Being based in Northern California, I am lucky to be located at the epicenter of the sustainable agriculture and Slow Food movements in the U.S.; it means very tasty cuisine all year round. I was intrigued by the recent 12 principles for a healthy food and agricultural system disseminated by some of the luminaries in the Bay Area.

Below is my commentary on the 12 principles, followed by some closing thoughts.

  1. Forms the foundation of secure and prosperous societies, healthy communities, and healthy people.
  2. Not sure this is correct; there are many very prosperous regions in which agriculture does not play a central role and food has to be imported (e.g. Japan, Singapore, and much of the Northeastern U.S.).

  3. Provides access to affordable, nutritious food to everyone.
  4. This is primarily an issue of making sure everyone has a stable income, and it is not really an agricultural issue (although bringing farmers markets to underserved communities is a great development).

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  5. Prevents the exploitation of farmers, workers, and natural resources; the domination of genomes and markets; and the cruel treatment of animals, by any nation, corporation or individual.
  6. The intent here is clear, but without spelling out what "exploitation" means it’s hard to know what to make of this. What is the domination of genomes and markets? I don’t even understand that.

  7. Upholds the dignity, safety, and quality of life for all who work to feed us.
  8. "Dignity" and "quality of life" are even vaguer than the notion of exploitation.

  9. Commits resources to teach children the skills and knowledge essential to food production, preparation, nutrition, and enjoyment.
  10. This seems pretty straight-forward and commendable.

  11. Protects the finite resources of productive soils, fresh water, and biological diversity.
  12. Again, pretty vague.

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  13. Strives to remove fossil fuel from every link in the food chain and replace it with renewable resources and energy.
  14. This is pretty clear and also commendable, even if not feasible at this point.

  15. Originates from a biological rather than an industrial framework.
  16. Not sure what either of these terms mean in practice.

  17. Fosters diversity in all its relevant forms: diversity of domestic and wild species; diversity of foods, flavors and traditions; diversity of ownership.
  18. This would seem to go well with No. 4 above — the education component.

  19. Requires a national dialog concerning technologies used in production, and allows regions to adopt their own respective guidelines on such matters.
  20. I’m pretty sure this already exists.

  21. Enforces transparency so that citizens know how their food is produced, where it comes from, and what it contains.
  22. This is interesting but at what level of detail? Should labeling requirements include all of the inputs, the wages, the micro-nutrients? I don’t know the answer. Labeling is not only expensive, but also too much information can easily overload consumers.

  23. Promotes economic structures and supports programs to nurture the development of just and sustainable regional farm and food networks.
  24. How do we define regions and what does "just" mean?

There is nothing directly in these principles about agricultural subsidies or water subsidies, which are probably the two greatest drivers of unsustainable agricultural practices. There is also no mention of eating lower on the food chain, which saves tremendous resources and is the most obvious way to help the agricultural system transition to one that is much less resource intensive.

It is always preferable to focus on the root causes of problems, but unfortunately the creators of this document didn’t accomplish that. That’s a shame because I think their intentions are laudable and they certainly have significant political and cultural clout. Hopefully in the future, they can direct their energies in a more targeted manner.