Solving The World’s Food Dilemma in Five Steps
Ok, so this article is a summary of five points and I’m sure that a lot of the meat & potatoes (or, uh, whatever the efficient foods going forward will be) of the original author’s papers have been omitted for the sake of brevity. My first reaction was that it reminded me of one of those “10 steps to save money” articles full of no-brainers like “pack your lunch”, “stop going to Starbuck’s” and “cancel cable”, but I know that’s an unfair assessment and a lot of people might not understand these ideas at first, even if they seem obvious.
A little more brief:
1. Freeze agriculture’s footprint
2. Grow more on what we have
3. Use resources more efficiently
4. Shift diets
5. Reduce waste
All valid points and they tie in with each other.
#1. The solution isn’t plowing up more land and keep on the same track. There’s not a lot of land left (in general) and when we destroy wilderness areas we lose the biodiversity that’s necessary to life and can even affect climate patterns (see: desertification). Doing more of the same isn’t the answer.
#2. Grow more on what we have. My backyard garden has much more food value than a similar patch of corn or soybeans. A LOT can be done with a little. It just takes a bit of creativity. Although industrial agriculture is based on maximum efficiency, it really isn’t. If we hit a situation where we can’t rely as heavily on the mechanization of agriculture, we’ll find that out quickly. Check out a permaculture food forest, Native American “three sisters” gardening, square foot/biointensive gardening for examples of making the best use of space and human energy.
3. Use resources more efficiently. The demand for food is rising as the world’s population rises, but we’re not seeing a corresponding increase in energy production, mineral mining needed for fertilizers and water availability (see: aquifer depletion and again, desertification). It seems like there’s a good case for just about every resource that we’re hitting a peak. Peak everything. We’re going to have to learn to do more with less. I’d really recommend the documentary “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” to understand this challenge.
4. Shift diets. California lettuce and Chilean grapes in the winter aren’t sustainable due to #3. We should be eating closer to home and with the seasons. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy coffee, chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cotton, bananas, oranges, rubber and all kinds of other things can’t grow in Iowa as much as the next guy but we could do a much better job of producing things locally if we as consumers opened ourselves up to these things. In the realm of fruit there’s enough variety that could be grown here that would cover basically the whole growing season. Most people only have a few vegetables they’ll eat and are unaware/uninterested in things that do well around them. In the world of meat, most Americans would turn up their noses at eating goat, although that’s extremely efficient (and quite tasty, might I add). To steal a thought from Joel Salatin, the idea that you can get a chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and tomato on it on almost any busy intersection in the country at any time of the year should be a little troubling.
5. Reduce waste. Yeah, we throw away a lot of stuff that we shouldn’t. Right now food is so cheap, plentiful and easy to procure that we really don’t think twice about throwing something out. As the world’s food dilemma starts to become more visible in the good ol’ US of A for the above-mentioned reasons, we might start having to consider making the best use of what we have. This starts in the kitchen and a curse of the world being so damn convenient for us is that we’ve lost these skills. Milk is about to go sour? Turn it into yogurt. Have some chicken bones left over? Soup tomorrow night. Stale bread? Bread pudding. The list goes on. This will also take a huge effort from institutional food providers and restaurants as well as a paradigm shift from the patron/diner. There’s a fly in your soup? The waiter will fish it out for you. Watching the amount of food that gets thrown away at a restaurant, cafeteria, etc. at every meal is staggering. I always think of things in terms of resource inputs, so this really blows my mind sometimes.
So let’s hope that these five steps that seem like they should be obvious become obvious to everyone. After writing this it looks like a lot of the changes that need to be made really start with the consumer and the household in our eating habits and our attitudes towards food. It’s easier to make the transition now than to be forced into something worse later.