BALATON GROUP MEETING 2010 - Alan AtKisson & Gillian Martin Mehers (Co-Presidents) and Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir (Meeting Host)
Dr. Joan Davis' session on Organic Food at the Food Futures BG 2010 Meeting, Selfoss, Iceland
This year’s meeting happened in two parts: “Alternatives to Growth” (13-14 September) and “Food Futures” (15-18 September).
The meeting owed its success to the collaboration of so many people: special accolades go to our host Vala and her colleagues Sigrun Maria and Greta on Iceland, of course. They arranged a truly wonderful environment and context for our meeting. Our program committee members did fantastic advance work. But also all our session moderators and facilitators, our speakers, and the organizers of the many workshop sessions that filled our days at Hotel Hekla ... all were marvelous. (By the way, our workshop sessions occasionally filled the geothermal hot tub at Hotel Hekla as well ... a few serious dialogue sessions were actually scheduled and held in the volcanic waters.)
The “Alternatives to Growth” seminar had been intended to survey the existing “state-of-the-art” on alternatives to the growth paradigm in global (and national) economic and financial systems, and to identify “next step” strategies to pursue in advancing 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.
Instead of converging on clear strategic avenues forward, the seminar appeared to open up still more territory in need of exploration, as many of the presentations covered topics and analyses that were new (some were even shocking) to many members. These included, for example, Harald Sverdrup’s analysis of the global gold market, which showed conclusively that much more gold is being traded on paper than exists on planet Earth (both in circulation and in the accessible parts of the Earth’s crust); Bernard Lietaer’s strong contention 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/reinvented; Any Sulistyowati’s stunning comparison of her family’s money-and-time budget in Indonesia (at USD 350/month) compared to her sister-in-law’s (at USD $2500/mo) (whose happiness and quality of life is actually higher?) ... and many other head-spinning observations, not least of which was the systems analysis of the Icelandic banking crisis itself, presented by a group of very bright Icelandic students.
The “Alternatives to Growth” seminar closed with a listing of “What’s Clear,” “What’s Still Unclear,” what were “Ideas to Take Forward,” and a set of “Unstructured Reflections, Questions, Comments, and Emotional Outbursts.” These have been compiled and will be posted to the web page where we are collecting the materials from this meeting. A small group of us will digest all this input and think about how to move the dialogue forward in the Balaton context.
The “Food Futures” meeting, in interesting contrast, was not expected to converge on a point of view at all, but did. We had originally imagined that in afternoon sessions, the Balaton Group would try to build a schematic for a model-based decision support tool -- something like “C-ROADS,” but for food-related policy makers. After the first day of thinking about this idea, the attempt was essentially set aside (relegated to an offline “white paper” exercise), though the discussion about it was rich, and covered a range of interesting social and technical issues regarding what such a tool would be used for, by whom, etc. The remaining afternoons were thus fully freed up for our usual open space discussions, which will be reported on in a separate note.
The Food Futures meeting did, however, build up a kind of common sense among the members regarding what was needed. We were treated to 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 coupled with many short “pecha-kucha” (6-min.) presentations on specific aspects such as cooking stoves in Darfur, the global pet food market, childhood obesity programs and more. Many of us became alarmed at how close the possibility of reaching “peak food” was -- that is, a peak in global food production, resulting from reaching peaks in fossil fuel, access to phosphorous and other factors. (Note: Alan is looking into starting a blog or aggregator site on this topic.) We were also treated to “one of the best Skype sessions, technically, I’ve ever participated in” (as several people noted) with Joan Davis, calling in by large-screen video from Switzerland to give a thoughtful and provocative report on the role of organic farming, and the power of individuals to make a choice on what they buy and eat. The dialogue that followed, even mediated by computer, was excellent, substantive, and lively indeed.
In the final session, moderator Kevin Noone led the entire 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:
A Food Futures Vision Statement:
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.
Independently, member Ted Heintz also took the same input and crafted a different, but complementary statement:
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.
The members of the Balaton Group present in the room then adopted *both* of these vision statements, which we now forward with the invitation to all of you: use either one, or both, in whatever way might be useful.
Our exploration of Food Futures involved, as we expected, significant overlaps into the topic of Alternatives to Growth, particularly in the area of the economics of food. There is so much more to learn and understand, on both of these topics. We hope the diverse array of information gathered on this topic will prove useful to the members, and we hope and expect that our dialogues on both topics will continue in exciting ways for some time.