What is preventing sustainability? Endless growth? Corrupt political systems? Corporate power?

With all these issues, social and environmental, we might rightly question whether we can make sense of the food system and put it on track to something better. Some, in fact, argue quite forcefully that we are basically fucked: that apocalypse is at hand (largely from climate change), in which case our food systems are doomed alongside the general ecological collapse of industrial society.

This collapse can be seen as the obvious outcome of a society dedicated economically, politically, and culturally to endless growth. Growth on a finite planet, sensibly, cannot go on forever. But there is no consensus about why we abide this growth imperative. Some argue it is our acquisitive “human nature”. Some put the blame on particularly corrupt political systems the world over. Some argue against the corporations that they say are undermining democratic political systems. Still others blame capitalism itself, since capitalism drives economic growth and now underlies almost all political systems, and keeps politics oriented towards capitalist interests (including those of food/farming corporations).

In the next few sections, I will try to parse out some of these blame games. It seems the last answer – “blame capitalism” – gets closest to the mark in finding common roots to the previously covered problems, which are disparate but connected. But this last answer also is inadequate for seeing the multiple and complex problems of growth-driven food systems. That is, we have to consider how corporate control, industrialization, and capitalism all contribute to the growth imperative as individual and interacting elements – and how each may be countered individually, but also as a cohesive whole.

We also must recognize how the above elements are historically situated – meaning not that they are inevitable or irreversible, but that histories vary and so the particular complex of problematic elements from place to place varies also. If we look at the problems as a whole, but with a critical and antidogmatist eye towards different forces at play, we may still be able to see many possible solutions within a common framework.

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