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Home / Articles / Food / Food Writing /  Eating Wrong
Food Summit
In an unlikely and unnatural room, New Mexicans gathered to map out the road to a better food system.

Eating Wrong

Atlas Unshrugged

March 17, 2010, 12:00 am

In order to have a good dream come to fruition, you’ve got to have a nightmare first, according to Peter Warshall.

Warshall is the co-director of Bioneers’ collaborative Dreaming New Mexico project.

From March 11 to 12, Bioneers held the Dreaming New Mexico Food System Summit and something of a soft launch for Dreaming New Mexico’s road map to “an age of local foodsheds and a fair trade state.” Warshall kicked it all off by laying out New Mexico’s food nightmare.

The nightmare is, of course, contemporary agribusiness as usual: mechanized, inhumane, polluting, resource-intensive, water-wasting factory farming. Well over 90 percent of the food grown and produced in New Mexico is exported to other states and countries. By the same token, 97 percent of food consumed in New Mexico is imported from other places. The net effect is very little wealth left circulating within the region.

Meanwhile, lax regulatory laws have led to a buildup of concentrated animal-feed operations in the Southeast, and NAFTA policies have left New Mexico chile producers struggling to compete as cheap, global imports threaten the state’s signature crop. Warshall suggested the effective end of New Mexico’s chile industry could come as soon as 2020. He went on to explain key vulnerabilities to each of the state’s top income producing crops. In short, not many people currently think of New Mexico’s food system as a nightmare but, if we allow the status quo to proceed, it’s going to become increasingly apparent.

Fortunately, there’s the dream bit. Bioneers’ foodsheds and fair trade pamphlet is organized around “dreams” for tackling an intimidating list of interconnected issues, including health, climate change, food insecurity, energy, economy, government and marketing. How the dreams might be achieved isn’t stated specifically, but why each dream is a goal that merits an implementation strategy and concerted action is comprehensively mapped.

With an impressive list of more than 30 partners—ranging from Santa Fe Alliance and Sierra Club to Architecture 2030 and New Mexico Environmental Law Center—translating Dreaming New Mexico from a fantasy to an atlas for action is more than doable. Indeed, the second day of the conference was dedicated to breakout groups beginning to strategize the next steps on all fronts.

“There’s never been a comprehensive systems look at the food system here,” Bioneers founder Kenny Ausubel says.

He admits that the Santa Fe-based Bioneers has been doing a lot of work nationally and internationally for the past several years, but says the time is right to get more involved in New Mexico.

“A lot of the most positive change around the country is happening at the local level,” Ausubel says. “You can’t lose by working from the bottom up.”

He’s right. The ideas mapped out for New Mexico don’t take much imagination to apply in broader strokes until one starts fantasizing about saving the world.

In Ayn Rand’s free-market bible Atlas Shrugged, it’s suggested that Atlas—and by metaphorical extension any “pillar” of society and industry—shrug off a planet that has become unbearable to hold. But the prevailing attitude at the food summit suggested that the world only becomes unmanageable as a result of our mismanagement. If we all throw a shoulder in, Atlas can stop feeling like an exploited migrant worker in New Mexico’s industrial agribusiness machine and become part of a process in which responsibility and wealth are shared.

But then there’s something to be said for starting small, starting with food and starting here. Almost every single goal considered by the summit can be achieved through communication, policy, local investment or their combination. Broken down into individual destinations, each one reads as imminently achievable. Like any good map, the summit demonstrated that getting to a place that feels very far away is a simple matter of pointing in the right direction and putting one foot in front of the other.

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