“Nuance is our friend, ideology is our enemy”
– Lawrence Haddad
We have reached a point of communication breakdown. The age of misinformation has siloed society into tribal ideology that has made collaboration between battling factions nearly impossible. Preferring to stay within the safety of converts who reward us with shared beliefs and distrust for others.
Left, right or center, we are all guilty.
The global food system suffers too from siloes of self-interest. As a chef, I have spent many years advocating for local, organic, biodiverse supply chains. In my food, I aim to communicate through deliciousness. As an advocate for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals I have found myself in amazing groups aligned around policies and practices to achieve big audacious goals. Too often finding that we collectively have backed ourselves into an ideological silo.
Recently at the Great Protein Debate hosted by Paul Newnham of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub I heard a shift in tone. The title above captured the essence of the discussion. In the past this group pressed hard on a plant-based agenda. Often taking on an “either/or” tone that left many feeling judged, guilty, or left out.
But this session I heard new voices like “meat is not the problem, overconsumption and industrial production is” from Gunhild Stordalen, founder of the EAT Foundation. An outspoken advocate for plant-based diets, Stordalen went on, “the growth of meat analogues or fake meat, though helpful in reducing greenhouse emissions, too often fails to provide healthful outcomes.”
Chef Connor Spacey of Ink in Ireland advocated for a holistic approach with an emphasis on quality versus quantity. An echo to Michael Pollan’s mantra to “eat good food, whole food, real food, mostly plants, not too much.” No tight restrictions, just gentle guidance towards better.
I share all this as a signal that we are reforming. That we are considering the nuances in geography, income, culture and education that impact our choices. That diversity in food systems is the answer. Not the general food system for all that fails time and time again.
We have so much to do in so little time. Now is the moment for collaboration on points of overlap and shared vision. Gone must be the days of silo protection and ideological purity. A friend said to me recently, “Catch me at the market and you will see that everything is organic, yet I get criticized by some for my pragmatism in working with those along the continuum.” What he recognized was that his privilege in resource, access and education afforded him the purity in practice most others find impossible. That we need to recognize where people are and meet them there without judgement. Empathy supported by pragmatic steps towards better are good for the collective future.
In the year ahead I am optimistic that the food community will emerge from COVID-19 more committed to a better food system informed by nuance versus ideologic noise. That ideology will loosen to make room for practical solutions. And that we will all work together recognizing the diversity in culture, climate, context and capacity.
Next time you find yourself in a room of competing perspectives listen, learn and seek moments of collaboration without judgement. When in an echo chamber try and step outside and challenge your views with an unfamiliar audience. It is here you will find opportunity for growth and real change.