The Freakonomics blog recently posted a farewell address from agricultural economist William A. Masters. Masters is transitioning from Perdue University to Tufts University and had some interesting comments on what a "sustainable food system" should look like:
"People say they want to buy local and artisanal food so as to promote the local economy, or to avoid environmental damage from long-distance transport. But when scholars investigate these claims, they may turn out to be very fragile. What if organic, local, traditional and artisanal products don’t actually deliver a healthier, more secure and sustainable food system?What also interests me is that he left some room for respecting the wishes of consumers. Even if the health, environment and economic arguments are false, there is still a place for consumers to have their own way. After a fair criticism of the scares food writers are dredging, Masters said:
"This is not a hypothetical question. Right now, the preponderance of evidence is pointing in that direction.
"It seems likely that improved health, security and sustainability will actually come from other kinds of intervention, such as more rigorous control of e. coli or salmonella, limiting fertilizer runoff from conventional agriculture, and building more efficient supply chains from tropical to temperate countries. These more effective measures don’t preclude but also don’t support the pursuit of organic, traditional, local and artisanal qualities that food consumers are demanding."
"Eventually I hope to do some writing for popular rather than academic audiences, to help replace what I see as misleading stories about health and the environment with a more accurate narrative about what’s actually desirable in higher quality foods.Well put. I look forward to reading when it comes out.
"My working title is Food without Fear, aiming to help readers enjoy various qualities without a misplaced sense of fear or guilt that shopping for conventional carrots at Wal-Mart will harm themselves or others, or a misplaced sense of foolishness about paying five times as much for a more delicious organic carrot on a sunny day at a farmers’ market. Plenty of smart people do both those things, and they should not feel fearful, guilty or foolish about it."