Saturday, March 24, 2012

How much do food issues contribute to violence?

I began reading The Big Thirst a couple of days ago, and was startled by a statistic about how many Syrian grain farmers walked away from their land and losses in 2010 after several years of extreme drought.

Now I must confess that I get tired of listening to news from the Middle East.  It seems that whenever I set my clock radio for, when it comes on NPR is reporting on the Middle East.   So sometimes I don't really listen...

I did a little searching and learned that after those years of drought, unusually heavy rains wiped out a chunk of the 2011 crop.  Meanwhile, many who left the land have fled to the urban areas around Damascus, while hungry refugees from Iraq also streamed into the country.

It seems to me that hunger and despair are surely helping to fuel the strife in Syria.   I'm not saying that their political leaders aren't despots, only that a hungry, displaced population must be contributing to the situation.

Now reactions to the civil war (are we calling it that yet?  sure sounds like we should) have caused the EU to stop importing Syrian oil.   So, less money to buy grain from other countries.   And even if they could buy enough, would it get to the hungry?

What a tangled mess.   And nevermind the feedback loop - that anthropogenic climate change from burning all that oil may have contributed to the climate extremes causing the staple food shortages.

I'm just thinking that sometimes we may need to look to the basics of human life - like our food system - to understand the factors contributing to political strife.   And I wonder why such things don't make the news a little more often.   I might wake up and listen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nitrates and scientific ignorance

I caught part of Forum on KQED on Wednesday morning, and now am listening to it again.

The evidence of overwhelming nitrate pollution of groundwater in the Central Valley and Salinas Valley is in.   This is a serious health problem in drinking water.   It's a particular problem for people in small rural communities where the cost of remedying the problem is prohibitive.  

What amazed me was the extent to which the host kept asking what the high nitrogen water is doing to our food supply.   Gosh.   I thought it was junior high science that nitrogen is a nutrient necessary to plant growth.  Another example of how a lack of basic scientific knowledge contributes to public fears.   What century is this anyway?  

In spite of this, and the lack of sophistication around agricultural issues, the shocking statistic cited by one of the guests was that 1 million Californians don't have safe drinking water.  

Also interesting to learn that use of synthetic fertilizers here has not been increasing for twenty years or so, that most of the Central Valley depends on ground water, not surface water, for drinking, and that the effects of nitrogen contamination are heightened by development for housing of former agricultural tracts.  

I just did some web crawling to see what kind of resources are out there on the nitrogen cycle.    Turns out there are lots.   What fascinated me the most was that each depiction of the nitrogen cycle features an animal to represent the contribution of animal waste to the cycle.  Most show a holstein.  One shows a bunny.   And this one shows a bear!  Reminds me of a certain overworked sarcastic retort.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh Well

It's now two weeks since clergy conference and I am still stewing about the well-to-serve presentation.

Let me resist any ad hominem stuff about the presenters and just make four general points:

1)  If one listened to the key words in the presentations, they seem to be a response to stress and overwork on the part of Episcopal Clergy.  But nobody is asking who is throwing these folks in the river. (Everybody knows that modern parable, right?).  Why is the expectation and practice of over work and unbalanced lives valued so much?   At times we say we deplore it, but again and again it is reinforced.   Nothing will change until somebody had the honesty to step up and challenge these basic assumptions in clerical culture.   True health must begin with a positive response to life, not a reaction to or compensation for fundamental habits that are not life giving.

2)  The nutritional information presented was pretty pitiful.   Whole grains only once a day?  8 oz of red meat?  Calorie intake below one's basal metabolic needs?   This is a prescription for undernourishment, higher disease rates, and major yoyoing.

3)  There was no attention whatsoever to ethical eating.   No eco-justice dimension at all.

4)  And there was no joy.  

My cynical side remembers when the Church Pension Group got with the program of addressing sexual harassment and abuse.   It was all about preventing law suits, and their costs, not about the basic sin of sexual expolitation and abuses of power.   Now I wonder - even if the presenters of this program really do care about people's health, and I suspect they do - is the underlying reason for this program an attempt to slow the rate of increased costs of caring for an aging, fat client base?