Food is a highly popular way many people practice their environmental commitments. When one looks closer, though, important questions arise. EcoTypes may help us appreciate, and deepen, the ideas that inform the food movement. Below you’ll find an overview suggesting theme relevance, sample related axes, and an opportunity to take sides on this topic.
It is difficult to envision a topic more intimately associated with individual persons, communities, regions, and the globe than food. Increasingly, environmentalism has taken on food as a key issue, and to many people what they do and don’t eat is central to their environmental practice.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is conflict and complexity over food: though some debates are less significant, other issues such as food security or global hunger remain increasingly serious. Maybe thinking of food in terms of broad EcoTypes themes can help us understand more deeply the differing ideas that inform these challenges. In this vein, the EcoTypes Place and Action themes are particularly salient.
In terms of Place, food can resonate with either its human or its nonhuman pole. On the human side, advances in agricultural productivity such as the Green Revolution suggest an approach to Place that prioritizes a crafted Aesthetics, anthropocentric Ethics, and hybrid Nature—and indeed, since we are talking about food for people, one would think that food always leans toward human Place. But strong support for movements such as organic agriculture and permaculture indicate not only a concern for the quality of food people eat, but the quality of ecosystems involved in, or connected to, food production.
Some of this tension is evident in the land sparing vs. sharing debate, where the former option allows for high-technology, intensive farming to feed people, thus freeing up more land for conservation, and the latter works to promote biodiversity on the same lands used for food production; in this debate, ironically, sparing habitat for conservation—furthering nonhuman Place—necessitates intensive agriculture elsewhere—a (very) human Place. It is evident from these examples that food intertwines the human and nonhuman poles of Place, though given the ultimate emphasis on human well-being, human Place is inescapable.
Perhaps an even bigger tension arises in the Action theme, where small Action approaches stressing individual-scale food choice—popular among many green-leaning households as they grow or purchase what they consider healthy, sustainable food—sound entirely incongruous with big Action, aiming to harness or transform large-scale agriculture. One such is the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a “…global partnership dedicated to fighting hunger, malnutrition, and poverty by supporting resilient and sustainable agriculture in developing countries that benefits and empowers poor and vulnerable smallholder farmers, particularly women.” To GAFSP, this admirable goal necessitates big, not small, Action.
And, of course, a great deal of the current food supply comes via globalized, commercial agriculture—a reality to which small Action is often pursued as an alternative. Can individuals transform global agriculture bit by bit?: this would exemplify incremental Change, one of the axes contributing to small Action. And given also the popularity, in the food context, of an emphasis on individual Social Scale, consensus Society (with all contributing via their individual food choices), and local Spatial Scale, the small Action pole seems predominant in how people approach food.
Different takes on environmental topics may reflect differing takes on more fundamental environmental ideas. Below are a few of the EcoTypes axes related to this topic; these and other axes contribute to the larger theme-based patterns summarized above.
Food relates in obvious ways to the EcoTypes Nature axis: think of labeling on breakfast cereal or a host of other products where “natural” is prominently featured. The problem, as many know, is that “natural foods” are ubiquitous but unregulated: so, what does nature/natural imply in this context? Arguably, the assumption is typically one of pure (vs. hybrid) Nature.
Google food and spirituality, and the results (167 million as of recent searches) will suggest that food is far more than material sustenance to many people. Yet the label on the back of packaged food is entirely limited to the latter, as are typical government nutrition guides. The EcoTypes Spirituality axis addresses the tension between these sacred vs. secular approaches.
Similar to the axes above, the Technology axis represents an important tension (summarized in the axis as phobic vs. philic) in how people approach food. Much like the Nature axis and its connection to an emphasis on food as pure, many people think of technology (e.g., use of genetically modified organisms) as an undesirable adulterant of food, something to be minimized; but, clearly, technology is central to food production, distribution, and preparation.
Take sides on this topic! It’s best if you are randomly assigned to a side, or pick a side you disagree with, as the point here is to try on a different approach than you may have, and to consider how differing takes on EcoTypes axes and themes may result in differing positions on environmental topics.
Following this tab are three positions—by no means comprehensive, but this gets us beyond the back-and-forth of a pro/con two-position debate. The first position is the default one, in some ways supporting what those interested in environmental issues have learned as the best way to approach this topic. Then there are two more positions that challenge this default position and/or each other. In each case you’ll find some details to get you started, and guidance on how each position may relate to EcoTypes axes and themes (do review the general material above, and feel free to explore other connections not noted here). The last tab lists all publications cited in the position summaries.
You could approach these three positions as a traditional debate, with each side attempting to win. Or, you could approach these three positions as starting points for environmental engagement around their creative tensions, hopefully to get to deeper, more meaningful, possibly complementary disagreement.
Have fun! Remember to fully try on your position, whether or not you personally agree with it. It is easy to say “Each has a point,” and indeed each position presented here is worth serious consideration. But as you’ll discover there are important differences, and you have the opportunity and responsibility to make up your own mind in light of these differences.