Thursday, February 5, 2015

Strengths and Weaknesses

One morning, Bill and I were having one of our typical serious conversations. We got on the topic of the Food Freedom Act which failed in committee in VA. This bill would have allowed individuals to sell a wide variety of food items directly to consumers (i.e., their neighbors) without the expense of getting your kitchen inspected, paying huge fees for the inspections and equipment, and so forth. Then I mentioned Obama's proposed "new agency to make Americans' food safer." This led us to talk about our dependence on California for most of our food and some of the crazy supply lines we have for a variety of other commodities. At that point, a visual came to me (I'm a very visual person) that I had to sketch out. I told Bill that one side of the sketch represented our current system for food (and all sorts of other things) and the other side showed how our system(s) should be. I said that while I don't know a lot about engineering or architecture I was pretty sure a physical structure built along the lines of the first would be a disaster - a huge one - waiting to happen, while the second diagram would be a strong, resilient structure (or system).

The following photos give you an idea what my sketch showed. Our current system for food, government, energy, etc. is similar to this wagon wheel:

Wheathered Old Cartwheel
The hub (or center) is where everything happens and everything radiates out from there. The spokes all depend upon the hub. Should one spoke go out, the system still works, but is very weak. However, if the hub is damaged the entire system fails. The centralized model is extremely flawed.

On the other hand, a system based on something like this honeycomb
Honey Comb
or this grid
Unstructured grid.svg
would be resilient. Take out any one section - or even several - and the system would stand strong. It is both interdependent and independent, which is the key to its strength. A great example of a grid is the internet, where we have thousands and thousands of servers making it work. Should one server fail, the entire system is not taken down.

This is what we need to move towards, for food security, energy security, economic security. Not the hub-style system where there is only dependence upon centralized control or supply. Since we know problems can and do occur, it's just a matter of waiting for it to happen. History has shown this time and time again. 

When I worked for a large corporation and made travel plans for the executives, we had a policy of never allowing more than three directors on the same flight. While it was sometimes annoying and inconvenient, we learned how important it was after Air Florida flight 90. The company I worked for had customers on that flight. As a matter of fact, their entire team was on that flight. Not one survived, so not only was it a tragedy for their loved ones, it was also a disaster for the company. Lessons learned - maybe.

In Virginia, this was our second go around with a proposed bill for expanded local food sales, which would be good for small farms, small businesses, people who want to work from home (such as single parents who can then avoid child care and other expenses), etc. and good for a resilient local economy. It was killed in committee this week. We now understand more clearly how our local politicians, who complain about big government regulation, are more swayed by the Big Ag money that keep them in office. (It's easy to check out who fills their coffers during campaigns.) Now we know it's all about money and power - not about individual freedom and rights. I know it shouldn't come as a surprise to me, but I'm still disappointed in our elected officials.

Although the politicians say it would be dangerous for neighbors to buy food from one another, they would never think to regulate church pot luck meals or any other communal meal. And they never point out that the real dangers in food always come from the large companies that end up having to recall food across the nation after people suffer from sickness and sometimes even death from the tainted food that is supposed to be safe, inspected, and regulated. Small businesses are not dangerous to people - they're dangerous to large corporations.

Goodnight Democracy from on Vimeo.

The machinations of government have increasingly become transparent. You cannot continue to parade the need for safety while supporting systems that are extremely fragile and (as with the case of food recalls, grid meltdowns, etc.) dangerous without someone taking notice.

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1 comment:

David said...

Cherie, I've been in many discussions about our food system that depends on huge amounts of water to sustain a desert growing system in California and the petroleum dependent transportation system to get it to the consumer's table. Today, the system has spread to the world. Fruits and vegetables come from Australia, South America, and even China. We all know how safe China food is. Your vision or impression is spot on. Most experts will not deny the system is vulnerable and some even admit that it's not if it will fail but when it will fail. The gap between grower and consumer has gotten so wide that many don't even know how food is grown nor do they want to take the time to learn how to grow any thing. Many have the mentality of why spend so much time growing food when a trip to the store can provide it instantly.

Have a great eating food from your homestead day.