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Tuesday
Jan042011

Food Futures and Alternatives to Growth

BALATON GROUP MEETING 2010

 Dr. Joan Davis via video link spoke on organic food

The 2010 Annual Meeting happened in two parts: “Alternatives to Growth” (13-14 September) and “Food Futures” (15-18 September).

The “Alternatives to Growth” seminar looked at economic and financial systems and alternatives such as those articulated in Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity without Growth,” Herman Daly’s classic work on the Steady State Economy, and other historical and recent sources. The seminar opened up still more territory in need of exploration; Harald Sverdrup analyzed the global gold market, showing much more gold is being traded on paper than exists on planet Earth; Bernard Lietaer contented that no serious progress on growth is possible unless the global debt-based currency systems (which have growth built into them, as interest rates) are reformed and/or reinvented; Any Sulistyowati compared her family’s money-and-time budget in Indonesia of $350 per month to her sister-in-law’s budget of $2,500 per month, evaluating happiness and quality of life; and a group of Icelandic students presented a systems analysis of the Icelandic banking crisis.

The “Food Futures” meeting featured a rich combination of “deep dives” into the concept and state of food security, the state of global soil science, food-related modeling exercises, an in-depth national case study with global relevance (New Zealand) and other topics. This thinking was coupled with many six-minute “pecha-kucha” presentations on specific topics such as cooking stoves in Darfur, the global pet food market, and childhood obesity programs. Many participants became alarmed at how close we are to the possibility of reaching “peak food”, i.e. a peak in global food production, resulting from reaching peaks in fossil fuel, access to phosphorous and other factors. Joan Davis, calling in via large-screen video from Switzerland, delivered a thought-provoking report on the role of organic farming, and the power of individuals to make a choice about what they buy and eat.

Moderator Kevin Noone led the group through a process of building a “Food Futures Vision Statement.” Brainstorms happened in smaller groups, common elements were identified and accepted or discarded in successive rounds, and the process ultimately resulted in a set of key elements for which there appeared to be unanimous acceptance in the room. These key elements were later drafted by the meeting organizers into the following sentences: “We envision a world where all people, across the full diversity of the world’s places and cultures, have to opportunity to enjoy and celebrate the growing, making, drinking and eating of nutritious, healthy food, now and for all future generations. We envision transformed food systems that ensure sufficient and equitable access to food for all, while securing the resilience of our social and natural systems.”

The group approved the statement above and this version, drafted by member Ted Heintz: “We envision a future world in which efficient food systems provide safe and nutritious food for all the world’s population, using processes that provide rewarding work and help to restore and improve local and global environmental systems.” These vision statements may be freely reproduced.

The meeting owed its success to the collaboration of so many people: our host Vala and her colleagues Sigrun Maria and Greta in Iceland, our program committee members and to the people who filled out days at Hotel Hekla—our session moderators and facilitators, speakers, and the organizers of our many workshop sessions.

Posted by Alan AtKisson and Gillian Martin Mehers, co-presidents, and Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, meeting host

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