By Hope Pjesky: Goltry, Oklahoma
We have the best system of food production in the world.
Never before has what we eat been so safe, diverse, or abundant, thanks to hard-working farmers, ranchers, scientists, grocers, and everybody else in the food chain.
Yet too many people can’t stop talking about what they’ve branded a “broken food system.”
Just look at their rhetoric: In the New York Times, Michael Pollan warns of “a broken food system.” Ally Friedman of the World Resources Institute also claims that we possess “a broken food system.” A recent editorial in the Toronto Star insists that “entire communities are suffering from a broken food system.”
These folks repeat the word “broken” so much, they sound like broken records, stuck on the same stale clichés: In the Washington Post, Tamar Haspel offered a list of “10 things we should do to fix our broken food system.” In the Guardian, a British newspaper, Amy Leech proposed “a fix for our broken food system.” The professional protestors at Greenpeace claim that “our food and farming system is broken.” The Union of Concerned Scientists, another left-wing activist group, has published a set of policy recommendations called “Re-envisioning our broken food system.”
Something tells me that none of these people missed their last meal—and yet every time they sit down to write an opinion column or press release, they declare that our “food system is broken.” Probably after finishing a nice lunch.
They couldn’t be more wrong, especially here in the United States. Americans enjoy more and better food choices right now than anybody in the history of the world. We can eat everything from expensive steaks to quickie cheeseburgers, organic kale to frozen peas in a bag, and fresh apples from a farmer’s market to chunks of apricot in plastic cups. We can sit down at fancy restaurants or drive through fast-food joints. We can make meals from scratch in our own kitchens or have dinners delivered to our doors.
The complainers just don’t like the food choices that other people make. They fuss over consumers who select less nutritious food. But this is what happens in a world of choice and responsibility: Different people do different things.
I like to think that I eat well much of the time, but sometimes I need to eat fast. Other times, I want the option of eating something like chocolate ice cream. Maybe it’s bad for me—but I love it.
This is my business, no matter what the sanctimonious food police say. And nobody’s food choices are the fault of farmers and ranchers. Our job is to produce the food that people want, not to tell them what to eat.
So our food system isn’t broken. It’s working just as it should.
I’m tempted to cite the old rule: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But that’s not quite right. The truth is we’re always striving to do better. Think of mobile phones. Sometimes they break and we need new ones. More often, though, we have old ones and we want better ones. They ain’t broke and we upgrade.
That’s true in the world of farmers and ranchers as well.
Some people think agriculture is just glorified gardening, but technology plays a large role in what we do. Just as our grandparents upgraded from horse-drawn plows to combustion-powered tractors, we’re switching to GPS-guided vehicles that allow us to plant with incredible precision.
And there’s so much more, up and down our entire food system. Genetically modified seeds help us to defeat weeds, pests, and disease. Modern medicine keeps our animals healthy. Super-sized cargo ships and massive canals allow us to transport food everywhere. Refrigerated trucks keep food fresh. QR codes on packaging create interactive opportunities and unlimited information for shoppers.
A generation ago, this might have seemed like science fiction. Now it’s our reality
Nothing is perfect, of course. Perhaps we should borrow a phrase from the preamble to the Constitution, setting a goal to become “more perfect”—and that means an excellent food system that’s ever more safe, diverse, and abundant.
Hope Pjesky and her family are farmers / ranchers in northern Oklahoma where they raise cattle and wheat. Hope volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).