Archive for November, 2012

Just over two years ago I wrote about the puzzle of the food production system in the farming county in which I live (Yolo, CA). Later, I added this more general critique of our modern food system. To summarize a bit of what I wrote I shared how we grow vast amounts of food, little of which is processed or consumed where we live. Pressures on land create strange complexities that place the entire food system at risk and our narrowly defined “solutions” lead to only greater complexity.

About a month ago one of our County Supervisors hosted a “food summit” to bring community members together to talk about these challenges and the added to the mix the realization that we have significant levels of food insecurity[i] and several “food deserts” in our county and that these are accompanied by high levels of childhood obesity.  If that all sounds bizarrely paradoxical, welcome (back) to our modern food system.

While I appreciated the summit and the contributions of very experienced food producers and various researchers, what I found lacking was a framework that we might use to define where we want to go—a framework that would lay out the ultimate goal of the local food system we want to create.

In the two articles linked to above I used the work of Jacques Ellul to illustrate the problem of “Technique” in our modern food system.  In decrying the lack of a goal for our local food system I return to Ellul.  In addition to calling out the challenges of Technique, Ellul argued that we are a society focused on “means” with a generalized inattention to “ends”.  Ellul argued that everything has become means (prodigious means he said) but there is no real sense of where they should take us. He found this to be, ultimately, dehumanizing.

The food summit confirmed Ellul’s points about this because we proceeded throughout the summit to discuss the means by which we might solve the particular problems without any real reference to where we would like to go.

I believe that if we are to face the challenges in our “nearby” (be they challenges related to feeding ourselves, dispensing justice, or dealing with homelessness related to mental health problems to name a few), we must work harder at defining some ends. These “ends statements” are not set in stone, indeed they should be about creating conversations that lead to greater clarity in our collective thinking so that when we proceed to the “means”, we can evaluate them in terms of whether or not they (arguably) take us towards the ends we have worked out together.

To that end, after the summit, I sat down with my notes and the (quickly fading) memory of what I had heard at the summit and wrote up a suggested vision and goals statement around which we might create a conversation.  I offer it here not as a model others might use in their communities, but rather as an example of the type of “ends framing” work I think we need to do more of if we are to face the many and growing challenges in our homes.

I take very seriously the work of creating peace and resilience in the nearby and am trying to put some flesh on the ideas about how to create robust “economies” in the places in which we live.  Hopefully you can find some inspiration from my suggested path.  Feedback is appreciated.


Toward a “Relational” Food System Policy for Yolo County


Vision: We envision a county in which childhood obesity and under-nutrition are unknown and in which residents eat with the rhythms of the season from farms the owners of which they know by name.

Goal: The goal of the Yolo County Food Policy is that less than 3 percent1 of children under 10 years of age2 are over- or underweight3, that they have access to a nutritious meals4 made primarily of seasonally available5 local foods6 from farms and farmers with which they have a personal connection7 and that their children’s children8 will experience the same.

Notes from the forgoing:

1 – In a healthy population some small percentage of children will be large or small for their age (or height).  Thus, the goal is not to reduce these numbers to zero but to about what would be expected in a healthy population.

2 – The focus on children does not exclude other members of the population but is chosen for several reasons.  First, children are the most vulnerable members of any population—they act as nutritional “sentinel sites”. Second eating habits developed early in life set the stage for later practices. Third, there are many opportunities to engage the parents of children and children in these ages including during school, after school activities, via health providers and via child care facilities.

3 – Nutritional status is easy to measure, non-invasive and linked closely with food intake. A focus on nutritional status however, demonstrates the important point that food policy is linked to other issues related to child health including general health status (immunization status for example) and physical activity. Thus, food policy is driven by the clear end that children will be healthy.

4 – The idea of nutritious meals requires us to think not just about discrete food production but to the broader question of how food is transformed into meals.  In this way it honors the fact that food is not merely an input but rather part of a social act—eating together and sharing time with others. Again, these meals can be provided by school feeding programs or at home and this reminds us that a proper food policy will also focus on the household production of healthy meals. This point should also include a concern about providing the most nutritious meal of all for children up to two years of age: breast milk.

5 – Seasonally available reminds us that a sustainable system involves thinking about eating what is available nearby rather than being trucked in from a distance.  It is linked to points 6 (local) and 7 (personal connection) in that seasonal food is food grown nearby by people we know.  By helping people eat seasonally we also help them focus on the rhythms experienced by those who grow their food and to value the bounty and diversity of our local food system.

6 – Point 5 orients us to the local but this calls it out specifically.  There is no percentage of local diets that come from local sources but one could be developed.  The focus on local also reminds us of the need to develop policies that enable not just the growing but also the transformation, packaging and preservation of locally grown food.

7 – Fundamentally our food system is about people—the children and their parents referred to above but also the people who labor to provide food.  The personal connection between consumers and farmers does not happen by chance but must be encouraged throughout the system.  By building deeper relations we build trust, the ability to deal with conflict and we position our communities to have informed debates about how to best have a resilient food system.

8 – This point forces us to think about our food system “intergenerationally.” This points us not just to the issue of sustainable farming and land use practices but towards the necessity of preserving farm land, assuring that farmers can afford to survive on their farms and that we will build a heritage of robust and resilient local farming practices.

[i] Leave a comment if you would like me to share how food insecurity is measured and what it means.

And on the day after, the same sun came up

Violence still claimed lives in a thousand different places

Babies still found sustenance from their mothers’ breasts


The spending of an unthinkable (for most of us) amount of money to buy power stopped

(But probably only briefly)

Some fists were clenched and angry syllables muttered

Some hubris sought new bounds


In some places new resources for schools, more equitable justice systems or the right to light up or wed the person one loves spurred hope

In others the newly elected began seeing the world in a new way

And in some places people thought long and hard about how they might become part of the solution


And on the evening after, the same sun went down

Drones pounded a far off village

A man dreamed of a time, coming soon, when his pre-existing condition would not keep him from accessing health care


Some politicians braced anew for their unending Manichean struggle (a struggle of their own creation)

A number of people pointed fingers and vomited Ayn Rand’s brand of social autism

Too many celebrated the defeat of “enemies” rather than mourning the further loss of community


Elsewhere, community members gathered to explore how to bring restorative justice to their local juvenile justice system

Others went to trainings to equip themselves to staff a cold weather shelter for those without homes

A small group planted a new hedgerow to harbor beneficial insects and provide pollen to bees in all seasons


And the same sun is going to keep coming up and going down

And in some places the hurt will get wound more tightly

And in other places some faithful aliens will continue the long defeat of dutifully unwinding it all


And that long defeat will lead to inevitable victory

No matter who claims the title of “commander in chief”, or who sits in that oval office, or who decides who is next on the kill list.

Warning: This prayer may offend for a number of reasons: it is Christian, attempts to be Anabaptist, and uses archaic monarchical language.

Read it at your own risk

Our Father…

We thank you that you are both our Father and our King.  Our allegiance is to you and your kingdom alone and we long for its coming in fullness.  We thank you that in Jesus we see the first fruits of your reign: a reign characterized by peace, justice and the reconciliation of all things.

Oh Great King, we see the brokenness of our world and at times we feel overwhelmed.  We long to see the wrongs made right, the sick made well, relationships healed and the hungry fed.  And we confess that sometimes we lose heart.

But we also confess that we await the consummation of the work you began in Jesus who taught us that your kingdom is unlike any of this world.  We see his kingdom: a kingdom in which the prince washes the feet of his subjects.  We see a kingdom in which the outcasts are brought to a feast with their Lord.  We see a kingdom in which the sovereign’s subjects are called his friends.

And again we say: May your kingdom come in fullness.

We recognize no other ruler than you, our gracious and merciful king.

You have made us your ambassadors of reconciliation in this world and we understand that in Jesus you are reconciling all things in the universe—that you are healing all things.  And you have called us to be your emissaries, to announce this good news.

You have called us as a holy nation—not because of anything we have done but only so that we might be a blessing in the world; that we might live into the reality of the reconciled cosmos that is coming into being.  May we discharge faithfully our duties as your ambassadors.

We also understand that you have sent us as ambassadors into THIS nation at THIS time to be a blessing and we ask that you will enable us to be just that.  This nation, our home (though we live like aliens in it), faces an election this week. Many decisions must be made.  Votes will be cast to determine the people who will lead and on ballot initiatives that will have a direct bearing on our lives and on the lives of many others.

In the face of these decisions many of us are anxious.  Some of us are fearful. Some of us are angry.

In this time we ask you to remind us of who we are and who you are.

We understand that you have established nations and given them a role in your plan of redemption.  But we also realize that no nation can save us. We see that while many nations speak of justice and invoke your name, they simultaneously reach for “the fruit” and thereby reveal their true intentions: to be autonomous from you and to claim your salvific role.

We confess that no leader can lead us into truth, that you uniquely call no nation, and that the claims to “exceptionalism” are tools of manipulation to bind our allegiance to nations that are not our true home.

We understand that this nation and its leaders, like all nations and all leaders, serve at your pleasure.

And so as we face tomorrow and the days after take the fear and anxiety from our hearts.  Prepare us, no matter the outcome, to redouble our efforts to live into the reality of your coming kingdom—to be the ambassadors of reconciliation you have called us to be in this nation, in this state, in this county and in this city. Keep us focused on our calling.

We pray especially for Governor Romney and President Obama as they prepare to lead this nation.  Remind them of who you are.  Remind them that they are men, like all men, like all humans: prone to wander; prone to leave the shepherd who would call them to follow him. Remind them of their need of you.

And no matter who wins this election, no matter which ballot measures pass or fail, give us the strength and courage to wake the next morning ready to be agents of healing and hope in this city, in in this county, in this state, in the United States and in the world—wherever you take us.

In the name of the one who is making all things new

In the name of the Prince of Peace

In the name of the one who gave of himself so that all may know life

In the name of the one who came to serve

In Jesus name we pray.