Taking the Pulse of Canada’s Industrial Food System

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Jodi KOBERINSKI, University of Waterloo, Canada
Industrial food systems produce cheap calories, reinforcing an almost homogeneous food science/ productivist view of food and agriculture. This view obscures the role of industrial systems in creating social and ecological injustices, including climate change, nutritional deficiencies, and water insecurity. Scholars are challenging that homogeneity, offering a food systems/ multifunctional view that reveals the ecological and human rights costs of cheap food. (Weis 2007; Winson 2013). Shifting diets away from meat towards protein-rich pulses—lentils, beans, favas, chickpeas, dried peas—could reduce industrial agriculture’s ecological footprint by lowering nitrogen and water use (FAO 2016). Critics argue, however, that introducing pulses within unsustainable industrial systems rather than transitioning to the regenerative agroecological systems in which pulses thrive simply trades one set of socio-ecological issues for another (Shiva 2016). For example, pulse proteins require less water to produce than meat proteins. Yet industrial pulse producers rely on pre-harvest use of glyphosate, recently declared a probable carcinogen (WHO 2015). Socio-ecological and human rights costs of industrial food are well documented (Clapp 2016; Ericksen 2008). Regardless, this evidence has not resulted in adoption of agroecology, due largely to what critics describe as political and economic ‘lock ins’ (Frison 2016; Rotz 2017). I ask how these lock-ins favour industrialization within Canada’s food system using pulses as a case study. Applying Causal Layered Analysis (Inayatullah 1998), I unpack conventional narratives about 'choice', 'efficiency' and 'safety' derived from a food science/ productivist view, analyzing these narratives in the context of four hidden drivers—consolidation, incentivisation, nutritionism, and financialization. Next, I investigate the role of these drivers in perpetuating industrial food systems lock-ins through the lens of Canada’s pulses sector. Finally, I discuss possible transitions towards diverse agroecological systems in light of these drivers as a pathway towards achieving social and ecological justice.