Monday, March 17, 2008

We need a new bumper sticker

and of course I recognize the irony in having one that says


I just got around to reading an article that appeared in Scotland's Sunday Herald last week on the world food crisis. We may all be on the low energy diet before long. Remember thirty years ago when the church focused on world hunger and so many of us said "Of course, there's enough food, it's just a matter of distribution"? That was simplistic then, and may be just plain wrong now or in the near future.

Food scarcity is mounting. Climate change is driving it in two ways - through increased drought conditions, and, over the next few decades, probably flooding of croplands. The world population continues to grow. And while more people are starving, the number of people pursuing western middle class lifestyles - read: eating more meat - is growing. Rising oil prices have caused food prices to go up, and more crop land to be devoted to aggrofuels, exacerbating the situation.

Here are some stats that caught my attention from the article, and from the reports linked to it (now added to my sites list).

Since 2000 the global price of food has gone up 75%; the price of wheat 200%.
(And when the price of grain goes up, so does the price of animal foods. Dairy prices are showing dramatic increases. You don't need to read an article about it. Just go to the store.)

The number and frequency of food riots are increasing as urbanites can no longer afford to purchase food.

In India last year 25,000 despairing farmers killed themselves.

In China, the per capita per year meat consumption was 20 kilos in 1985, and now exceeds 50 kilos. That's around 5 ounces per person per day - what our food pyramid recommends for me of meat and meat analogs. Whatever happened to tofu?

25% of our US corn crop goes to ethanol. There's talk of tripling this. But we supply 60% of the world's export corn. What happens to those in poor countries who import it? And - with my tongue deep in my cheek - what happens to our supply of high fructose corn syrup on which the American diet depends?

One sixth of our grain harvest is fed to cars.

The Sunday Herald stressed food security in Scotland as an issue, and has a campaign for folks to eat local. I suppose at this time of year that involves bringing back the demand for root vegetables in a climate like Scotland's - and frankly, that's not a bad idea.

I wonder if the rising prices of food, combined with escalating fuel prices to ship it, may make local produce, and particularly growing your own, increasingly attractive economically, not just from a flavorful and ethical standpoint. An article in yesterday's New York Times suggests that small, diversified organic farms in exurban New York are proving economically, not just environmentally, sustainable.

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