It’s a simple fact that, in order to have a meaningful conversation about sustainable, environmentally friendly farming, we all must first agree on what those words really mean. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple task is easier said than done. Over the last few decades, a new language has grown up around the food and farming system in America, and terms like “organic,” “heritage breed” and “food miles” have entered our vocabulary. With these changes, activists, farmers and consumers alike have struggled to communicate their ideas about what it means to farm sustainably. The Lexicon of Sustainability program is tackling this issue by creating a common language for anyone wanting to have a real discussion about sustainability. For three years, activists and filmmakers Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton have interviewed leaders in the food and farming community about this new language of sustainability. The result of their work is an ever-expanding dictionary of terms that defines the way we talk about the food system in America, as well as a series of videos, books and art exhibits exploring this topic. The Lexicon program is funded in part by PBS, which is hosting the Lexicon of Sustainability’s short film series on its website. Each video is around six minutes long and, through a mix of interviews, photo collages and animation, examines a different niche in the vast system of food and farming that exists in America today. For example, “The Story of the Egg” looks at the differences between what it means for a chicken to be “free range,” “cage free,” and “pasture raised,” while “Local” explores the world of locavores and asks how the idea of “food miles” can help consumers better understand the impact of our food choices. One of the goals of the Lexicon project is to involve communities in the sustainability discussion. Over on its website, you can apply to host a pop-up art show designed to foster conversation about food, farming and what it means to be sustainable, and anyone who wants to can submit a definition for the program’s ever-growing dictionary. The Lexicon of Sustainability will continue to expand over the coming year. Twenty new short films will be released in 2013 (you can submit ideas for films here), and the Lexicon will soon be adding a “Water and Energy” section to go alongside the current “Food and Farming in America” series. For those interested in learning more about our food system and how we talk about the issues confronting farmers and consumers today, the Lexicon of Sustainability is a valuable resource. After all, how can we have a real conversation about what it means to live sustainably if we aren’t all speaking the same language?
The Lexicon of Sustainability
The Lexicon of Sustainability program is defining what it means to farm sustainably by creating a common language for anyone wanting to have a real discussion about sustainability.