Let’s Talk About Paradigms

Firstly I’d like to direct you to THIS TEDx talk from 2012. If you have the time, please do watch the talk. Jayson Lusk is a professor and agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University and has authored many books about food, technology, and the benefits of the industrial food system.

I’ve read that Dr. Lusk admits that he used to have an “axe to grind” about his side of the food policy debate, which is evident in his talk from five years ago. He clearly is frustrated by food classism, which certainly exists in the alternative food movement. He supports food and bio technology for the purpose of creating a food system that keeps food inexpensive and reduces impact on the environment. He strongly criticizes the positions of people such as Michael Pollan, Kelly Brownell, and Mark Bittman, who have written on the darkness of the industrial food system, thinking that their depictions demonize a system unnecessarily. In some ways, he is absolutely correct.

It is clear that he views the alternative food movement as being elitist and plain old wrong about its view on the future of food: slow, local, and “natural.” He fears that people on the other side of the isle are completely against innovation and progress. On that word “natural;” I want to highlight a few quotes from his talk:

“Our food abundance that we’ve enjoyed is a triumph of human ingenuity over nature’s indifference to us.”

“…nature is not our friend. It’s trying to compete with us. There is, after all, nothing more natural than dying.”

“I don’t want a future where my kids are brooding over how to grow the oldest heirloom tomato, but rather one where they’re thinking about how to get corn to produce its own fertilizer, and where they dream about space-age technologies that can make tasty, nutritious food with the push of a button.”

In all of his talking, these three bits are the most important to me, because they help to illuminate the set of assumptions upon which he is basing all of his logic and rhetoric. Nature is not our friend, death is a bad thing, and technology is our way out. He is the definition of a “taker”- one who believes that the continued development of technology will eventually lead us to complete and total control over the world- our true place on earth.

This position comes from a long cannon of western history that, it could be argued, developed alongside agriculture. He throws in a couple of great side comments that infer that food didn’t really exist before Columbus “found” it in the Americas. Additionally, there’s a strange and great attempt at feminism by implying that industrial food liberated women from homemaking work in the 1970s, which, while is perhaps a factor, was hardly the main liberator. Also I think he needs a primer on Fourth Wave Feminism.

But I digress. Jayson Lusk is clearly an intelligent, well-spoken, and well-intentioned man who wants to see the quality of life for all people improve. I can’t help but wonder, however, how his opinions would change if, instead of viewing the world as a place of scarcity, competition, and separation, he saw the great generosity of the earth and human beings as yet another species within its systems.

Dr. Lusk is right in that we have a crisis on our hands, but while permaculturists support the slow descent of energy use, human population, and human consumption, he believes that technology really will save us.  I don’t believe myself to be a luddite. I write this from a laptop computer in a house where I cook on an electric stove, for goodness sake. But I also simply cannot believe that we will ever have space-age food that is delivered to us by the push of a button. I don’t know if I would want to. Denying my own rooted connectedness of a creature of earth would be a painful existence, indeed.

Check your paradigm. What are the beliefs and values you hold that are influencing the assumptions through which you view the world? It seems a good thing to know.

Good luck,


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