Climate Change, Food Production and You

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend Power Shift ‘09 and moderate a panel on how food production and consumption affects climate change. It was based around a documentary made by Participant Media called Food, Inc. (coming out summer ‘09 watch out!) with online components by Take Part. As one of only two agriculture panels during Power Shift ‘09, the room was packed for the 9AM start time. Two rows of people sitting in the middle aisle, all seats taken, lines down the far sides. It was immediately apparent that the three panelists; Patrick Woodall from Food and Water Watch, Meredith Niles Cool Foods Campaign and Chantal Wei-Ying Clement from the Organic Consumers Association have incredible insights about what we can do to change our consumption habits and be more aware of how food is produced in this country. Take Part’s blog post about the panel can be found here.

As moderator, I always want to be aware of moving the conversation forward, keeping a dialogue, and staying on time and topic. Having attended umpteen conferences and panels myself, it’s crucial to be aware of how your audience is reacting to the topic and being conscientious towards the fact they picked to attend your panel over the others offered at the same time slot. I also like to make sure to give take-away points at the end, so that each person leaving the room could walk out and give, in an elevator pitch, a summation of what was discussed.

Since there were about 30 concurrent panels going on at the same time, I knew we had a somewhat self-selected group in the room. No need to preach about the benefits of organic food, buying local, bashing big companies. Instead we could focus on how to motivate a larger group of people to be involved in the movement and grow the dialogue about the role of farming in the scope of how it affects climate change. To do this, I asked the audience and panelists to think about each clip from the movie, we showed four, and each question in three pieces. One, as an individual. What choices we make every day about the food we consume. What is important to us above all else. Two, as a consumer. What we buy, where we buy it, what we do with friends and family and how we articulate our opinions. Three as a tax-payer, as a voter, as someone to whom Washington is responsible to. All three pieces need to go together to make an effective campaign.

We know that mass production of food is gross, right? Chemical, genetically-modified foods sometimes don’t even have the same DNA as the foods they are producing. The conditions for animals and the workers aren’t prime. The affects on our nation’s health haven’t gone unnoticed. Food is fuel. Therefore, what kind of fuel are you putting in your system? In terms of climate change, types of farming can lead to a build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That can lead to far reaching impacts on our environment including rising sea levels, drought, floods, disappearing polar ice caps and species extinction.

Local farming and sustainable farming allows animals to graze as they are meant to. They are not pumped with hormones and force-fed. We can buy local from farmer’s markets, buy organics in grocery stores, or you can look in your area for a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture means that you can buy a subscription to a farm in your area, mostly produce but some include meat as well. These foods can be delivered to you or you can go pick up your share. It’s a great way to buy local.

What about organics in stores? Should companies like Stoneyfield Farms, that promote organic culture be in stores like Wal-Mart? This was the essence of the third clip and let’s be honest. An order from a store like Wal-Mart can fuel organic farming and multiply it far more than orders from smaller stores. Could some see it as oxymoronic to have these items together, really for some in America, Wal-Mart is their only option. It’s important to be tolerant and not judge people on where they shop. We all make our own choices. In any store, having the option to buy organic is a critical step in the right direction.

Lastly, there was a clip on Monsanto. Those who know Monsanto hopefully just groaned. Those who don’t - well Monsanto is one of those large companies that fly under the radar. They claim to be a resource for farmers, but they are the big-brother to farmers using a strong-arm to enforce their vision of what farming should be. They genetically engineer foods that we use every day like canola oil and soy beans, and refuse to let farmers keep their seeds. Organic Consumers has a great campaign with more information about Monsanto which you can learn more about here. What’s more sick is high-powered officials in Washington have ties to Monstanto including, Clarence Thomas, Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft. Monsanto has manipulated the system and regulators in their favor and a very strong part of the film is education about what they do and actionable steps to stand up and say it’s not right.

The panelists insights were inspiring. It is crucial to think about food in terms of climate change and also be responsible to ourselves, our families, future generation and society for how we think of food and how we choose to consume it. I will be posting more tips on these issues as I come across them. A big thank you to Participant Media, Take Part and Power Shift 09 for inviting me to participate last weekend.

You can read more about other panels from Power Shift 09 on their blog, It’s Getting Hot In Here, by subscribing to their YouTube channel or by searching twitter for #powershift09.

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