The Food System as 'Largest Quasi-Public Utility in the World'

The alternative-food movement that has risen up over the last 20 years has been an extraordinary joining of forces between consumers and farmers.

The gains have been real -- farmers markets and CSAs have exploded, national-scale grocery chains have risen up, specifically to market organic food, etc. But let's not forget that sustainably grown and ethically traded food, even after all of those important and hard-fought gains, represents something like 3-4 percent of food consumed in the United States.

The industrial-food machine slouches on -- burning up resources and creating messes as we head into a period of climate change. Let me end with a quote from another book I've been reading, a collection of essays called Real World Economics: A Post-Autistic Economic Reader, edited by Edward Fullbrook.

Here's a little something from the intro by Fullbrook, a British economist:
"Neoclassical mainstream economists have made a metaphysical commitment to a particular method of investigating the economic realm. Rather than choosing the individual and society or institutions as its theoretical foundation, it has chosen the individual alone. All economic phenomena is [sic] studied as if it were the result of individual choices made with given preferences, scarcities, and constraints, and always tending toward equilibrium and being always not only of a quantifiable nature but also one reducible to functions of the form "whenever event (or state of affairs) x, then event (or state of affairs) y."

Fullbrook goes on to call for a more pluralistic economics, one that sees neoclassic theory as one set of tools among many. He warns that any line of economic reasoning that's presented to the public as is "the economic truth" functions "primarily not as a set of tools for human enlightenment, but, to the contrary, as a concealed ideology, which ... smothers real discussion, silences debate, blinds the public to most of economic reality, and ultimately places the human project at risk."

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