ReBoot Food is a movement launched with fanfare at COP15. It wants to “spare land” for conservation by replacing all livestock products with bacterial fermentation.

The proposal is based on three dangerous fantasies and one huge blind spot.

Fantasy 1: Farming is always in conflict with nature

Land-sparing is the first dangerous fantasy. This idea of the conservation movement is to expel all people from protected areas. It originated in The Green Revolution. The founder, Norman Borlaug, hoped that increased productivity of just one crop — rice or potatoes or wheat — would “spare” land for places imagined to be wild. It turned out badly for people and the planet.

Grain monocultures removed crops such as lentils, which had provided dietary protein, from fields, where they had returned nitrogen to the soil. People became hungrier and chemicals to replace lost nitrogen poisoned soils and waters. Chemical industries became the pivot of an intensive livestock complex, which required soy and maize monocultures for feed industries. These spread into self-organizing ecosystems. Policies support monocultures at the expense of circular farms that use animals for manure. They are recent and can be changed.

This livestock complex led to diets both meat-heavy and unequal. Byproducts of maize and soy for animal feeds became key ingredients of ultra-processed foods. The poor have little choice but to buy ultra-processed foods with long lists of chemical additives whose subsidized prices and long shelf life make them affordable. Diet-related diseases were declared a global epidemic by the World Health Organization 20 years ago. Although vegan diets reduce meat consumption, bacterial fermentation and cellular meat risk shifting power from one lab-based corporate sector to another, at the expense of farming with natural systems, which integrate plants and (fewer) animals.

Fantasy 2: Corporate power can be controlled

Big corporations are investing in novel food startups. Exxon is researching bacterial fermentation for biofuels. The idea that anti-monopoly or intellectual property rules can limit power is another fantasy. Corporations controlling the food system are as powerful as fossil fuel industries and deeply linked to them. The technical fix that ReBoot proposes shifts from chemical to genetic technologies, from industrial fertilizers and pesticides to cellular meat and fermented bacteria. It changes only which giant industries control food if “alternative meat” or “novel food” industries succeed in displacing livestock.

Fantasy 3: Rewilding without farming

The idea that rewilding, the practice that involves reintroduction of native plants and large animals, excludes farming. It ignores the thousands of years of good farming that preceded the mere decades of industrial and subsidized monocultures. It mismeasures productivity of monocultures compared to mixed, closed-loop farming without chemicals. It ignores ecological sciences and farmer initiatives, such as agroforestry and on-farm rewilding, which improve variety and health of human foods and vitality of diverse cultures and ecosystems. Farmers have been rewilding long before George Monbiot came across the idea.

Corporations controlling the food system are as powerful as fossil fuel industries and deeply linked to them, writes Harriet Friedmann. #Farming

Blind spot: Missing connections

Obsession with agriculture ignores that all extractive industries invade forests, wetlands, grasslands and oceans. Mining, fossil and timber industries shouldn’t be simply compared to “agricultural sprawl,” but combined with it. Destruction of places that seem wild are stewarded by Indigenous Peoples. They are the land and water defenders who should be supported to revitalize natural places.

This blind spot is part of a deeper one. Some scientists are recognizing that to prevent species death requires combining formal science with other ways of knowing. For instance, scientist Alexandra Morton put well-documented research about the destruction of Pacific wild salmon from diseases spread by intensive fish farm operations at the service of an alliance of environmentalists and Indigenous Peoples.

She learned that Indigenous Peoples had long shaped salmon spawning, and so supported forests fertilized by remains left by bears and wolves. She concluded, “No scientist can spend 10,000 years becoming finely tuned to a place, but the constant counting, measuring and weighing (and) the analyzing of data to reveal the trends of life can bring scientists into alignment with Indigenous viewpoints… Saving our planet and acting in accordance with Indigenous tradition are one and the same.”

In the Amazon, archeologists are finally abandoning colonial assumptions that prevented the discovery of large, complex cities buried beneath the forest. They hadn’t thought to look as long as they assumed inhabitants were only dispersed foragers. Forests regrew over cities abandoned by Indigenous Peoples decimated by violence, enslavement and diseases. Regrowth was so large over a century, that its captured carbon entered the geological record.

Indigenous Peoples are demanding recognition of their stewardship of natural systems in international negotiations on biodiversity. Scientists who choose to look finally see that Indigenous Peoples are not only shaped by but also shape all bioregions, including forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

Cultures that created the astounding and enduring agricultural terraces in Asia, the Andes, and even parts of the Mediterranean, were also stewards of biological diversity. Many of these efforts have been abandoned under assault by industrial food and agriculture, even though they integrated natural waters and forests, and many plants and animals, both domestic and wild. We ignore this knowledge of how to live and eat well in each specific place at our peril.

Harriet Friedmann, a professor emerita at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, is a food system analyst and writer.

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"Although vegan diets reduce meat consumption, bacterial fermentation and cellular meat risk shifting power from one lab-based corporate sector to another"
Meat replacements are not essential to vegan diets. Far from it. Vegan diets can be rich and complete without meat replacements and "meat-alternatives" — a sop to Western consumers who have no imagination or knowledge of traditional non-meat diets around the world. No, we don't need vegetarian burgers or hot dogs.

We Canadians throw out 40% of our food. All that land taken away from nature, all the water and resources consumed, all the pollution generated, all the pesticides and death, targetted and incidental — for naught.

Agriculture of all types displaces wildlife and treats wildlife as a threat. Crops and livestock are wildlife attractants — when birds, wildlife, and insects take the bait, we eliminate them.
There is no agriculture that does not disrupt natural ecosystems and harm other species.

I'm wondering what experience you have with agriculture Geoff.....or where you think these vegetable diets you imagine are going to come from?

It seems to me that the more we try to imagine sustainability in the privileged west, the more we have to resort to sweeping generalizations...and condemnations of a complexity we haven't the life experience to understand.
With one sentence, you dismiss centuries of agriculture. With another you declare vegan diets rich and complete. Surely you see the hilarious over reach in both statements??? And the missing middle....where do all these rich vegan ingredients come from???? Mars????
Time to get out a world map and locate all the rich pockets of arable land, growing vegis for the urban consumer.........and using a lot of water AND foreign temporary slave labour brought in by carbon spewing jet planes. They do not form a majority of the earth's land....and all are under intense pressure from urban sprawl, chemical fertilizer use, water depletion, and the extreme weather of a warming earth.

Fixing the future is going to be harder if we keep up our addiction to sweeping claims untethered to any real soil. We're in something bigger than an intellectual war now, and there will be no one size corporate solution to fix it.
What this article is advocating makes more sense, and asks that we all park our certainties and learn more about local diversities. We waste in the west in part because we don't grow food, we don't cook it, we don't preserve it, and we definitely don't eat left overs. We waste because we consume without producing.

Not that such a life stops us from thinking we know it fact, stepping back from the labour involved in food production, preparation and preservation is a sign of privilege, and gives us the arrogance to think we know how everyone should eat.

"Five of every six farms in the world consist of less than two hectares, operate only around 12 percent of all agricultural land, and yet produce roughly 35 percent of the world's food."
It is a dangerous myth fueled by Big Oil and Big Ag that large, industrialized farms and farming practices are essential to feed a growing population. The opposite is true.

What is also true is that most farmers are women who produce enough for their families with, in a good year, a small amount left over to sell. What that means is that almost all the food these women produce does not register in GDP and so, effectively, has no value, is never accounted for, and when Big Ag roles in to save the day, these women are deemed superfluous.

"Five of every six farms in the world consist of less than two hectares, operate only around 12 percent of all agricultural land, and yet produce roughly 35 percent of the world's food."
That is kind of like comparing apples and oranges. Many parts of the world have much greater rainfall than the Canadian prairies and it is easier to have a productive farm in those areas. There are also very few Canadians that would be satisfied with the poverty that comes with a 2 hectare farm on the prairies. This issue is very complex! I wish there was a simple solution.

What if our hunger for 'simple solutions' is the problem??? Apples we have......oranges we import.
And yes....local food security is harder in some places than others. Unless those food poor regions figure out how to foreign own richer landscapes, and import all the avocadoes, oranges and such, from those regions???

That's the simple solution the last 40 years came up with.....but even that is looking shaky now, as export production dries up rivers and depletes soil fertility in the captured lands....and those 'supply lines' grow more expensive in fossil fuels and labour demands.

Most of us know next to 0 about the slave ships....or the foreign worker conditions that have guaranteed us a full table at the world's expense for the last few years. Most vegans know 0 about what monoculture annual production does to soil, and as for the fertilizer addiction we've created, or the greenhouse gases it produces??? Too bloody complex to contemplate!!

Our hunger for simple answer you can fit in a single a large part of the neoliberal globalism that is starving the world. Those women growing 35% of food on 12% of the land, know more about sustainability than any of us on this feed.

Oranges and Apples?? In deed.

Finally, a comment that gets it!!!!
Buried under all the hype about veganism, plant based diets being easy and delicious, is just this horrific (to me) absence: 1. Women produce most of the food that sustains the poor. Our Alberta farmer is a woman, working like a slave dog, to create local produce and cooperative local agriculture.
2. 12 % of agricultural land=35% of the world's food. WHO FACTORS THAT INTO FOOD SUSTAINABILITY??? Almost no one.
3. Women do most of the food purchasing, preparation and clean up...still true, even in most green activist circles. So when we argue for a new diet, we're once again, downloading the real work unto women....nurses, teachers, social workers, grocery store clerks, waitresses, etc. etc........who when they come home from their 10 hour shift.......must whip up a delicious vegan meal....TO SAVE THE PLANET!!!!

Thanks for your reality check. We need more gardeners; far fewer experts opining for those who produce more than they consume already. I for one, would like to hear about their gardens. What did they actually grow, eat and preserve last summer????

This is essentially what I believe, and to some extent know, from life experience and reading. It's not that traditional agriculture has all the answers we may need to move forward now, but it certainly worked more sustainably, in balance with the natural world in which it existed. There wasn't a single kind of agriculture, there were many, and they existed in particular ecospheres...silvaculture was part of it, hunting co-existed with it, caring for the natural world, so that the natural world could continue to care for all of us (living beings) was part of it. Honouring keystone species, like the salmon, as divine creatures, was part of it...helping them survive and prosper, part of it.

Colonial agriculture in Canada and other parts of the 'new world' was far less integrated into the ecosphere.
We were the poor from away, trying to make it in a hostile new environment. But even on our Saskatchewan grain farm, we kept animals and had gardens...we didn't use much fertilizer apart from manure, crop rotation was practiced, lying land fallow, and our animals weren't kept in cages or fed food alien to them.

We still have much left to learn.....and the lab rats ready to process one more frankenfood...artificial meat, are as out to lunch as the lab rats trying to engineer artificial intelligence...for my money. Neither man made junk is actually going to do what it professes to be able to do....both are corporate 'take over' operations.

"A world of made is not a world of born'...e e cummings wrote that many years ago. It sounds obvious, but many of the proponents of a non meat diet don't get that, and for darn sure:

They can't imagine a world without big ag, industrialized and over processed franken food.....or face the global reality of who goes hungry so we in the capitalized west can have broccoli for Christmas dinner. Vegetables where I live, are seasonal wonders...they don't grow here in winter, we eat monocultured greens from other people's corporate captured earth.

TIME WE FACE IT. We need lots more farmers, lots more land policies from indigenous stewards....and quite a bit less oversized SILVER BULLETS from first world brainiacs. We need to grow more, eat less, and live for the seven generations. Circular agriculture is part of that future....diversity is essential to it.
One size fits all corporate fixes are extinction bombs posing as universal solutions.

This is an excellent article, and encompasses much of what I've assumed given my privilege as the daughter of a mixed farm couple. It's long past time we admitted to, and worked to eliminate, the colonialism inherent in our ideas about food, farming, nature and the sophistication of peasant agriculture.

We've worked hard in the west to make everything 'too big to fail', by turning our economies over to CEO to rich to care. What amazes me is how quickly we lose history, how fully the young proponents of veganism, trust laboratories to do what farm families have done for centuries

That many of them assume they are on the high road to a green sustainable future.....once we've eliminated domestic animal production, is more than scary. This article is an antidote to that false expertise....if we're humble enough to consider it.

Baked into our first world ecological concerns are more imperial arrogance and colonial assumptions about who knows best..........then most of us have yet been able to imagine. The planet might well be better off without the lot of us urban epicures.