Hi-density Food Chain [ 1 ]

Experiments with local food supply in 2 hi-density urban estates
Maison Radieuse, Rezé, Nantes and Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, London

The past 20 years have seen massive increases in the corporate share at both ends of our food chain – downstream at the supply end with a few supermarkets and upstream the domination of food production by agribusiness cartels. Thus today just five companies control over three quarters of the world market in cereals with one, Cargill, controlling more than than 60%; three companies control 85% of the world’s tea market; three in cocoa have 84%; and with agrochemicals, the top 10 companies own 90% of the market. So why this wholesale takeover at a time of relentless environmental campaigning and anti-capitalist activism; is it down to the power imbalances of neoliberalism, or the lack of protective legislation, or subsidies  skewed heavily in favour of the large, or do the progressive messages have no effect on consumer culture?

 

That said anyone who has tried to set up a community food coop will know the difficulties. It’s impossible to compete with the free market, even with volunteer labour. We have underestimated the achievements of the supermarkets with their synergies of vertical integration and outsourcing, well developed logistics of inventory management, synchronisation of supply and demand to reduce costs and, to maximise profits. So is it possible to use or 'hack' their tools and create our own markets to serve other ends? Resolve these modern problems with contemporary means. This may imply that we don’t always revert to ‘default’ positions when thinking about concepts of  ‘local’ or ‘community’. Otherwise we will miss out on the useful innovations both within the food industry and forms of social communication. If the idea of community is static, looking back for assurance rather than forward, the result is lots of good feeling and sympathetic press, but low market penetration, small user constituencies and little effect on the eating habits of mass society.

 

A critical challenge is how to engage the mass market, link the small to the mass – to do this requires engaging the dynamics of mass culture at the the heartland of industrial food consumption. In this respect hi-density urban environments provide the perfect site for experimenting with potential up-scalable forms of sustainable food supply because of their built-in economies of scale – a lot of consumers within the same infrastructure. For example, one can be sure that most people in an urban hi-rise estate would be relying on pretty much the same staple foods. At present this advantage is being wasted through normal present day consumer patterns.
Food ecology is never only about the food. For example, people travel to get their food and most people now travel 50% farther than they did 15 years ago. What is therefore unreflected in the price of food is the consumers’ time and invariably their use of cars.
Thus its entirely logical both in economic and ecological terms that food markets should come to hi-density estates, rather than the other way round. The challenge is how to make it work economically to the advantage of both the consumer and the producer. This requires experimentation though not all experiments may be sustainable as the following post shows with 2 experiments.

 
Re-posted xyzlondon.com to amplife.org  Sept 2012