Senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ricardo Salvador works with citizens, scientists, economists, and politicians to transition our current food system into one that grows healthy foods while employing sustainable and socially equitable practices.
A leading voice for food system reform, Dr. Salvador has his finger on the pulse of the intersections of food and agriculture with public health, social justice, sustainability, and climate change — and on the actions we can take to change our food system, and so many other issues we care about, for the better.
On October 5, Ecotrust is pleased to welcome Dr. Salvador as our keynote speaker at Light Up the Redd for a special talk on Food, Justice, and Community.
Below are some excerpts from Dr. Salvador’s recent writings for the Union of Concerned Scientists, highlighting just a few of the many reasons we are thrilled to welcome him in October.
On how his personal history informs his passion and life’s work:
“My mom is a German-American woman who initially went to Mexico as a missionary. My father is Native American, a Zapotec. In my family we spoke three active languages: English, Spanish, Zapotec. In Mexico, perhaps even more than in the United States, Native American populations are the poorest of the poor and marginalized to the present. On my dad’s side, his family members were self-provisioning farmers who were very poor. On my mom’s side, some of my relatives were very successful farmers in California’s Central coast. I literally had people on one side of my family who would hire people like those on the other side of my family to be their workers.
And I saw that folks on my dad’s side were hard working, very ambitious, and very smart — some of the smartest people I know — but just didn’t have opportunity. So, right away I saw that there were structural issues there and I was almost forced into an abiding concern for what is fair and what is right. And from the start, food and the environment were the ways all these issues connected to one another for me.”
On the hidden human costs of our current food system:
“The conceit that many of us hold about the ‘modern’ food system is that it is a technological marvel, yet without farm laborers this system would not work. An essential feature of this system is that our official policies sanction exploitation. We don’t pay farm workers livable wages, we exempt their employers from providing the workplace protections we expect for ourselves in our places of work, and we allow all manner of loopholes in labor laws to allow such egregious things as child labor. Then, we proudly trumpet how — as a result of such exploitation — our ‘modern’ food system provides the ‘most affordable’ food in the world.”
On the leverage of institutional buying power in shifting supply chains toward more just and equitable modes of production:
“In 2012, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District adopted a Good Food Purchasing Policy, agreeing to align their institutional food purchasing power around five core values: strengthening local economies, valuing labor, improving animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and nutrition. Together, these institutions serve 750,000 meals every day; by shifting the force of the procurement dollars behind those meals, Los Angeles has been able to make concrete investments in a healthier, fairer, and more sustainable local food system.”
On the need for a healthy and equitable food system:
“Because our food system depends on public investment, it should not be just about greasing the tracks for private agribusiness, but about healthy food and a healthy environment for all of us.”
“While the current food system produces abundantly for those of us who can afford it, it contributes toward creating an unhealthy environment, one that features artificially cheap ‘choices’ (Which greasy burger? Which greasy pizza? Which sugary soft drink?) that make us and keeps us sick. And the system as currently practiced, promoted, and subsidized exploits both people and nature. We are a better people and nation than that. Agricultural, nutrition, and health science exist to make things better.”
On the disconnect between knowing how to eat healthy, and healthy food’s actual accessibility:
“What we lack in this country is not the knowledge of how to eat food that nourishes our bodies and safeguards the planet, but a set of policies that make that feasible. Currently, we have a collection of disparate policies governing different facets of our food system, resulting in a fragmented web of regulations and programs that undermines the public’s interests. Fixing this will require a coordinated plan that aligns policies and priorities across the many agencies interacting with our food system, to create a coherent strategy that serves our nation’s well-being.”
On the environmentally regenerative potential of agriculture:
“Agricultural science has identified ways to produce abundantly and in ways that regenerate soil, clean water and nutrients, and minimize other harmful environmental effects, such as generating greenhouse gases. Transferring this knowledge to farmers and supporting them to farm in an environmentally sound manner will be better for them and for all of us. Farmers and the government can save money, and all of us can live, work and play in a cleaner, more healthful environment.”
On good food’s agenda in the years to come:
“Clearly, the nation’s food system innovations are springing from communities and state and local governance, bottom-up, and in largely non-partisan manner. While leadership from the federal level would be welcome, the trend to redirect the food system toward good food has taken hold and is driving the commercial food sector to restructure. We can tell change is real when the largest companies in the sector are investing serious resources to transform their value chains to meet customer demand. The good food movement must continue applying its pressure and leading this fast-paced local and regional work in pursuit of the socially equalizing agenda for more healthful, sustainable, fair, affordable, and humane food production.”
“It’s no coincidence that the food that is healthiest for us to consume can be produced in ways that nourish our soils, protect our water and air, and are kinder to workers and animals. The knowledge to implement this alignment across our food system already exists — missing is an overarching policy framework to support it. Admittedly, this is no small task, but it is an increasingly necessary one.”