What Does 'Sustainable Food' Mean, Anyway?

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The National Academies have just released Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century. You can read it online, one page at a time. Otherwise, you have to come up with the $76.50 it costs in print (electronic versions are somewhat cheaper).

Sustainability, it says, has four goals:

    • Satisfy human food, feed, and fiber needs, and contribute to biofuel needs
    • Enhance environmental quality and the resource base
    • Sustain the economic viability of agriculture
    • Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole

To get there, the report proposes "two parallel and overlapping efforts":

The incremental approach would be directed toward improving the sustainable performance of all farms, irrespective of size or farming system type ...

The transformative approach would apply a systems perspective to agricultural research to identify and understand the significance of the linkages between farming components and how their interconnectedness and interactions with the environment make systems robust and resilient over time.

The report's main conclusion:

If U.S. agricultural production is to meet the challenge of maintaining long-term adequacy of food, fiber, feed, and biofuels under scarce or declining resources and under challenges posed by climate change ... agricultural production will have to substantially accelerate progress toward the four sustainability goals.

Take that, industrial agriculture!

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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