The Prince's Speech on Food

As the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee continues its Farm Bill discussions this month, it’s a good time to take a look at America’s broken food system and how it contributes to so many of our most pressing environmental problems.

Apparently a certain member of my across-the-pond fantasy family has also been thinking lots about revamping how we feed the world. Laurie David – food guru, environmentalist and NRDC friend and board member – kindly alerted us to HRH Charles, Prince of Wales’s speech last year at the Washington Post Live Future of Food Conference, and I was pleased to hear of his clear and thoughtful position on this topic.

The Prince set forth a grim litany of mainstream agriculture’s ills, including water waste, food waste, soil loss and loss of biodiversity. And of course, our current highly centralized system is vulnerable to crop loss or shortages in the event of extreme weather (something we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of in the near future).

While our current food situation is indisputably dire, there are ways we can work toward improving it. It’s critical that we find a way to make local and sustainable farming more profitable for farmers, and also to make good food more affordable for consumers. This could be achieved by:

  • Decentralizing our food production by encouraging more small and local farming
  • Improving the Farm Bill to get more subsidies directed away from large monoculture, industrial agriculture and into the hands of smaller farmers who use more sustainable methods. Or get rid of the subsidies altogether.
  • Taking advantage of the technological gains that have been made (including precision irrigation and conservation tillage) in an effort to make our food system more environmentally beneficial.

Let’s remember, too, as the United Nations pointed out its well-researched 2008 report, that sustainable agriculture can be extremely productive and just might be the best way to feed our growing population in the future.

This week – Earth Week! – let’s hope Congress takes a longer-term view of our agricultural system and uses the Farm Bill to promote food that helps rather than hurts. Prince Charles would expect nothing less.