ll be making good use of the fifty-plus pages of resources at the end of the book – filled with organizations working to change the food system in one way or another – and hope you will too.
Check out the book trailer and mark your calendars for this Saturday, June 18th! Dr. Oran B. Hesterman will be at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (outside the Welcome Center, 315 Detroit Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan) conducting a public book signing to benefit Food Gatherers on June 18, 2011, from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Still reading and looking for the giveaway? Just leave us a comment on this post by the end of the day Thursday June 16th, and tell us what a fair food system means to you. One randomly chosen comment will receive a signed copy of the book, and we’ll announce the winner on our blog on Friday June 17th! If you’re too anxious to wait, you can learn more about the book, “Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All” by following the hyperlink, including where to purchase a copy for yourself!