Slow food under fire


Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that “sustainable food” in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn’t work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.” –  Professor Robert Paarlberg in Foreign Policy

What do you think? In my opinion, while it is not entirely the case (there are national production constraints), much of the issue is food distribution, global dietary patterns and governance issues. To say that local production systems in Africa do not work dismisses tens of thousands of years of locally based consumption that has supported the entire human population. To rely on global markets based on ‘comparative advantage’  seems to me a much more vulnerable and insecure proposition  – subject to the vagaries of international markets.

The global food system as a whole needs to be critically evaluated – something we have been reluctant to do as it would require an uncomfortable rethinking of largely Western consumption patterns.

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2 thoughts on “Slow food under fire

  1. I agree with local food. The Africa example is not representative, I think. As you say, what about 10 000s of years of humans eating local diets because we didn’t have transportation?

    Plus having moved from Canada, which has long -30C winters to Thailand which is +30C all the time, I’ve had to change my diet. Heavy foods suitable for Canada are not good here. The Thai diet is better suited to this climate. I think also the local food of an area is often best suited to living healthy in that climate.

    What do you think? Beautiful food pictures, btw!

  2. Thanks Julie,

    That’s a bit of an interesting twist – that the locally produced foods are perhaps better for our overall health as they are adapted to local climatic conditions. I definitely agree that the heavy Canadian porridges I grew up with are neither appealing, nor necessary in the warm tropics. Nothing hits the spot like some fruit or even curry (once you’re used to it!).

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