Photo courtesy of We Feed the World Exhibition, photographer Martin Westlake
Food dystopias make my stomach a little queasy. I remember a food industry conference that opened with one businessman dreaming of a day when cooking food would be as bizarre for consumers as sewing a pair of their own jeans. Applause ensued. What is the future of food? Are everyday people in the kitchen? Are farmers on the land?
The answer to these questions is hotly contested. Listen to the venture funds and private equity firms investing in synthetic meat, CRISPR technology, or biotech seeds. For them, the answer lies in the lab, not the soil. Tune into the billionaires backing some of the biggest food conglomerates, beverage companies, or grocery retailers, and the answer is found in bottles and cans and processed foods.
But tune into the voices of the people closest to the land, to the people buying the food, and to the data about the human and environmental impacts of industrialized farming, and you hear a different answer entirely. It’s an answer that puts farmers back at the heart of the future of food and real, whole food—not the processed stuff that fills a typical Big Box store—squarely in the center. It’s an answer that reflects the reality that, globally, smallholder farms still produce as much as 70 percent of the world’s food and are stewards of three-quarters of the world’s seed biodiversity. Likewise, listen to the researchers and scientists who have studied the potential of smallholder agroecology to feed the world and cool the planet. Their research debunks the food industry’s biggest myth: that we need chemicals, engineered seeds, and animal factory farms to feed the world.
A new photographic exhibit and campaign, We Feed the World, challenges the patronizing dogma that farming with ecological principles at heart is backward-looking by lifting up the stories of farmers who are charting a different future. These farmers, photographed by world-renowned photographers, upend the dominant story that industrial agriculture—dependent on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, and drug cocktails in animal operations—is key to feeding a growing world population.
Anna Lappe spoke as part of the We Feed the World program, which launched at the Bargehouse Gallery in London on October 12th and closes on Sunday, 21st October. A US tour is expected next year.