Helping the System see itself

We can broadly state that a system must see and understand itself to function, to avoid sub-optimizations, to calibrate itself based on available resources and constraints.

Patterns emerge when data points are being connected that reveal systemic relationships forming into a picture. One can see such patterns, but how does one communicate them to a broader audience, create compelling story?

I would propose to articulate specific data points that are in relationship, but need to be woven into a story to be understood. Starting with narrative in bullet form, in no particular order to explain the concept, how would one express this so the linkages, the relationships become obvious, the system becomes transparent?

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Agriculture and land use management as practiced today contributes app. 24% of global emissions, but has the capacity to go carbon negative. There is no conceivable way to manage the risks of a changing climate without first addressing our food system.

Currently humanity is using 1.7x the regenerative capacity of the planet to feed 7.8 billion people. The population is on trend to increase towards 8.6 billion by 2030, and to near 10 billion by 2050. Demand for higher value foods (i.e. animal protein) per capita is increasing at the same time. Humanity is depleting the ecological capital of the planet while increasing the demand on its resources.

The toxic byproducts of our conventional farming system are damaging not just the ecosystem as exemplified by the loss of top soil, the pollution and excessive use of fresh water, the air we breathe; it also correlates with an increase in cancer, autoimmune diseases, and antibiotic resistance. Industrial agriculture has depleted the nutrients in our food, contributing to ‘hidden hunger.’ Very little of of U.S. agriculture is focused on fresh, whole foods like fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes.

Covid-19 is amplifying the need for change. Consider this:

[According to a CDC report, nearly 90% of patients hospitalized with coronavirus (COVID-19) had one or more underlying health conditions.(https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2020/04/15/coronavirus-risk-90-patients-had-underlying-conditions/2962721001/)

[Coronavirus deaths ‘involved pre-existing condition in 92% of cases in May’ (https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/coronavirus-deaths-involved-pre-existing-condition-in-92-of-cases-in-may/ar-BB15C2Oa)

Supported by research related to the 2020 dietary guidelines:

  • More than 70 percent of Americans have overweight or obesity, and the prevalence of severe obesity has increased over the past 2 decades. The increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity at young ages is of particular concern because of their effects on the current health of the child as well as the risks of persistent overweight or obesity into adulthood.

  • The high rates of overweight and obesity are an important public health problem in and of themselves, and they are a driver for prevalent diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. At present, 6 in 10 Americans have a chronic condition and 4 in 10 Americans have 2 or more chronic conditions. Various factors contribute to the prevalence of these chronic diseases. Prominent among these are unhealthy dietary patterns and a lack of physical activity.

Which lines up with this report by the Rodale Institute: Regenerative Organic Agriculture in Improving Human Health.
The Rodale Institute has been a leading voice focused on the need to change our food system.

The Harvard School of Public Health in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America has developed an initiative titled “[Menus of Change]
https://www.menusofchange.org/principles-resources/downloadable-resources/)”
to support the food service industry in this transition. Now in its eight year, the lack of progress demonstrates the need to engage and educate the general public to participate and demand change.

The industrial food industry has merged into a vertically integrated supply chain, from seed to breed stock to farm to processor to retailer. It relies and depends on the commoditization of food products, long shelve live, easy handling for low skill labor to finalize service delivery. Highly efficient but rigid and unable to overcome structural changes in the supply chain without significant adjustments to their business models.

Regenerative organic agriculture focused on the restoration of soil and the sequestration of carbon must decentralize. Local conditions of soil, access to water, climate, and socioeconomics will require customized types of crops, seeds, rotation cycles.

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Where would we go from here?

Klaus asked: Patterns emerge when data points are being connected that reveal systemic relationships forming into a picture. One can see such patterns, but how does one communicate them to a broader audience, create compelling story?

How can we weave causal loops into a story? Answer: Create an activity oriented model. Causalities on a Causal Loop Diagram map directly to activity inputs on a Data Flow Diagram (which are very activity/story oriented).

Tony

The narrative related to food system reinvention is advancing exponentially, I have extracted some examples from the 'Menus of Change" conference currently under way:

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There have been several attempts to help consumers identify / get the market motivated to shift into products that help the farmer to regenerate soil back to live. So far we have not been able to figure out how to do that, also considering that the entire mass media market is still beholden to a business model that relies on paid advertising to make its profits. There is no direct path available.

Markets act on information. There are some truly encouraging signs that innovation in the food sector is alive and thriving, ready to go to scale. It is now up to the individual to encourage such business models and help them scale.

The Culinary Institute of America in partnership with the Harvard School of public health holding their 8th annual conference

Menus of Change”,

online and with free access. Here is a synopsis of the first 3 weeks lessons:

(https://www.menusofchange.org/principles-resources/summit-presentations/week-1-july-22-2020);

they have operationalized a connection between the culinary profession and the regenerative organic farmer. Just reading some titles is inspiring:

Rebuilding—and Reimagining—Our Industry

Harvard Nutrition, Climate and Sustainability Roundtable: Getting the Big Picture in Focus

Carbon Farming, Best Practices in Regenerative Agriculture, and How to Be Transparent about Your Sourcing and Agricultural Practices

Purchasing through the Lens of Climate Change: Strategies and Best Practices

The question is: how can this information be made accessible widely within motivated groups to develop a common narrative? Could the information highlighted above be condensed into a short overview, with links to more detail for anyone wanting to dig deeper?

This is more of a deep dive for anyone interested in the topic.