How A Centralized Food System Begets A Total Lack Of Choice And Freedom

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Photo: karen_2873 on flickr

Let’s face it– our modern consumer society makes things easy… we don’t have to think about, or even know how to ‘do’ ANYTHING, from lawn care to vehicle maintenance to carpentry.While it may be convenient, this level of specialisation does breed a certain amount of dependency… and nowhere is this more obvious than in the ‘Big Ag’ food system.

Most people are completely dependent on a small handful of companies–Monsanto, ADM, etc. which control most of the food supply and deliver it to grocery shelves around the world.

You could almost say it’s a centrally-planned food system, which, like a centrally-planned government, is prone to failure. This is one of the chief reasons why we purchased the farm in Chile… to be able to take back control of our own food supply and no longer be reliant on the system.

My friend John Robb, editor of the site ResilientCommunities.com, writes extensively about these issues; John is a brilliant guy with a unique background… he’s a former US Air Force special operations officer turned futurist and technology writer who thinks deep thoughts about sustainability and resilience.

Below is a short essay he recently wrote about how the centrally-planned food system begets a total lack of choice and freedom. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on the subject.

Yours in freedom,

Simon Black

 

Here’s John Robb of Resilient Communities:

This year, the most anticipated planting in my family’s garden is a watermelon called the “Golden Midget.”

It should be clear why.  It looks delicious.

In addition, I like it because of its functional characteristics (and its hilarious name):  it’s small (3 pounds fully grown), fast (70 days until it’s ripe), tasty, hardy, and easy to recognise as ripe (the fruit turns yellow).   Also, I’m hoping to get two plantings of it this year.  

NOTE:  I was lucky to find the Golden Midget at the Seed Saver’s Exchange, a site dedicated to the propagation of heirloom vegetables.  It’s well worth a visit, due to a solid selection, fair pricing, and fast service.

Real Choice

If you haven’t heard of a watermelon called the Golden Midget before, it’s not a surprise.

It’s one of the 1,200 heirloom varieties of watermelons we don’t often see, if at all. To get a visceral sense of what we are missing, take a look at the picture on the right (click if you want more detail).

This picture is of a list of the mouth-teasing watermelons being grown at the vegetable research extension at Washington State University.

All I can say is wow.

What choice.  I feel terribly deprived.

Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual.  You’ll see pretty much the same thing with other vegetables.  Lots and lots of variety.  Each with a different taste, colour, size, texture….

A huge amount of variety that we can’t buy at our supermarkets (and even farmer’s markets).

The ‘Soviet’ Supermarket

What is available?   A single type of watermelon.

This draconian restriction of choice should conjure up an image of what a supermarket looked like in the now defunct Soviet Union.

Like our supermarkets, the early Soviet supermarket restricted the choices available.

Why did the Soviets put a restriction on choice?  Because production and demand was centrally managed.  A small number of bureaucratic decision makers found it was more efficient to plan, estimate, produce, ship, and stock fewer varieties than more.

Eventually, as we well know, this centrally managed production system broke down.  When it did break down, the supermarkets didn’t offer just one choice per category, it offered no choice at all.  The shelves were empty, like those today’s Zimbabwe (seen to the left).

Are we in the same situation as the Soviet’s today?  The draconian restriction on choice we see is a good indicator we are.

  • We have a centrally managed production system.  Few producers.  Few suppliers.  Even fewer retailers.  Even our demand is centrally managed  (although brand marketing creates the illusion of choice and desire).
  • Few alternatives.   Supermarkets and box stores have killed off nearly all alternative retail outlets.  Local producers have been squeezed out of existence (that’s changing rapidly as the old system breaks down).
  • This bureaucratic system frozen in place by a brain-dead financial mono-culture and a vast panoply of government regulations, laws, and  subsidies.

What’s the End Game?

Failure and opportunity through creative destruction.

As with all extremely centralized systems, particularly those that attempt to operate at a global scale, our centralized system will break down.  When it does break down, the result will be very similar to what we’ve seen numerous times before:  empty shelves.

As that happens, local production will step in to replace it, accelerating its demise.  How fast depends on you.

As a first step, get resilient.  Vote with your hands and start producing rather than merely consuming.

Give yourself the gift of choice and don’t get left behind.  The rest will take care of itself.

Your in favour of real food abundance analyst,

John Robb

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