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Food movement has loose grip on reality

7th July 2016

In her blogpost self-described “Wyoming Farmkid” Sarah Mock sets out to debunk some of the foodie myths around farming in the age of the artisan.

Mock takes aim at Instagram images of luscious, just-picked fruits and vegetables, cradled lovingly in weathered, dirty and disembodied hands that are often portrayed by urban foodie marketing as being authentic and “real”.

Firstly, Mock firstly points out that fruit and vegetables account for around 1% of cropland, extensive fields of corn, soybeans and cereals are what most farmers produce – and are integral to the remaining 80 to 90% of food items most consumers find in their local supermarkets. Less visually appealing but necessary.

The second bubble Mock bursts is the idea that farming is done by hand, highlighting the machinery involved in harvesting, processing and delivering the vast quantities of safe food efficiently reliably to consumers each day. The unforgiving nature of food production – subject to weather and global commodity markets – necessitates technologies and scale that mitigate risk and improve productivity. Yet as Mock notes, employing technology and seeking to grow – as most businesses do – draws criticism for farmers.

Why? Mock contends that doing this moves food producers further from the idealized “fantasy farm”, and more into the realm of rational business and people don’t want their food touched by rational business people – bring back the dirty hands!!

Mock concludes “I think part of our farm-to-table fantasy involves a tipping point beyond which the sheer gravity of urban gardens and artisan prosciutto butcheries will overwhelm the centuries-old traditions of American agriculture and the problems; soil degradation, nitrogen leeching, food deserts, obesity, etc., will magically fix themselves. As much as I want to believe in the power of soil-kissed hands, I think we might also need alternative strategies.”

Rather than bemoan a “broken” food system Mock urges farmers to empower farmers – real farmers not the fantasy ones. Increased interest in food and provenance should be a positive for the sector. However, much of the imagery and branding that drives this interest means the food movement is far removed from the realities of actual farming much of the time. Unfortunately, when modern farming realities fall short of foodie expectations, trust is eroded. There is much that needs to be done on both sides to align expectations and realities.