Despite an incredibly inept rollout, the Green New Deal is real. I have actually studied the proposal to try to understand its potential implications for processed food. Although the now disgraced FAQ sheet is no longer available, it is time to look at the original document which does NOT mention farting cows or the demise of the airplane. Concepts described in the plan will be key discussion points in the primary campaigns waged this coming year. The first Democratic Party debates are scheduled for this June. While campaign proposals are not always enacted, winners take them seriously as they serve in office. The document can be found in an easy-to-read version on the Green Party website. The word ‘food’ appears in only five unique contexts, and there is no mention of processed food. Much of it follows, however, the general perspective of the New Food Movement as discussed in Nourished Planet. With that perspective in mind, here is my attempt to read between the lines on long-term implications of the Green New Deal and processed food. Quoting directly from the document in bold:
“promote safe bike and pedestrian traffic, regional food systems based on sustainable organic agriculture, clean manufacturing, infrastructure, and public services” Obviously, the plan calls for a more conducive built environment with more opportunities to bike or walk to work not only to decrease obesity by encouraging more physical activity but also to reduce fossil-fuel consumption. The emphasis will be on growing local and distributing within regional supply chains rather than relying on transcontinental or international trade. Organic production is specified even though that may not always be the most sustainable option available. For anyone unfamiliar with “clean manufacturing” like me, it is essentially processing that eliminates or greatly reduces pollution released to the environment. With respect to processed food, look for a preference for regional processing and distribution, more organic products on the shelves, and much stricter control over plant emissions and effluents.
“hundreds of thousands die annually from air pollution, heat waves, drought-based food shortages, floods, rising seas, epidemics, storms and other lethal impacts of climate change and fossil fuels.” Development and implementation of aggressive policies to reduce fossil-fuel consumption and mitigate current practices in conventional agriculture that affect climate change are likely. As such there will likely be a push to grow more crops and reduce pasture land and feedlots for meat animals. More fruits and vegetables will be replacing grains. There may be some difficulty in converting pastures to food crops and land suitable for row crops to grow produce. A major decrease in critical ingredients, particularly those dependent on soy or corn, would affect product formulation for many items.
“And as global climate change worsens, wars fought over access to food, water and land will become commonplace.” Here the USA has a great advantage over the rest of the world as we have advantages in both natural resources and geographic isolation as described in United States of Excess. Reaching the goal to free us from dependence on foreign oil by transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030 could permit us to bring troops home and dramatically reduce military spending. This oil-independence dividend could then be devoted to ending unemployment and achieving social justice at home while converting our food systems from industrial to cooperative as suggested in Nourished Planet. Apparently, we will no longer be the world’s policeman, as we will let other nations and their peoples fend for themselves. Existing food manufacturing facilities would need to refit their plants for clean energy or shutter them.
“secure the right to decent paid work through public jobs for the unemployed and those presently working in low paid service-sector jobs such as in fast food and retail.” The plan calls for a massive increase in government employees at the expense of private enterprise. It mandates that all residents will be able to earn a living wage. Not only will fast-food operations and grocery stores be affected, but so will supply chains from field to market. If laws enacted to increase employee compensation become effective, recipients will include farm laborers; graders, sorters and loaders; processing plant workers; stockers and cashiers; cooks and wait staff; and numerous other people who make it possible for us to get our food. Failure to meet these monetary demands will result in the collapse of some manufacturing plants, supermarkets, restaurants—both fast food and higher end—supply chains, and other companies that facilitate these operations. Of course such changes open up entrepreneurial opportunities for companies that can envision the dramatic changes and ways to exploit them with automation leading the way.
“health care costs will go down because the foundations of a green economy – clean energy, healthy food, pollution prevention, and active transportation – are also the foundations of human health.” Improving the health of the environment is equated with improving the healthiness of food available as part of the overall plan to improve human health. Although “healthy food” is not defined, it is likely to favor plant-based items over those from animals. Likewise, whole foods would be expected to replace processed foods. Meanwhile, food manufacturers will continue to clean up their labels as they scramble to disassociate their products from the taint of appearing to be processed. I remain highly skeptical that we will achieve any progress on the health of the environment and American population without major tradeoffs, but the linkage of the two seems to be at the heart of the Green New Deal.
Bottom line. At this juncture it is entirely possible that Americans will be asked to choose between a candidate for President who actively denies climate change and one who will embrace major parts of the Green New Deal. Such a scenario would leave voters like me who favor action to mitigate environmental damage from current practices but who do not buy into many of the major premises of the Green New Deal as currently written without a good option. I realize that sustainability is not the only issue to be considered next year, and it won’t be the only one important to me. It is clear, however, that a Democratic sweep of the 2020 election could lead to the enactment of parts of the Green New Deal, even if the proposed timeline is probably overly optimistic. The implications for processed foods are sketchier in this proposal than those for industrial agriculture. Adopting parts of the plan, however, will likely have profound consequences on the way America produces, manufactures, and distributes foods.
Next week: Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the Wor