Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A new book is emerging

From Extraction to Regeneration: Food and Farming for the 21st Century
Industrial food and farming have been very successful in producing more food, and cheaper food. But it has come at a very high price. The practices have wrecked havoc in important biological systems, in particular in bio-diversity and the nitrogen and carbon cycles. It also squanders its own resource base and the most precious resource on the planet, the soil. Animals are treated in a disgraceful way. While food is abundant, the distribution system, the market, fails to reach 1 billion people which are hungry. More and more people are opposing the modern food system, a few have the energy to build a new system.

From extraction to regeneration: Food and Farming for the 21st century explains how our food and farm system developed into the system we have today, and how interdependent our food system and society are. Gunnar Rundgren demonstrates how farming and food processing technologies have transformed our lives and our relationship not only with nature, the plants we grow and the animals we raise, but also the relationships among ourselves.

The last few hundred years, and in an sharply increasing pace, width and depth, the global market revolution fueled by oil and coal, and shaped by endless competition and rent-seeking has been the factor that has determined the whole food system, from the prairies to the supermarket shelf, from the production of margarine to the emergence of fast food chains. It even transformed the act of eating from an act of confirmation of social relations to individual satisfaction of real or imaginary dietary needs.

But it left us, the animals and the planet unhappy. Most people feel a profound discomfort over how their food is produced and how this affects both the quality of the food and the world we live in. As a response to this organic farming, fair trade and alike has developed. However, these systems are by and large still subject to the market imperatives of competition, profit and constant labor productivity increase, and increasingly so the more successful they are. This limits their transformational power.

Real change of our farm and food system must be linked also to changes in social institutions, in particular the market. This has already started with efforts such as community supported agriculture, local food movements, participatory guarantee systems and urban farming. A truly regenerative food and farm system will close loops of flow of energy, nutrients and most importantly meaning and culture. It will also have to reflect the role of our agriculture system for management of the planet at large.

From extraction to regeneration: Food and Farming for the 21st century shows a path forward. A path of regeneration and co-production of resources, innovation, knowledge and meaning embedded in new social and economic relationships. 

This is a presentation of my present book project. I am deep into research now, plan to have manuscript ready by end of the year.  The title is tentative. Any interesting leads related to the themes is appreciated, in particular those that link food processing to either farming technologies or food habits, or society change. Most literature on food processing is simply about the technologies and not what the technologies mean upstream or downstream, or even in the food processing itself. 


  1. "Most people feel a profound discomfort over how their food is produced and how this affects both the quality of the food and the world we live in."

    There is an flurry of media here in the US on this topic now. 2 days ago the CDC in the US issued a strong denouncement of the overuse of antibiotics in the human health care system and in animal production. It is all over the newspapers and on the web.

  2. Resistant bacteria in combination with highly concentrated livestock rearing is indeed a very worrying combination.

  3. In case you want to take up the effects of urbanization on the agriculture and food, and vice versa, here is a reference.

  4. From a reader whose comment I deleted by mistake: One aspect is interesting. Going back 50 or 60 years, you would find few freezers or refrigerators in ordinary supermarkets. Now, we sell the Swedish traditional pea soup ready made in a polyethylene sleeve, giving rise to the need for refrigerated transport from factory to home, and a much shorter best-before-date, and also the need for quite new packing solutions. The pea soup example is only one of thousands, leading to increased energy consumption (and a redistribution of where the energy is used, less at home, more in previous stages of the supply chain)