A Call to Arms: In Defense of Our Food

Have we inadvertently discarded a profound means of connection over the last 30 years? Among my fondest childhood memories were the times sat at my grandmother's table as she served up Sunday lunch announcing "the tomatoes, lettuce, peas and potatoes are all OOTG (out of the garden). This labeling had a strong effect on me. Just knowing that those particular ingredients were lovingly grown by Grandpa gave them an almost divine status. I felt somehow more connected with my family as I savored each mouthful and my sense of belonging was being nourished along with my body. Psychological or not, the effect on me was real.

Little did I know then that bonding with the people and places around me by literally putting meaningful morsels inside my body would become far less common over the next 30 years. The spirit of OOTG has been insidiously strangled and discarded as we charged headlong into the brave new world of Food Inc.

We are what we eat, and the story behind our food connects us with the people, places and processes that have contributed to our meals. How meaningful these connections are comes down to what we're connecting to. It's hard to feel a meaningful connection to a carrot that has been industrially grown and processed in some distant location that you can't relate to. By contrast, the story behind the life journey of a carrot grown in a nearby farm by a farmer you might bump into in the street, has a certain romance that triggers a feeling of kinship.

Today our society is suffering from a deplorable lack of connection and I can't help but wonder how much our sterile, homogenized and detached food system has contributed to this.

The question is 'what are we to do about it?' Do we stand by as our food continues down the road of hyper commoditization or do we stand up and take decisive action to rebuild the systems that bring meaning and connection back to our daily bread?

Food has a greater direct and fundamental effect on people and planet than any other industry and it holds the greatest potential for social and ecological healing in the shortest period of time. If just a handful of the right strategic players can act together around a set of unifying supply chain principles then I believe with absolute certainty that the next decade will deliver a turning point to put us on a restorative trajectory.

The good news is that there is already a global resurgence for a renewed food system, which is building momentum largely due to the prolific sharing on social media of opinions and research findings in favor of food we can relate to and trust. Pair this rise in demand with unprecedented adoption of online shopping and we have the makings of an industry disruption to dwarf that of music and print media.

The local food movement has evolved from Farmers Markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs to now include a proliferation of new online business models, which are emerging at an accelerating rate.

These new organizations represent the full spectrum of organizational types ranging from philosophically driven social enterprises through to private interest capital ventures.

The Food Commons for example is an organization that is pioneering an ownership and governance model based on the principles such as fairness and transparency. With much of the disillusion around our modern food systems stemming from recent exposure of unfair business practices toward small growers and obscured supply chains (horse meat anyone?), many of the subscribers to the emerging local food market feel more trust toward organizations that do not hold profit as their raison d'être.

On the other hand private interest companies such as Good Eggs, who recently raised $21 million in venture capital, are making a significant contribution to the space by bringing high-caliber tech talent to the scene which is undoubtedly raising the benchmark for user experience and therefore connecting the local food movement to a more mainstream audience.

Ooooby.org (Out of our own back yards) has been developing a prototype operation, which demonstrates that there is a viable model for achieving a balance between the soft philosophical ethics of a social organization and the hard practical execution of a commercial operation. We are walking an uncommon path on what feels like the ridgeline that divides the left from the right and in doing so we hope to draw from the strengths of both approaches with our ownership and governance being held in a commons manner and our business operations being carried out with commercial adroitness. Our aim is to build rebuild connections between society and their growers so that small-scale growers and artisan producers can reclaim market share.

Of course we can't forget Google and Amazon's recent foray into the online food space, albeit focused on the dominant industrial grocery model, which indicates that food is the next industry in line for disruption.

This shift to online shopping presents an enormous and convenient opportunity for society to adopt a better way to consume food. If we can build new systems around a commonly held platform that gives consumers access to the food they want at the tap of a button, then we can bring socially and ecologically responsible food back into the mainstream marketplace.

So this is a call to arms to all who agree that it's time to rebuild our food system from the ground up as the dawn breaks on this exciting new era of connected and conscious consumerism. I invite leaders and innovators, individuals and organizations, to join us in designing and executing a collective entrepreneurial endeavor for the posterity of us all.

This blog post is part of the Plan B for Business series produced by The Huffington Post and The B Team community to help articulate a Plan B for Business. To see other posts in the series, click here. For more information about The B Team, click here.