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Sustainability News

October 25, 2016

Joan McGregor, wearing pearl earrings and necklace, smiling in front of a treeA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Joan McGregor

Food is inseparable from human history, culture and values. It provides significant meaning to people around the world, regardless of nationality. The failure of food systems to recognize these qualities in food contributes to some of the vast inequalities we see today.

A sustainable food system, then, is one that respects historical, cultural and place-based practices. It supports ecological health, considering the current strengths and challenges of a region’s natural resources and protecting them for future generations. Encouraging culinary innovations that contribute to human health and nutrition is another key component.

Finally, there are the qualities of food justice, social justice and food sovereignty. A sustainable food system must ensure justice for the environment, animals, workers and consumers, as well as guarantee that individuals and communities have a voice, control over where their food comes from and access to the types of food they want.

If we want to ensure a sustainable food system in the United States, we need to incorporate these principles at every level – local, regional and national – and ensure that they are nurtured.

Dinner 2040: The Future of Food sets out to achieve just that in Maricopa County, Arizona – home to Phoenix. It brings together community members and university scholars for a layered conversation about what our food system should be in 2040 and how we can strategically get there. The project will envision a regional food system that supports and nurtures the values above, putting them directly on our plates.

The event, held at local Maya’s Farm in South Phoenix, will include "mini-talks" on the history and values of the food system. These will be followed by a directed workshop, where each table of eight participants will include community members and a sustainability scholar focused on the humanities. Community members will represent various parts of the food system – from policymakers to food producers and purveyors, and from food bank representatives to restauranteurs and educators.

Along with a sustainable meal prepared by notable chefs from the Phoenix area, Dinner 2040 will feature robust conversation around three key questions: 1. What does a sustainable food system, one that ensures the five values, look like in Maricopa County in 2040? 2. What are the current community impediments to building that system? 3. What can be done now, in 5 years, in 10 years, etc. to ensure that we build that sustainable food system and overcome those challenges?

The answers to these questions will be compiled in a report outlining findings and next steps, which will be shared on the project’s website.

We expect that the outcomes and deliverables from Dinner 2040 will raise awareness about the multiple values embedded in our food system, as well as outline strategies for ensuring that the “right values” are fostered in designing our food future. It will produce a vision of what the food system should look like in 25 years if those values are achieved, and initiate the planning process for achieving it.

On top of this, Dinner 2040 will form alliances and collaborations among university researchers, practitioners and policymakers in the food system. It will provide an opportunity to collect data on attitudes and views toward the current food system – its perceived problems and challenges – as well as on proposed solutions.

The data will then be published and serve as a model for other communities to employ as they consider the future of food in their regions. In this way, we hope that sustainable values will soon be served at tables across America.

Joan McGregor is a professor of philosophy in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University; senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; and a fellow at ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research.  McGregor’s current research interests are focused on moral and legal questions in sustainability and, in particular, food systems and sustainability.

She has collaborated with scientists and engineers, worked on the ethics of emerging technologies with regard to – among other issues – concerns to indigenous peoples, and is published widely in jurisprudence and bioethics. McGregor was co-director of three NEH summer institutes on sustainability, entitled “Fierce Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and the Foundations of Environmental Ethics,” “Rethinking the Land Ethic: Humanities and Sustainability” and, in 2016, “Extending the Land Ethic.”