New ways for agriculture: „Inclusive Responsibility“

Amir Kassam, Laila Kassam:
Rethinking Food and Agriculture – New Ways Forward
Elsevier, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-128-16410-5

Die deutsche Version der Rezension erscheint im Magazin TIERBEFREIUNG, Ausgabe 112, September 2021 [a German version of this review is published in the magazine TIERBEFREIUNG, issue 112, september 2021].

Rethinking Food and Agriculture – New Ways Forward is a scientific anthology edited by Amir and Laila Kassam in 2021. The book ends in an almost all-encompassing agricultural and nutritional concept that takes people and other animals as well as climate and environment into consideration. In 19 chapters, the anthology examines various problems and challenges of the current agriculture and food system from different perspectives and searches for solutions and alternatives. An introductory and a final chapter by the editors round off the collected articles and finally develop the concept of “inclusive responsibility”.

Most activists are certainly aware that an agricultural transformation and thus a radical change in agriculture and nutrition are urgently needed. But the anthology once again makes clear how complex and comprehensive such changes must be. The book therefore contains – in addition to a long list of topics that could not be discussed – articles on alienation from nature, political economy, (neo)colonialism, science, animal ethics, climate crisis, agricultural paradigms, genetic engineering, biodiversity, health, social movements, transformative ideas and much more. Due to lack of space, I cannot go into all of them, but some outcomes should still be shared.

Impressive, for example, is the article Agriculture planted the seeds of alienation from nature by Jim Mason and Laila Kassam, that is based on Jim Mason’s “classic” An Unnatural Order from 1993 (Lantern: 2005). The article clearly shows how animal exploitation – since the beginning of the first “animal husbandry” by humans around 10,000 years ago – has contributed to, or even made possible, nature domination, patriarchy, militarization and war as well as capitalism and colonialism. Mason’s “misothery” term is also explained […]. It is (once again) alarming to see the fatal social, economic and ecological consequences of animal exploitation in a historical context in such conciseness and complexity – but at the same time it is necessary to understand these interrelationships.

Then there is also to mention Robert C. Jones’ article Animal Ethics as a critique of animal agriculture, environmentalism, foodieism, locavorism, and clean meat, precisely because animal ethics are still far too seldom taken into account in the food and agriculture systems. After a brief introduction to ethics, morality and animal rights, the article primarily criticizes the promotion of various, so-called “humane” forms of exploitation and killing of “happy” animals by food and environmental movements. The attempt to redefine speciesism based on previous feminist, Marxist and decolonial criticism is also interesting.

A highlight for me is also Nassim Nobari’s contribution Social movements in the transformation of food and agriculture systems, which, among other things, introduces the work of the grassroots organization Seed the Commons.[2] This article also elaborates normalization tendencies and false dichotomies regarding animal exploitation in the food movement, and criticizes the (neo)colonial impetus of regenerative grazing. If the book weren’t so expensive, I would recommend it to everyone – especially activists for animal liberation, climate justice and food sovereignty, because these questions are central to the anthology. Instead, I prefer to point out that the anthology can be found in our library and that a website belonging to the anthology makes a lot of information freely accessible. However, it’s a great book – and a must-have in each library.

The concept of „Inclusive Responsibility“

[condensed version; with kind permission of the editors taken from here]

“An inclusively responsible food and agriculture system would encourage society to focus on agro-ecological sustainability as an integral part of overall ecosystem sustainability based on planetary boundaries. Such a system would place importance on quality of life, pluralism, equity and justice for all. It would emphasise the health, well-being, sovereignty, dignity and rights of farmers, consumers and all other stakeholders, as well as of nonhuman animals and the natural world. The concept of ‘inclusive responsibility’ is ultimately based on an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and the place and responsibility of human society within it. […] The idea of inclusive responsibility is to integrate and apply [an] ethical framework at every level of the food and agriculture system, from local to global, from production to consumption, from individual to community and society. The idea of inclusive responsibility is also to apply this ethical framework ‘inclusively’ i.e. not just to humans, but also to other animals and the planet. In addition the idea of inclusive responsibility highlights our individual and collective responsibility to contribute to changing the food and agriculture system. […] An inclusively responsible food and agriculture paradigm would:

  1. be ecologically sustainable and multifunctional
  2. be relevant for smallholders, their innovation and development strategies;
  3. meet the increasing need for sustainable, nutritious and healthy whole-food plant-based diets;
  4. integrate into the wider social movements resisting the corporate food regime and fighting for local autonomy, food sovereignty, and land and seed justice;
  5. respect and protect the rights of all sentient beings, both human and nonhuman, to live free from human oppression, exploitation and harm; and
  6. respect and protect the rights of nature based on a duty of care towards the Earth.”
The chapters (overview)
  • Introduction (Laila Kassam, Amir Kassam)
  • Setting innovation free in agriculture (Rupert Sheldrake)
  • Agriculture planted the seeds of alienation from nature (Jim Mason, Laila Kassam)
  • Political economy of the global food and agriculture system (Philip McMichael)
  • Neocolonialism and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition: A gendered analysis of the development consequences for Africa (Mark Langan, Sophia Price)
  • The myth of a food crisis (Jonathan Latham)
  • Animal ethics as a critique of animal agriculture, environmentalism, foodieism, locavorism, and clean meat (Robert C. Jones)
  • A food system fit for the future (Tony Juniper)
  • Why change the way we grow, process, and consume our food? (Hans R. Herren)
  • Two paradigms of science – A And two models of science-based agriculture (Colin Tudge)
  • Paradigms of agriculture (Amir Kassam, Laila Kassam)
  • Soil health and the revolutionary potential of Conservation Agriculture (David R. Montgomery)
  • Climate change adaptability and mitigation with Conservation Agriculture (Emilio J. Gonzalez-Sanchez et al.)
  • Will gene-edited and other GM crops fail sustainable food systems? (Allison K. Wilson)
  • Sustaining agricultural biodiversity and heterogeneous seeds (Patrick Mulvany)
  • Healthy diets as a guide to responsible food systems (Shireen Kassam et al.)
  • Knowledge systems for inclusively responsible food and agriculture (Robert Chambers)
  • Social movements in the transformation of food and agriculture systems (Nassim Nobari)
  • Alternatives to the global food regime: Steps toward system transformation (Helena Norberg-Hodge)
  • Cocreating responsible food and agriculture systems (Vandana Shiva)
  • Toward inclusive responsibility (Laila Kassam, Amir Kassam)