Why kitchen gardening will not change the world

Submitted by Sam on 18 December, 2011 - 21:34

This is a TED talk by Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International. He opens the talk by saying:

"I have a subversive plot. It is so subversive in fact, that it has the potential to radically alter the balance of power, not only in our country, but in the entire world."

The talk periodically picks up on the globally transformative, power of the kitchen garden, with a cheery rhetoric that is deeply misleading. Urban and suburban small-scale gardening will not radically alter the balance of power, and it absolutely does not carry the capacity to change the entire world, as the speaker claims.

This project has relevance and utility to those privileged to live in a temperate climate, with enough time and land to pursue kitchen gardening. For these people, typically living in the "global north", personal food security is not a concern, and growing fruit and vegetables instead confers secondary social, aesthetic and localized environmental benefits.

“Subversively” growing fruit and vegetables valued at $2,000 a year does not suddenly liberate $2,000 worth of food and distribute it to those that need it most. The food that you would have bought from the store is not redistributed to the local inner-city homeless nor the malnourished of the global south. The global problems of food-shortage, food waste and food distribution remain.

Whilst the project has intrinsic value to the communities that can pursue it, it should not be presented as though it might impact the areas of the world where food security is a primary concern. This is an unavoidably America-centric talk, and it offers a model which has applicability to only a small proportion of the world's population, not least because the most acute problems associated with food-security are often in rural areas, where water scarcity, adverse climate and political instability drive food insecurity. The poor and the rural in countries from Guatemala to Tanzania cannot hope to grow their own kitchen gardens, and kitchen gardens in the global north will not feed them, and nor will they help stabilize volatilities in international commodity prices to which the poor are so vulnerable.

A stark illustration of the irrelevance of this project to the areas affected by food shortages can be seen by comparing the Oxfam global food crisis map, below, with the map of members of Kitchen Gardeners International.

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