Al-Qaeda, factory farming and the paradox of (in)visibility

I love this video on factory farming because it starts so innocently – the marketing person is taking full responsibility for the way consumers are tricked into thinking the way we produce food is ok, even quaint. But then trick number three turns the table and places the blame squarely on her audience, the consumer:

The video reminds we of a great article by Schoeneborn and Scherer (2012) about al-Qaeda, exploring invisibility in clandestine organizations. But because the targets in these two situations are very different, we get very different outcomes, using the same insight. With al-Qaeda, we are the target, so the extreme invisibility of its governance structure and operations, and the extreme visibility of its ‘products’ leads to a society of fear and insane military budgets. In factory farming, we are not the target. So the same invisibility of the governance and operations, and visibility of its ‘products’ leads to “willful ignorance” in the face of massive, systematic cruelty.


TED Talk by Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

This is fantastic. I dabbled in guerrilla gardening this summer, rather poorly, as you can see here. This guy is my hero.


Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

Ron Finley grows a nourishing food culture in South Central L.A.’s food desert by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating.

Fair Food

fair food by Oran B Hesterman

I wrote a previous blog about this book already. But at that point, I was only on page 5, so now, as promised, a bit more about the whole book…

Best part: Hesterman takes a systems approach that not only looks at the environment, health and agricultural issues across the food system, but includes social issues such as access to nutritious food and treatment of workers on farm fields (in the U.S. and around the world) and in restaurants.

Small disappointment: Hesterman does not provide the answer. In its place, he provides hundreds of examples of innovative, mostly small-scale programs that are beginning to tackle pieces of the issues. While I understand that we don’t have an answer as to how to feed 9 billion people with local, sustainable foods, I still wanted more number crunching and gap analysis at the system level. Impossible, I know, but the title of the book led me to believe he might have the answer.

However, his suggestions at the end come close to meeting this expectation – he suggests ways for everyone to be involved in creating a fair food system that ranges from ‘voting with your dollar’ to community initiatives to institutional changes. And it includes ideas and solutions that include those living in poverty.


The premium pries at farmers markets and for organic food in the grocery stores means that it is simply not an option for a huge part of our population. They are not able to shop at their nearby Whole Foods, because Whole Foods doesn’t even exist in their neighbourhood. So Hesterman also looks at large-scale farming solutions and the role of large corporate retailers in ensuring fair practices exist across their supply chain, and community gardens in under-served neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods like the entire city of Detroit, which does not actually have any chain grocery stores left in the city limits because it is not financially beneficial. He talks about programs that double the value of food stamps for purchases made on produce at farmers markets, and the huge increase in spending that occurred because of this offer.

And he argues, quite reasonably, that we need to keep the current principles that guide the current system: efficiency, high crop yields, and convenience. BUT, the book then focuses on adding four other principles to balance these: equity, diversity, ecological integrity, and economic viability.

So, in short. If you are interested in a more holistic picture of the issues in the existing food system and the solutions that might help, read this book. And to Oran Hesterman, thank you for writing a book that did not give me the answer I was looking for.

Our Broken System…

fair food

“Many of our country’s systems are in need of repair…education system…health care system…energy system…financial system…

But there is another system that gets much less attention than it deserves, even though we all rely on it to keep us alive – if we are lucky, three times a day: our food system. When a system we depend on to meet essential needs isn’t working, the consequences are enormous.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. The problems it has engendered – from agricultural chemical runoff in our rivers, streams, and oceans, to soaring rates of diet-related illnesses (such as diabetes) in our inner cities, to the loss of prime farmland due to urban and suburban sprawl, to corporate conglomeration that concentrates 80 percent of our meat supply in the hands of only four companies – are not isolated issued to be solved one by one. Rather they are symptoms of a food system that is broken and needs to be redesigned.”

That’s the first page of Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman, the founder of the Fair Food Network. Well said. I’ll let you know what the rest of the book has to say.