We spoke to Merin Porter, Winner of the 2017 Food Sustainability Media Award – Best of the Web category, about what motivated her to write her winning piece and how home-grown food could be a way to reverse the declining levels of nutrition in what we eat today.
Where does your interest in food sustainability come from, and what was your main motivation for entering this Award?
I grew up in a large city, and food security and sustainability weren’t really a focus. In the 80’s and 90’s they weren’t things I was hearing about a lot, so I don't think I really understood much about the nutrition in food and where it comes from, or the importance of the microbiology in the soil, until fairly recently. I've always had an interest in gardening and things like that but my interest in food sustainability and security issues has increased in recent years, and I've begun to understand just how precarious our food system is. I credit my children with much of that because part of my job as a parent is to prepare them to be successful in life, including being able to feed themselves. I think it's important that they understand where and how to procure or grow the food that will make their bodies healthier.
What role do you think journalists can play in addressing the challenges within our food systems?
I have been fascinated with the advent of citizen journalism - social media and the internet provide a platform to concerned citizens that wasn’t available a couple of decades ago. I think generally that people want to do the right thing but aren’t always aware of what problems other people are facing. I think a big part of the role that journalists, and citizen journalists, play is providing people who have good intentions but very busy lives with a glimpse of what is going on, uncovering these issues and connecting the problem with the people who can solve it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience since winning the Award?
Well, since I won the award, I was offered a position as editorial director with The Grow Network. I allude to the organisation in the article, but don’t mention it outright. I also have a network of friends and family and they have been very congratulatory and supportive. What I'm most excited about though is that when people have read my article, I think it has made them aware of issues they didn’t realise were a problem.
What got you interested in the issue your submission looked at in particular?
I love to do research, and I knew the article should be related to the global food paradoxes, so I started looking into the hunger vs. obesity paradox and the issue of malnutrition in the United States – a place where we have an abundance of produce but also a lot of health issues. The more I researched, the more I realised how even people with access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables were not getting the same nutrition from them as their grandparents did. In large part, this is due to the commercialisation of agriculture; to monocultures that go against nature’s design, to extreme soil depletion and to the way foods are transported from farm to market. I didn't realise just what a difference there was between food grown in healthy soil, harvested when it’s completely ripe and eaten the same day, and food which is not.
How serious of a problem is the decreasing nutrition of our food?
I’m not a medical professional, but I do think that the body is designed to heal itself and that proper nutrition is a very important part of that. I don’t think we have all the information yet on how large the role is that nutrition plays, but I can’t imagine anyone saying it’s not important, or that a person wouldn’t benefit from optimising it.
Is home-grown food an important solution to that, or are there others as or more important?
In my research I discovered that many of the practices that make commercial agriculture viable make the food it produces less nutritious. So yes, I believe it's certainly an important part of the solution. I think it's possible to find the nutrition that you need through home-grown food production. But everybody's different and while I think it can work for some, it would be narrow-minded to say that this is the solution for everyone. I also believe an equally important solution is transparency about where food comes from and what it really costs. I think people have really lost touch with that over the past couple of generations. We have this 'faux cheap' food where the prices we see in the grocery store are artificially depressed. Oftentimes, these prices are cheap because someone or something else is paying the true cost for us and I think if people had a true understanding of this, many of them would start making different choices.
How does the home-grown food solution work for people with little or no land, such as apartment dwellers?
There are some really creative solutions out there. Lots of people grow in containers - you can create your own compost or worm castings indoors - and there are rooftop and community gardens. You can grow under energy-efficient LED lights in a closet and some people trade labour at local farms for produce. In this case, it’s not home-grown food, but it’s still food you help grow. An important aspect of food security is community!
What’s next for you and your food sustainability coverage? Do you have plans to cover any other related issues?
As I mentioned, I'm now working as editorial director at The Grow Network. Many of the issues we cover are related to food sustainability and security, to food production, and to things like urban homesteading, so I think it's definitely fair to say that there's more that I'll be doing related to this. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and I’m really grateful for the platform this has given me to spread awareness of a very important topic.