Food fights likely to just get more contentious

For much of our human history, we’ve toiled to simply meet our most basic of human needs — having enough to eat to survive and raise a family. It’s only in recent history, really, that the bulk of North America has moved up from the basics to the privilege of abundant food choices.

Last week on RealAg Radio, Dr. Jayson Lusk, of Perdue University, joined host Shaun Haney to talk about a food twist on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — from the basics of ‘Is my belly full?’ all the way up to ‘What does my food say about me?’

Lusk expands on the topic in a recent blog post, viewing a culture or country’s attitude towards food and food policy under the lens of the hierarchy of needs.

“As a person, as a country, as we have public policy debates about what food security looks like and what it means, at the base, it’s easy to agree. But as you move up that line, we are less and less likely to agree on what’s a good outcome,” Lusk says. It’s pretty easy to agree on how many calories are enough, but it’s a lot more difficult to agree on an “ideal” diet.

Does this mean that food fights and arguments will continue within our food systems? Unfortunately, that is very likely, as food continues to be a form of self-expression.

From a  farm and food policy perspective there fear is that “as we continue to develop (as a country) … and food continues to be affordable, one consequence is that it allows more people to express themselves (through food),” Lusk says.

And that creates controversy, because even though we can respect other people’s music or fashion choices as a form of self-expression, we don’t have the same respect for food choices, necessarily.

The concern is, Lusk says, that if you’re on the top of the needs pyramid with enough wealth to be discerning in your food choices, imposing your preferences on those on the bottom of that pyramid is not just disrespectful, it’s unfair to someone who is still struggling to meet their basic caloric needs.

What’s more, some of those at the top seem to think that because everyone can’t afford to eat or shop like they do, that it’s somehow the fault of the food system, rather than an economic or biological reality.

What does this mean for food policy and farming? Listen to the full discussion with Jayson Lusk below: