What if I proposed that social and cultural aspects of human behavior are not only an influence, but also an integral part of a natural system? It is often believed that environmental sustainability relies on the overall influence of our human behavior and impact on the ecological systems in which we live. Integral to the study of sustainability is the concept of resilience—according to Merriam Webster, resilience is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. It is widely recognized that resilience is at the core of what can be understood to be sustainable.
Introduced in 1973 by C. S. Holling, in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Holling proposed resilience as a key aspect in evaluating ecological systems, and that one consider the qualitative as well as the quantitative aspects in this analysis. Resilience, in the ecological context, refers to an ecosystem’s ability to withstand disturbance while adapting and retaining essential form. In the social and cultural context, resilience can be described as the degree by which a society and its culture are capable of learning, adapting and self-organizing while maintaining common identity. A food system is a direct link between environment and culture, dependent on both the environment that can naturally sustain their growth as well as the societal norms that will nurture and propagate it. So then how is a resilient and sustainable food system deemed to be culturally appropriate?
Ecologist, Jason Bradford, in an article for the Post Carbon Institute, stated that the current U.S. food system is largely influenced by government policy, financial pressure, fossil fuels and market forces, all of which present vulnerable points to the system. Threats to any one of these influences can result in localized food insecurity, even in those areas where the food is grown. Access to healthy, locally grown food continues to predominantly be afforded by those who can attend the “special event” of a farmers’ market, rather than to nearby neighbors or those whose hands have labored in their planting and cultivation.
Starting with a premise observed in nature, let us recognize that the more local and diverse, the more resilient a system. When considering cultural appropriateness of food on the local level, one must consider those foods that are easily grown and cultivated within geographical access. Resiliency refers not only to the types of foods capable of growing in within the 150-day frost free season of northern New Mexico, but also the nutritional diversity found in the various varieties of foods that have become staples in many households. Integration of varieties of greens such as kale, chard and collards provide nutrient-rich options that, with the use of cold frames and greenhouses, can be enjoyed year-round. The integration of more varieties of food, as in the example of vegetable greens, provides the diversity that will support dietary need in the event that one variety of food was to become vulnerable to decline. Bradford points out, and it is observed in nature, more biodiversity equals more resiliency, given the ability to adjust against losses. Farms based on agro-ecological systems are less dependent on outside inputs and less vulnerable to detrimental external influences.
Local, fresh produce has measurably demonstrated more nutrient value as well as socio-cultural benefits. Though Whitney and Rolfes (2011) identified that the strongest influences on food choice are personal preference, habit, ethnic heritage and tradition, social activities such as seed exchange, acequia-cleaning, planting and harvest bring community together to provide the venue for food tradition. Less daily activity and recognition that highly processed foods are less healthy require integration of healthier alternatives that are both ecologically amenable and culturally acceptable. Identification and integration of regionally available food varieties in the local diet as part of modified traditional recipes can be a hallmark of resilience, particularly in reclaiming traditional meals in a sustainable manner. From the environmental health perspective, healing from a century of high-fat, highly processed foods, consider ecologist Stuart L. Pimm’s (1991) definition of resilience as a measure of how fast a system returns to an equilibrium state after a disturbance.
[Fresh Vegi-Chalupa Recipe Here]
Sostenga Chard Burrito (makes 2-4 burritos)
2 lbs fresh chard
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup grated cheese (optional)
2 ¼ cup corn
1 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 cup green chile
Salt and pepper to taste
- Saute onions and add chard, chile, garlic and corn
- Add cheese, salt and pepper if desired
- Roll up in a yummy tortilla of your choice
Camilla Bustamante, PH.D., MPH, is Dean of Community, Workforce and CTE at Northern New Mexico College.