10 Mile Diet

What’s a complementary food system?

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The food systems that feed us – natural and national – are like the glass pieces in a kaleidoscope. I turn my head this way and that, trying for a whole picture. I think I’m beginning to see it, but still, as Paul in the Bible said, “through a glass darkly.”

Last week I tried explaining my current understanding to a very well informed acquaintance. The piece about complementary food systems had her puzzled.

I use that term for the possibility and importance of regenerating regional agricultural capacity.Right now, we have spotty capacity, unequal to the job of feeding the people. We are highly reliant on industrial agriculture.

In medicine, natural remedies and modalities were at first labeled quackery,  then alternative and now, with much research and demand, complementary. Massage and chiropractic and homeopathy and naturopathy are included in many insurance plans and recognized as part of the range of effective treatments. Small scale family farms and market gardens are currently sidelines in our food system, little protected and left to compete with industrial food on an unequal playing field. Here’s what I wrote to this acquaintance:

Our conversation helped me clarify the idea of a complementary food system and how it’s just a name for building regional food production, processing and distribution capacity. I want people to see that it is possible – though very challenging – to restore the vitality of our regional food system. In 1950 (my lifetime!!!) most food eaten in western WA was grown here.

We live in the midst of a supply chain miracle aided by fossil fuels and corporate consolidation and vertical integration and agricultural inputs and nano tech and Reaganomics and a lot more. Every innovation seemed to make life better (better living through chemistry) but to me there is a sorcerer’s apprentice quality of what we have now. we are beginning to drown in the unintended consequences of a system no one really can grasp anymore.

With relocalization as a lens you start to map a system you can actually see and influence. Not reject the good and necessary of the industrial system but begin to see gaps and opportunities, begin to define for ourselves our goals for our productivity, begin to see where we can stop being complicit with what we don’t choose for ourselves and families. it’s not the new “right way” – it’s just a lens that animates my creativity and desire to participate.

Also, I lived in an intentional community for 3 decades and it trained me to think in terms of the collective well being, knowing through experience that my life gets easier and better if i am attending to the needs of the system in which i live. it is a unique lens. old hippies have this in their experience for sure, not many doggedly followed the path into this millennium.

Through the lens of individualism – our western miracle of myopia – the industrial system looks okay. “Works for me” as we say. Through a community lens, though, it is ravaging the living biotic and social systems that real people in real communities ultimately depend on not just for food but for love and belonging and meaning. I think this is why I am following this inkling to see where it goes.


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