TRANSFORMATION was the goal, of the organisers at least, of the third National Sustainable Food Summit, just concluded in Melbourne.
The summit organisers and promoters describe it as a "seminal event" that "attracts delegates (from across) the food supply chain. It is the largest and most diverse gathering of practitioners interested in the sustainability of our food system."
I attended because I had been invited to present on the work I've been involved in around the People's Food Plan over the past 12 months, with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.
Prof Andrew Campbell exploded the myth Australia can ever make a really big contribution to "feeding the world" or being "the food bowl of Asia".
I also spoke briefly on the second day of the conference about the need to take urgent action to protect and preserve Australia's dwindling supply of prime agricultural land.
A report last year found that we have lost 89 million hectares over the past 26 years to four main drivers: mining, suburban sprawl, forestry and national parks.
There is little doubting the need for major changes in Australia's food system and indeed the global food system.
What I challenged participants to think about was what sort of transformation they wanted because the word actually has two meanings. The first is a "dramatic change in form or appearance", which would indicate cosmetic changes - "window dressing", or "greenwashing", rather than substantive changes.
The second meaning of transformation is metamorphosis. Think of the profound process of change a caterpillar undergoes in order to become the butterfly and you'll have an idea of what's involved.
What immediately struck me about the summit was the sheer lack of people actually attending.
I went to the inaugural summit in Melbourne in 2011 where more than 200 people attended. Two years later, the numbers were down to 120, and by the last session or two they had dwindled down to less than 50.
There was certainly a diversity of speakers and a breadth of topics covered. We heard from organic and sustainable farmers such as Liz Clay of the Gippsland Climate Change Network, Jenny O'Sullivan of Linking Environment, Agriculture and People, and Ian Perkins, an organic cattle farmer from Toowoomba.
These farmers spoke with passion and vision about the need to regenerate the soil, to care for their land and to understand and value the connectivities between land, farmers, animals and local communities.
They and several other speakers identified farmer viability and profitability as one of the most critical issues this country is facing.
Then Prof Andrew Campbell exploded the myth Australia can ever make a really big contribution to "feeding the world" or being "the food bowl of Asia".
Our choice now is to make a qualitative leap to a new and much more co-operative level of personal and societal development.
We can either dedicate ourselves to making that leap, or we can put our energies into a self-destructive and self-defeating exercise of maintaining business as usual.
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