In this digital age, our respect for the world we can’t see is greatly increased. We talk of the value of a company’s brand, not just its assets, for example, or we discuss soft power, as well as hard power.
I think that applies to food in two ways. First, most of the important things about food can’t be seen. Second, we need a space in order to see those things.
Let me explain.
Food policy and food systems analysis deal with the 90 per cent of food that’s beneath the surface level of what governments see and act on — usually limited to agriculture, nutrition and food safety, and sometimes expanded to include food jobs and food security.
That leaves a lot of space. Let me name a few things from the tip of my tongue:
- Conviviality: The word companion descends from the Latin roots for ‘with’ and ‘bread’, showing how deep this one runs. We can use that to create neighborhoods, build friendships and romances, celebrate important events and overcome loneliness and isolation. Is there anything in this that a government could work with?
- Life skills: We learn many things because of food. Both baby and mom learn to breastfeed and learn bonding from that. We learn practical skills, such as handling a knife, and skills to protect our health, such as handwashing and let dishes air dry. We learn manners, which are based on courtesy toward and empathy for others. We learn to share. We learn to have a conversation that goes back and forth. We learn to to take instructions, to get past a mistake. We learn how to argue. We learn how to reach out to someone and offer something, however humble, as a token of friendship. We learn to serve, as well as to take. Is there anything in this that a government could work with?
- Heritage: We find out where we come from, why we eat rice instead of wheat or corn, what that means about us and our history, how we have adapted foods from other people and other people have adapted foods from us, why it’s important to show respect for our own food traditions and those of other people, why it is we sometimes deny ourselves food so we learn about another dimension of life. Is there anything in this that a government could work with?
- Connections: We see that food is connected to water, and to energy, and to transportation, and to the economy and environment, and that all of life is connected, even though that can be forgotten when governments organize themselves according to divisions rather than wholes. Is there anything in this that a government could work with?
- Power: We discover our power, our power to choose foods that require fewer resources, to choose foods that are more nutritious, to choose foods that are grown and processed by people who were well-treated, to grow our own food on balconies, backyards and green roofs, and to use our purchasing power to support local and sustainable food systems. Is there anything in this that a government could work with?
- Gratitude: We say thanks to all the forces and people who brought food to us. We see how food connects us all, and how we all depend on one another, and how the right place to start solving a problem is to find how to protect the things that give life by working together. Is there anything in this that a government could work with?
If you think there is anything here that a local government, or school board, or regional or national government could work with, then you understand the space that needs to be created, and the space that gets opened up, when individuals, social movements and governments convene around food.
This is what food policy councils bring to the table.
I am moved to write this because of a discussion yesterday with my daughter, who gave me an angle that let me see this, from an article by Ben McKay I just discovered yesterday about political space in Latin America, and from many articles by business thinker Laurette Dube, who helped me understand food as an issue that bridges whole-of-government/whole-of-society/whole-of-life/whole-of-humanity thinking: