What’s on the table is what’s eaten (Part 2: Present)

What’s on the table is what’s eaten (Part 2: Present)

Excerpt from: »WHAT’S ON THE TABLE IS WHAT’S EATEN: A text seem­ing­ly about recal­ci­trant cows, ver­ti­cal farms and unrecog­nis­able future habi­tats for sapi­ens«. Reflec­tions by Daniel Pod­mirseg, Vien­na August 25th 2023

The Romantic Trap

Too often it seems that efforts of parts of our soci­ety to draw atten­tion to cur­rent chal­lenges relat­ed to main­tain­ing a hab­it­able zone for us are lead­ing to nowhere.

This may have to do with the lev­el of com­plex­i­ty of our sys­tems, which we are con­tin­u­ous­ly devel­op­ing. In sys­tems the­o­ry terms, it is easy to answer the whole top­ic dystopi­cal­ly and declare that every sys­tem increas­es in com­plex­i­ty until it col­laps­es. This is cul­tur­al­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly easy to prove.

Nev­er­the­less, there is a large per­cent­age of peo­ple who already see or even invent­ed, test­ed or devel­oped approach­es to repair or cor­rect, for parts, per­haps not of the sys­tem as a whole, but at least for one or more struc­tur­al ele­ments in it.

Whether or not we as a com­mu­ni­ty can get a grip on the cli­mate cri­sis, or if we have enough time to do so, should not play a role in the fol­low­ing con­sid­er­a­tions. Here the focus is on glob­al agri­cul­ture, a sys­tem in which it is easy to list a mul­ti­tude of com­mit­ted human crimes in terms of cli­mate change, water run-offs, oil con­sump­tion, destruc­tion of nature, dis­so­lu­tion of bio­di­ver­si­ty, species extinc­tion and eco­nom­ic crimes - from dis­tor­tion of com­pe­ti­tion to exter­nal­i­ties, from mod­ern slav­ery to unam­bi­tious mis­use of tax­pay­ers’ money.

We do not want to go in depth into the above points here, but rather to draw a clear­er pic­ture of one of the great­est rev­o­lu­tions that Homo Sapi­ens have set in motion and one of the break-throughs that we are cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing. Thought pat­terns from mis­un­der­stood roman­ti­cism or of nature, mis­un­der­stood ecol­o­gy move­ments to reli­gious, part­ly fun­da­men­tal­ist ones, stand in the way of every­thing that is nec­es­sary to turn it to the better.

That is why we now want to sym­bol­i­cal­ly sac­ri­fice the Aus­tri­an dairy cow graz­ing on alpine mead­ows that are burst­ing with bio­di­ver­si­ty, whose fresh­ly brushed ears are stroked by a mild spring breeze out of respect for its over a bil­lion fam­i­ly mem­bers that we’re lock­ing down, abus­ing and fat­ten­ing up to the slaugh­ter at this very moment. Instead, we direct our eyes to where we come from, where we are, and where we want to go.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Unsplash

Too late to be a pessimist

The sen­si­ti­sa­tion of con­sumers to this issue brings food pro­duc­tion into the dai­ly press as a place­hold­er. Meat con­sump­tion, espe­cial­ly in indus­tri­alised coun­tries, is stag­nat­ing or declin­ing. Inter­est in farm­ing con­di­tions is increas­ing. Irre­spec­tive of reac­tionary or roman­ti­cis­ing ten­den­cies, enter­pris­es have already estab­lished them­selves that form impor­tant struc­tur­al ele­ments with­in the food val­ue chain, cre­ate new sub-eco­nom­ic urban net­works or strength­en exist­ing ones. This refers to enter­pris­es that have start­ed to pro­duce high qual­i­ty food with­in the urban area with high nutri­tion­al con­tent through guar­an­teed fresh­ness, turn­ing food waste and food loss­es into eco­nom­ic sub­jects, pro­duc­tion sites in cul­ti­va­tion or pro­cess­ing up to pack­ag­ing, par­tial­ly clos­ing ener­gy- and mate­r­i­al flows and approach­ing the prin­ci­ple of cir­cu­lar econ­o­my. All this in a dis­tort­ed com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment, as these par­tial pio­neer­ing achieve­ments are tied to cor­po­rate risk and can­not ben­e­fit, or can only ben­e­fit to a very small extent, from the largest bud­get item of the Euro­pean Union – the finan­cial frame­work for more of the same.

We also find plen­ty of true pio­neers who have under­stood the city as a metab­o­lism and have recog­nised answers to the gal­lop­ing indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion or the dis­tri­b­u­tion of func­tion­al struc­tures in the city over spa­tial­ly sig­nif­i­cant dis­tances and have imple­ment­ed solu­tions in demon­stra­tion projects. One com­pa­ny should be high­light­ed here: Ruth­n­er IP (Indus­trieller Pflanzen­bau). The Vien­nese com­pa­ny, found­ed by Oswald Ruth­n­er, start­ed with ver­ti­cal­ized agri­cul­ture more than half a cen­tu­ry ago. With peo­ple at the cen­tre and under­stand­ing the city as an organ­ism, a pro­to­type was built in Lan­gen­lois, fol­lowed by a ver­ti­cal farm (Phy­to­tow­er) at the 1964 “Wiener Inter­na­tionale Garten­schau” - with a build­ing height of over 40 metres. This was fol­lowed by at least twen­ty projects world­wide, from Cana­da to Swe­den, Egypt to Iran. The death of the inven­tor brought the com­pa­ny to an abrupt end.

Oth­er Plant Fac­to­ries and ver­ti­cal farms with their inno­v­a­tive cul­ti­va­tion and pro­duc­tion meth­ods have been suc­cess­ful­ly imple­ment­ed 50 years lat­er in a rapid­ly grow­ing mar­ket world­wide since 2009. The com­plex­i­ty of indoor food pro­duc­tion as well as ener­gy con­sid­er­a­tions and effec­tive plan­ning of mate­r­i­al flows are enor­mous inno­va­tion dri­vers in research and devel­op­ment as well as the basis of new busi­ness mod­els. From clas­si­cal hor­ti­cul­ture to soft­ware devel­op­ment, IT and IoT, from fish farms to robot­ics and automa­tion, from live­stock farm­ing to AI and data ana­lyt­ics, from soil to in-vitro.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these devel­op­ments are still seen by key deci­sion-mak­ers as dis­rup­tive struc­tur­al ele­ments for a (lag­ging) agri­cul­tur­al sys­tem. This not only slows down the test­ing, imple­men­ta­tion, and devel­op­ment of new struc­tur­al ele­ments for future resilient cities that wants to pro­vide answers to the chal­lenges men­tioned above, it also fails to recog­nise first­ly true pioneer’s work and sub­se­quent­ly the need and demand to bring trans­paren­cy in gen­er­al back into the food val­ue chain.

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