(UR) Bristol, UK — Can we farm sustainably? Can we endeavour to produce enough food to feed the world’s growing population in a way that is respectful to animals, and mindful of the stress agriculture places on the land? These are some of the questions discussed at a conference on food sustainability held earlier this month at Bristol’s Big Green Week. The answers to the majority of these questions were, surprisingly, “yes.”

Following the screening of the film, The Milking Parlour, a panel including authors, journalists, artists, filmmakers, and farmers discussed the plausibility that farming can continue in a sustainable way, particularly given continuous global population growth. In brief, members of the group felt that farming, as it stands, is not sustainable. Despite there being enough food crops produced per year to feed the majority of the world’s population, livestock alone consumes 1.3 billion tons of grain, resources some participants feel might be better used in feeding humans.

Author and Hindu scholar, Ranchor Prime, suggests that it is a question of our standards and expectations. Given the often misguided Western expectation that food appearance directly equates quality and health, suggested methods of sustainable farming fall sadly short of our aesthetic standards, contributing to food waste and the elimination of plausible alternative methods that may benefit a majority of low-income consumers.

The film that brought about this conversation focuses on a living art exhibit that depicts the experiences of Nessie Reid, Cape Farewell’s artist-in-residence, living with two dairy cows in the centre of town for several days. Reid’s hope was to examine her interaction with her food system while showcasing her community’s general distance from the same. One of the themes explored by Reid’s exhibit shows how the Western obsession with hygiene creates a rather monolithic barrier that prohibits any real discussion on sustainable agriculture and husbandry.

There are two options when it comes to working, honestly and truly, towards creating a system that not only has the potential to feed the world’s ever-increasing population: the status quo, and reducing some of our notions of clinical sanitation and aesthetic perfection. One will see even more food waste, and even more people starving, and another might hold the solution to a looming problem. Even if that solution might feel a little uncomfortable at first.

This article (We Could Feed the World With Sustainable Food If We Stopped Wanting It to Be Pretty) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris “Kikila” Perrin and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to undergroundreporter2016@gmail.com. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/David Silver