During the first week of November, guest lectures by visiting professor Colin Sage gave Food Studies Masters students the opportunity to delve deeper into the cyclical relationship between the destructive practices of industrial agriculture and climate change. Sage provided a two-day series, in which he spoke broadly on the intersection between climate change and food systems, before focusing in on the concept of planetary boundaries as a metaphor for systemic limits to growth. 

Given the timely co-occurrence of Sage’s talks with the COP26 Climate Meetings in Glasgow, these sessions served as a valuable reference point to guide class discussions. Terming the Glasgow conference a “moment of historical significance,” Sage contextualized their importance within the widely experienced impacts of climate change today, witnessed by stark events—like the flooding of New York’s metro system, among several others. 

Sage and students drew agreement on the damaging effects of corporate concentration over the agricultural industry, smallholder livelihoods, and environmental degradation. He referred to recent mergers of the top six agri-chemical and seed companies as a primary example of the undue influence of the few over the many to set prices and determine product availability. The class debated, however, on where to place the onus for change. Students were adamant that the responsibility lies with the industry itself to adhere to certain ethical standards; but Sage encouraged them to think more broadly, in terms of corporate responsibility as serving as one part of the solution; along with, notwithstanding, the role of consumer activism via their purchasing power as the strongest response to commercial exploitation. Ultimately, Big Food must be checked to return power to the individual shopper and small producer—perhaps best achieved by re-establishing a direct connection between the two. Sage took a much more multisectoral response—calling on the need for public policy, alongside the aforementioned avenues for change, to address agricultural impacts on climate. 

Poignantly, Sage called for an updated perspective in the management of world hunger by moving beyond concepts of food insecurity to address nutritional insecurity, thereby focusing solutions on both the quality and quantity of food; and suggested utilizing the Sustainable Development Goals as a tangible means of evaluating corporate entities’ sustainable progress outside their business rhetoric to hold them accountable for measurable change. Thus, while he reiterated many of the salient issues connecting climate change and food, such concepts were eventually reframed in a forward-thinking way that proved solution-oriented and left students, perhaps, with more hope and concrete calls to action for future progress. 

----Report by Michaela Colangelo, Graduate Student Assistant.