Building Climate Values Through Food Security

Building Climate Values Through Food Security

For the most part, public debates and outreach on climate change have focused on the science and on convincing the public through a variety of fact-based appeals that action is needed to address this potentially catastrophic challenge rather than reaching people through compelling narratives that help convey and share values. One of the best ways to reach a range of constituencies and build ecological and climate values is to focus on food security issues. Besides the fact that I like to eat good food, my interest in the issue from an outreach perspective grew out of the work we did at the Social Capital Project researching the social values that underlie ecological opinions and behaviors. 

Like many others, we began to see how developing local systems provided ways to address ecological concerns as well as provide constituencies with tangible ways to act on their values by attempting to have a positive impact on health, economic, energy, and community systems.

Working on food issues provides the opportunity for a range of constituencies to come together based on a set of shared values. For example, farmers, environmental organizations, food banks, school districts, public health officials, and citizens can often agree when it comes to ideas such as community self-sufficiency, resiliency, beautification, and access to healthy food. More importantly, connecting around food issues is creating a sense of efficacy in neighborhoods around the country. Growing local food fills people with a feeling that perhaps it is not too late, that something can be done to address climate and other significant sustainability challenges, and that even if policy changes seem out of reach, we can at least dig up our lawns and work with our neighbors to grow and store a bit of salvation in the form of homemade strawberry jam or salsa.

Food issues offer a gateway into larger sustainability and climate topics and build values given that there are multiple benefits involved with taking action. When we grow our own food, shop at the farmers market, or choose local produce at the grocery store, we feel less guilty about our impact on the earth and start to engage as part of the restoration team, often with an even larger contribution to make beyond those related to food choices. We get to know people in our communities and neighborhoods as we swap seeds and share growing and cooking tips and, in some cases, canning facilities and chickens. We enjoy the taste of our food and focus a bit more time on gathering our friends and family together to share in it. We feel empowered to take our health back by embracing whole foods in season, and cutting back on red meat. We get reconnected to the cycles of life and get reintroduced to the feeling of a little dirt under our fingernails.

Focusing on personal food choices can seem like token efforts but I was reminded of their importance when listening to Andrea Reimer, the deputy mayor for the city of Vancouver, speak at the Social Change Institute at Hollyhock. Andrea is charged with the task of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world and argues that addressing the sustainability of our food systems is the most important component of their initiative. Throughout history, the evolution of our food systems has driven and underlies everything in our society including our energy, economic and cultural systems. If we change how we produce, store, and distribute food, we change everything.

Since focusing on climate issues, I’ve started growing food. It is humbling and, in some ways, increases my concern over our ability to evolve our agricultural systems given that I pay more attention to the challenges farmers are already facing due to events such as extreme droughts and floods. At the same time, hope for me comes in the form of that big bowl of raspberries that I bring into the kitchen for breakfast from the garden.  I feel good about the fact it was my efforts that helped manifest the bounty and it only took 20 footsteps to get them to the table. And I like living in a place that despite the differences in ideologies, there is a common effort to promote food security.  

In many communities, it has become socially uncomfortable or even unacceptable to talk about climate change. Conversations may thus need to start elsewhere, and those starting points often involve topics such as dealing with drought or the failure of apple crops. While it may take time, I believe it is possible to start with food security and lead into awareness and action to address climate disruption. It’s time to break bread and get started.


Photo via (cc) Flickr user schrierc