Sustainable is a term that, when used in reference to farming, is generally understood to mean “the good kind of farming”. Farming that respects the environment, animal welfare, consumer heath, farmer profitability and farm worker dignity.
Sustainable farming is often equated with organic farming, a logical conclusion since organic farming is expected to take all of the above into consideration, even though organic rules in general, only cover production practices, inputs etc.
Sustainable farming has, perhaps by design, never had a formal definition, which is both good and bad. Farmers who ascribe to organic practices, local and direct marketing, environmentalists and people who are concerned about what they eat always knew what sustainable meant.
Recently however, the meaning of sustainable has been terribly co-opted. In strict terms, any farming operation that has a chance of continuing on is said to be sustainable. Monsanto bills itself as a “Global Leader in Sustainability”. Walmart seems to have the same opinion of their business practices as well.
So when I saw the title of the documentary, Sustainable, I wondered, what kind of sustainable?
The film got it, spot on. The big message, spelled out in interviews and footage of small farmers doing their thing contrasted with big farms and big feed lots doing their un-sustainable thing, –-we need to seriously reconsider what we eat, how it is grown, who grows it, if the food system should solely be an engine of profit for big agribusiness, if yield and profit should be the only measure of success, or if there are other things to consider.
Is cheap food worth the cost of destroying the things that really matter, like our health, the environment and rural communities?
Can we continue to ignore the stunning increases in childhood diabetes, obesity and other diet related problems in our society and say, “well there is no connection to what we eat or how it is grown”. Or more precisely, should we continue to do as we are told (by corporate America) and eat what they fill the supermarket shelves with ?
Are we OK with agricultures contribution to polluted water and increased carbon in the atmosphere? Or should we demand better, real sustainability?
Sustainable focuses on an Illinois farm family and their direct marketing of real food to real to real people and the group of neighboring farmers who joined with them to grow food, not commodity crops and animals raised in confinement.
The comparison of this model of farmers producing actual healthy food to that of our existing food system of corporate controlled, highly processed, calorie rich nutrient deprived food is graphic and thought provoking.
Farmers can’t do it alone, it is not a case of “if you build it they will come”. We can grow plenty of good sustainable food, but we need a market, enlightened restaurateurs can’t do it alone either, there needs to be a food revolution, and Sustainable gives us a vision of how that revolution is beginning to play out.
The big question, do the 99% of Americans who do not farm care enough about the food they eat to demand a change or are they content to purchase what the corporate food system gives them no matter the harm to their health, the environment and rural America?