A cadre of business school economists, high-tech speculators and corporate planners have been hyping and investing billions in a food-economy model that renders many millions — family farmers, local restauranteurs, independent food processors, small grocers and food workers — passe. No need for such costly and cumbersome “units,” argue these schemers for a revolution enabled by artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering and cell-cultured foodstuffs. A few conglomerates will consolidate and automate every step from planting to plate, producing and distributing the calories necessary to sustain the masses and “free” all the “small” people tied up in food production to do something more useful.
The fatal flaw of this soulless corporate concept can be exposed in one word: pandemic. As we’ve seen again and again this past year, the essential ingredient in a resilient food system is (SET ITAL) the human spirit (END ITAL) — the very element that corporatizers are most determined to eliminate. When COVID-19 slammed into the economy last spring and shut down or shriveled food service by restaurants, delis and school cafeterias, the grit, ingenuity and community commitment of independent providers quickly kicked into gear.