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Black or White? – There’s a Lot More Than Two Possibilities for Sustainable Food Production



Louise O Fresco’s credentials are what initially caught my attention. As the former Assistant Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, I assumed she would have constructive ideas to contribute. Not to mention she’s also the President of Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Netherlands.

But soon into the read, it was clear something was really out of whack. A theory was referred to, but never materialized. Visions of trattorias and green ribbons, do not a theory make. I don’t know what it’s like in  the Netherlands but I know, here in Canada, that any green house tomato I’ve ever eaten was a pale imitation of the ones I’ve either grown myself or bought from neighboring growers. I don’t have access to any nutritional studies, but since what’s in a tomato depends on the soil it’s grown in and it’s genetics, this wouldn’t be enough information anyway.


Pretty down on farmer’s markets – and consumers.


Most produce markets I’m aware off bring goods from areas outside of town or city. Transportation is involved no matter if products are headed for the market or the supermarket. The last twenty years have seen a surge in making out-of -season produce available year round in many areas of the world. Bananas, raspberries, mangoes, papaya and other perishables come from South Africa, Chile, Israel, Indonesia, and I’ve even seen FRESH New Zealand lamb from time to time. I can’t figure out how bringing locally grown produce into a city from outlying farms could be any more wasteful than shipping across the oceans by boat, then trucking from the coasts – or the airport – fancy packing or not. The fuel and pollution, for crying out loud – this all by itself makes no sense!


It’s stated in the article that tomatoes spoil in a matter of hours, and I notice the author jumps from this inaccuracy straight to saying that all produce will spoil if it doesn’t reach the market within a few hours. This is rubbish. People routinely store potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, onions, dried beans, grains, nuts, etc., for most, if not the entire, non growing season without any special technology.Tomatoes are perishable, but are good for a few days, or more, if low tech refrigerated.


The article moves on to talk of the resource waste that farmer’s markets represent. Here in Canada efforts have begun to recover the enormous quantities of food and scraps thrown away at supermarkets, restaurants, food processing plants, produce supply terminals, commercial and institutional buildings, and individual homes. Singling out farmer’s markets as sole and primary food wasters is irresponsible reporting.


Ms Fresco notes that it’s hard work picking fruit and vegetables, and I’m sure that laborers who work for the huge food conglomerates overseas will be happy to be unemployed and starving when they lose out to robots – it’s hard to buy food with no income. Oh, and these same producers are right up on building those green houses – they’re sure to be pesticide, herbicide and GM free, too. I’d love to see one of these robotic green houses that are pumping out 70kg of tomatoes per square meter. Where can I find one? What kind of fertilizer is used? Where can I find nutritional analysis of these wonder tomatoes? And hey, hi! organic growers out there. How’s your yield? You using non-hybrid, or heritage seed? Love to hear from you.
Robots and special greenhouses cost money, They also have a manufacturing footprint. How ecologically fitting either technology is, isn’t advertised.


It’s stated that organic produce is grown without fertilizer. This is flat out false. And again, the poor worn out tomato is either/or compared in green house and non green house water use. In-season tomato growing relies on rain. Water that evaporates, eventually falls back down as more rain – and you can generally store rain water in case of unexpected dry spells. If you want to grow food where it’s so dry irrigation is necessary, you might as well do it in a green house – you won’t have to import as much water. Better yet – grow something suitable for the environment.


Next comes the wonders of dairy industry left overs! Modified milk ingredients -yes – what this stuff contains doesn’t have to be declared, and can be imported from anywhere, no matter what lack of pesticide, herbicide or food safety regulations exist at point of production. It’s found it’s way into almost every dairy product in Canadian grocery stores – and I can’t eat it. It makes me sick! I have to buy full fat dairy to avoid it – and even then I have to check to be sure. Almost all of the cheese has it added, regardless of fat content. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people thinking they’re lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, when the real culprit could be this additive – or then again, it could be the thickeners, colorants, preservatives, etc., also commonly found in reduced fat dairy products. By-products can be useful, but do have to be tested, and regulated, if necessary, for safety’s sake. Not making it clear what added by-products contain is a serious health hazard.


It’s been known for a while that cooked tomatoes release more beta carotene that raw, so tomato sauce, paste, puree, etc., deliver more of that nutrient. Commercially prepared ketchup is extremely high in added sugars, flavorings and preservatives – it qualifies as ultra-processed – and can’t be considered healthier than a fresh tomato as the articles claims. And what ketchup has to do with cooking and Ms Fresno’s way-out-there suggestion that cooking food had something to do with brain evolution, I can’t even see a correlation.


I see no excuse to denigrate consumers.  We don’t decide what winds up in our store bought food. Technologists working for huge corporations do the lion’s share of this. And more and more often, we’re denied the right to even know what’s in commercially supplied food. More fallacies: science is always right, and food is affordable. The only cheap food I see these days is ultra-high processed – not real, and not nutritionally useful.



There are so many possibilities to improve things. Here’s just a few ideas:




reclaiming and rehabilitating poisoned land

seasonal food production with the use of greenhouses where warranted for near or total local food sufficiency
breeding open pollinated varieties that do well in greenhouses and maintain or even improve nutritional quality ( long-term)

total nutrient recovery within in co-operative towns – extract every bit of fertilizer and fuel value from local biological sources

autonomous housing within independent towns – no grid, no pipelines

run towns and connecting public transport on wind, solar, bio hydrogen and bio methane
putting a stop to pollution

I don’t think sustainability is to be found at today’s farmers’ market or supermarket without a lot a change. I don’t see much of what’s described in this article as superior food on my plate. If any reader has yet to learn to grow a few vegetables, do head to your community garden – you be growing in no time – please don’t listen to this:


The closing statement:


“If you do not believe me, give growing tomatoes a try on your windowsill or in the garden. Most likely, your tomatoes will wither on the vine or be eaten by other hungry species. Hopefully, this will leave you full of admiration for all those who work to get flawless tomatoes to your table: the farmers, the processors, the scientists, the greengrocers and retailers. They need our respect and support to make your tomatoes even more sustainable – and then to feed the world”.

These condescending words polish off a highly biased attempt to dismiss all that is organic and local as antiquated and wasteful. Modern organic farms use up-to date information and methods to grow excellent produce, in good yield, with minimized, yet appropriate, inputs. Fertilizers are used, but they are organic amendments, usually produced locally. These additives ensure that soil retains the structure, biological activity, and fertility needed to successfully grow sound, nutritious produce. Soil quality is monitored. Non persistent and minimum impact biological pest and disease control is employed when needed, and must meet strict standards. Non GM seed use is also strictly enforced. Spoiled produce and trimmings are not waste. They’re an important part of the materials used to naturally feed the soil. That’s why food waste is now diverted from landfill. It’s composted and used properly as soil improver.


The costs of moving produce a few hours by truck, while not ideal, eliminates the need for advanced packaging or other expensive technological interventions. Locally produced foods – allowing sale within a few days of harvest – are a far better option on the basis of the environmental cost of transcontinental, artificially modified and controlled shipping, alone. Alternative power for local delivery would be a huge improvement, and hopefully will come soon.


And surely I’m not the only one who has seen tomatoes – and a lot of other vegetables and fruit – growing on balconies! All in all, Ms Fresno’s biased essay leaves out most of the facts and plays fast and loose with the few she’s chosen to include. What’s really unsustainable is her attitude and unreliable opinions.

Link to reviewed article.


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