Our best wishes and support go out to all who were affected by Sandy. The pictures from shore communities (including New York City) are astounding. The lengths of the disruptions in power and schools are amazing.
It doesn't help now, but this disaster is the kind that experts have been predicting for at least several decades. See Bill McKibben's take on Sandy here.
I'm afraid that there is nothing we can do but prepare for more of this kind of weather by increasing our resilience and doing all we can to get away from fossil fuels in order to keep the weather from getting worse.
Drink clean...safe water and eat safe uncontaminated food.
That was the advice provided by the weather service on my phone several days after Sandy hit. It is certainly good advice.
It is easy to understand the worries when floodwaters mix together overflowing sewers, petroleum products, fertilizers and pesticides from garages, stores and more.
It is a little trickier to understand the problems with microbial contamination and decay with food that's not kept as cold as it should be.
However, this simple and sensible advice raises questions when we think about it in a "normal" context.
Is our food safe?
Is our food safe if it has to be shipped from China or Chile?
Is our food safe if it depends on millions of acres filled with monocultures of genetically modified crops heavily sprayed with herbicides and other dangerous substances?
Is our food safe if it greatly increases rates of diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases?
Is our food safe it is depends on millions of very low paid workers doing dangerous work on our behalf?
It's been said that our present food system ultimately depends on low-cost energy, a stable climate and government subsidies. All of those are now in question. Although the natural gas which is such an important input for conventional fertilizers is "cheap" now, the fertilizers' effects on the climate and our water are not inexpensive. We need to think in whole systems.
Organic vs. Conventional
For a long time we talked about the difference between organic and conventional agriculture. There is a big difference and we certainly come down on the organic side of that.
However, organic can be industrial scale and some conventional farming can be much more ecological than industrial organic. (See this recent article about the new robots that have been installed to pack organic greens into clamshell packaging at Earthbound Farms. Think of all the inputs needed so we in Connecticut can eat greens - made mostly out of air and water - that were grown in California.)
Industrial vs. Agroecological
There is another way of describing the two paths to our food future that may be more relevant: Industrial vs agroecological. I wrote about it last year in Gleanings. You can view the essay here. Fifteen years ago, I drew on Fred Kirschenmann's thinking in my essay "Two Visions," which you can read here.
Several new resources describe some of these differences. Anna Lappe, (whose mother was one of the first who connected the dots for me about diet, food justice, the environment and agriculture in Diet for a Small Planet) has created foodmyths.org and the first of a series of videos on this subject.
There is also a new and helpful infographic detailing some of the many differences between industrial and agroecological solutions.
If we are taking the agroecological path, much of the work that CT NOFA members and partners do has great value: small farms and gardens, community supported agriculture and community farms and gardens, local farmers markets and school gardens, more cooking and preserving, season extension and dietary changes to eat locally, seasonally and lower on the food chain while consuming a greater variety of foods.
However, if the future of our food is industrial, our work becomes invisible and mostly irrelevant to that system.
If we need to produce so much soda that one in three Americans will get diabetes, and enough meat to fill our growing population with cholesterol, then perhaps we need industrial agriculture and the growing industrial medical system to clean up the mess.
If however, we want a sustainable, resilient food system that we can live with, agroecology is the way to go.
Between greens packing robots and satellite-guided tractors, the industrial vision is working toward a food system untouched by human hands.
It may be that a direct connection between each human and the soil and plants upon which we depend, is the most important connection. That is why school gardens are such powerful tools for learning, and demonstrating that connection.
This wonderful article in the Times a week or so ago gives a picture of a different way to live and build health, one that involves local food, gardens and lifestyle changes.
At the League of Women Voters focusing on food last month, I heard Dr. David Katz talk about food and health. His understanding of chronic disease trends in our society and of the benefits of good food and exercise make him a powerful speaker. He thinks we can avoid a chronic-disease-induced collapse of our society by changing the way we use our forks to eat, (Quoting from Michael Pollan, "Real food, mostly plants, not too much.") our feet to exercise regularly and our fingers to avoid smoking cigarettes.