A new documentary TV series, “Food Forward,” highlights the range of issues created and affected by our increasingly unsustainable food ecosystem, as well as the “food rebels” helping to transform it. The 13-episode series premieres on PBS on September 4.
“Food Forward” highlights farmers, ranchers, chefs, scientists, teachers and fishermen in more than 50 US communities who are part of a rising urban agriculture, building local food systems and contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable economy. Interestingly, many of the methods modeled by these food revisionists emulate more traditional farming, ranching and fishing models.
As the creators say of the series: “How did something as fundamental as food go so fundamentally wrong? Instead of nourishing us, too much of what we consume is produced in such a way that it threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink and the dirt under our feet.”
Series sponsors include Chipotle (which released a mini-series of its own in February that spoofed some of the problems in our food system), Applegate, Lundberg Family Farms, Annie’s and Clif Bar & Company, all brands committed to consumers, animal welfare and responsible business practices.
I asked Matthew Dillon, director of the Clif Bar Family Foundation’s Seed Matters initiative, why we’ve gotten so far off the path of sustainable food cultivation.
“At the most basic level we have lost our relationship to food,” Dillon, who is featured in the third episode of “Food Forward,” said. “Food and farming are all about relationships — the relationship of people to plants; plants to soil; plants to animals; animals to people; and, of course, people to people.
“Today we have a culture in which very few people are directly involved with food and farming, and the decisions about our farming technologies and scale are controlled by even fewer people. Those who are in control are very extractive and look for short-term gains instead of sustaining long-term relationships.”
He said he thinks organic agriculture, with its focus on stewarding biological diversity and beneficial interactions within that diversity, is currently the highest standard in farming and food. But given advances in technology and the multibillion-dollar agribusiness industry, how can locally-based, independent farmers compete?
“I don’t think we want a one-size-fits-all agriculture,” Dillon said. “Local and smaller scale farming is excellent for multiple reasons including the larger percentage of economic returns to rural communities; shrinking the ecological footprint of food miles; and improved flavor and nutritional value of freshly harvested food. But local alone is not the answer; we also need diversity of scale and approaches to agriculture.
“Larger-scale agriculture has its place in providing safety nets, and in providing crops that cannot necessarily be grown as well in certain environments,” he pointed out. “For example, imagine a nation comprised of only smaller-scale local farms, and a massive hurricane hits, destroying not only infrastructure, but wrecking farms with salt water and debris. We need large- and small-scale farms with farmers who steward biological diversity.
“Additionally, we need healthy competition and diversity of farming systems, which is currently lacking because of poor policy. If we stop the subsidies [of large-scale production of commodity crops], we would see a radical diversification of food and farming systems. Although this could create short-term bumps in the road, at the same time we would see more economically sustainable rural communities.”
Want to join the revolution? Get ready for grilled squirrel and insect hot dogs, start thinking like a tree, and make a conscious commitment to a sustainable food eco-system, one seed, one harvest and one bite at a time.
Check local listings for “Food Forward” broadcast dates and episode streaming access.