Cara Schulte, JHU:

What makes risk gain political attention? Today, personal inconvenience largely dictates prioritization. The hierarchy of solutions is heavily weighted by problems that cause the most discomfort on an individual level – the more intimate the problem, the faster we begin the elusive search for a resolution.

Between industrial development and climate change deniers, modern society has had apparent trouble internalizing environmental change. Because of our current scientific, technological, and social capacities we are quite oblivious to the limiting factors that govern our species’ ability to survive.

At present, human existence is unsustainable.

The term sustainability is often perverted to represent a parody of environmentalism [1]. It has become somewhat synonymous with tree-hugging and dreadlocks. In actuality, the word represents a much simpler concept; sustainability means maintenance. Sustainability means the ability to continue current actions at maximum benefit and minimum cost without jeopardizing the ability to continue this trend in the future. Think of it in the context of business, economic gain, or athletic feat – sustainability is a continuation, not a synonym for recycling.

Unrelenting thirst for both efficiency and success is preventing humans from jeopardizing any current comforts to ensure this potential future stability. Indulgent, egocentric, human behaviors in combination with poor management have produced an undeniable threat to the biodiversity of our living systems; we are consuming, exploiting, depleting, abusing, and damaging resources at an unsustainable and unacceptable rate. This brazen disregard of biophysical capacities will be responsible for our imminent collapse [2].

It is with this notion that I understand food as our savior; if personal stress drives urgency, food will drive change. Our desire for food is both innate and recurrent; food plays a crucial role in human health on account of its unique and universal relationship to social, economic, and cultural issues. As a basic necessity, food takes on a position as a human right, and with that, it is imperative that it is managed both effectively and efficiently.

Environmental pressures exist on a global level, as detailed in the International Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. Until this stress is felt both personally and directly, however, our systems will not change. Food is a very tangible, present resource; it therefore serves as a good measure of environmental stress. Populations will hopefully begin to recognize the severity of the environmental crisis when it begins to impede upon their daily lives, in this case, in the form of altered food variety, attainability, and cost. In the attempt to understand food as an agricultural good or environmental resource as opposed to an economic commodity, we might find ourselves making progress towards sustainability.

In establishing that threats to the food supply will provide the much-needed catalyst for attention to climate change, we come to understand the weaknesses of the global food system and the need for reform.

As we recognize the magnitude of the role food culture plays in our society, we begin to understand the importance and urgency of creating a system through which we may manage, monitor, and distribute resources in an effective, efficient, and sustainable manner. If we appreciate the principle of food sovereignty, we may begin to assert our right to define our own food environment and determine our own food and agricultural policies.

Currently, our expansive, corporate food regime is managed almost exclusively through institutions. The massive system – spanning through production, transportation, distribution, and consumption – is marked by failed collective action, fragmentation, and a lack of authority and legitimacy. The USDA, FDA, CDC, EPA, NMFS, FSIS fail to establish a comprehensive approach and simply leave us lost in acronyms. The structure frames food as an economic commodity, failing to address any and all cultural, social and, to my point, environmental significance; it must be modified.

The majority of suggestions for amendments to the system come largely from Big Green players that promote local produce, seasonal eating, and subsistence farming. The available solutions tend to emphasize decentralization and deglobalization [3], which inherently imply regression. This is, understandably, frightening.

The multifaceted, agro-centric, global system already involves a disjointed collection of organizations and treaties. Because most of the organizations in place are voluntary by nature, the system lacks support. Why continue to detach pieces of an already unfinished puzzle?


Despite the conspicuous flaws, our globalized economy has created some semblance of an international food regime. Perhaps the tools needed to stabilize and streamline the system are available, but the present state of affairs lacks an effective method of implementation [4]. So why not consider the opposite? Why not attempt to put the puzzle pieces together?


Food is an omnipresent resource, a basic necessity, and inelastic to price– there is no escaping. It affects every living being on our planet. In keeping with this, the natural world is a common good; all living beings have access to its benefits. If environmental change and food policy are issues at an international level, crossing all political, geographic, and social boundaries, why are we dealing with the consequences through regional systems? State actors are simply not capable of managing such large-scale implications. Therefore, I believe international policy is the answer.

My testimony is simple: food and environmental preservation are inseparable issues in which every living being is a stakeholder. Natural resources, namely food resources, are utilized on a global scale – it would only be logical for them to be governed across the international arena.


Developing countries will be quick to argue that streamlined regulations would be unjust on account of historical progressions – they believe it is their turn to take advantage of resources just as today’s global superpowers did previously during periods of industrialization. Despite the massive value of equality of opportunity, two wrongs cannot make a right. We are simply back where we started in defining the term sustainability –ultimately, it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. If we aren’t slightly unforgiving at present, we won’t be in the future.


Accordingly, decreased food security will provide a mechanism through which people might begin to value environmental conservation. It will create awareness of systemic flaws regarding resource management and environmental conservation. Modern society has made monumental strides in development and has reached increasing levels of complexity; it would be nothing but embarrassing to run out of resources and consequently drive ourselves into extinction as a result of our own innovations.

For now, we must keep in mind the principle of food sovereignty in asserting our rights to define our down food systems, democratizing both food and agriculture, and establishing and abiding by our own agro-food policies in hopes that we ultimately come to manage these concepts through international policy. Food is the key to environmental salvation. Eat your veggies, kids.



[1] Jackson Thomas Busch, Yale 2016

[2] Clapp, Jennifer, and Peter Dauvergne. Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005. Print.

[3] Esty, Daniel C. “Rethinking Global Environmental Governance to Deal with Climate Change: The Multiple Logics of Global Collective Action.” The American Economic Review 98.2, Papers and Proceedings of the One Hundred Twentieth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (2008): 116-21. JSTOR. Web. 08 May 2014.

[4] Lindenbaum, Shirley. “Review: Hunger and History: The Impact of Changing Food Production and Consumption Patterns on Society.” American Anthropologist 89.1 (1987): 239-40. JSTOR. Web. 08 May 2014.


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