11 July 2008

Food Crisis? What They're Not Saying

There’s a lot of discussion right now about an upcoming food crisis. A lot of the blame has been placed particularly on biofuels- if corn is used to produce ethanol for gasoline, it isn’t used as a food source, many claim. The debate about biofuels is grounded in legitimate concerns, as biofuels alone can never replace our current reliance on fossil fuels. There isn’t enough land on the planet to produce that volume of organic material.

However, it doesn’t hurt to look at where the vast majority of corn is actually going. Corn, along with the other grain crops (soybeans, wheat, barley, rye), makes up the vast majority of what we call conventional agriculture in the US, particularly here on the Eastern Shore. But those grains are not raised for people food (nor for biofuels). They are primarily fed to chickens.

All across the country, low-grade grain crops are raised explicitly for chickens, cows, and other livestock, who are fattened on the high protein grains just before they find their way to the store. The amount of grain it takes to produce a pound of beef could alternatively produce about 12 loaves of bread. The media (and most of the UN committees) claim we need to up food production in order to meet the crisis, but in reality, we are producing more than enough food, but using it inefficiently. Aside from feeding our grain crops to livestock, our biggest problem is distribution. People are starving because they have to buy food imported from elsewhere, which makes very little sense when you consider the places with the highest rates of starvation (developing countries) could largely support themselves agriculturally- if only those regions weren’t devoted to producing exports of their own. For a very, very long time (thousands of years) people have supported themselves on what they could grow in their own region, and got along fairly well doing so. Why does this make sense? Well, because it means people aren’t paying for both the food AND the shipping that brought it to them, and a few middle men along the way. They’re just paying for the food, or raising it themselves.

This isn’t the end all be all solution. There are many, many complex issues involved with agriculture (and I will likely post on them again). But I wanted to take this opportunity, as the weather warms, to point out that we have one solution to a global food crisis right here in Chestertown. And that is the weekly Chestertown Farmer’s Market. That’s right, if you want to support agriculture, farmers, and help prevent a food crisis right here on the Eastern Shore, all you have to do is take a trip down to the Farmer’s Market. Pick up some beautiful local asparagus. Sample something you may not be familiar with- a new type of lettuce, or something a little more exotic like bok choi. Meet your local growers, and learn something new. Best of all, keep your money right here, in the Eastern Shore economy, rather than seeing it paid out to some distant company that’s importing their tomatoes from South America and spending all their profits on shipping and advertisement. In turn, the people of South America can start growing food for themselves, rather than you- and maybe come a little closer to alleviating a worldwide crisis. Sound farfetched? Maybe. But we have to start somewhere, and when it gets down to it, the Eastern Shore tomatoes taste better anyway.

1 comment:

Savdog said...

You're right on. E Magazine reported that Raising livestock consumes 90 percent of the soy crop in the U.S., 80 percent of its corn and 70 percent of its grain. They also describe the negative effects the livestock industry has on climate change---they represent 18% of equivalent CO2 emissions. I also found it interesting that it takes 2,000 pounds of grain to produce enough meat and other livestock products to support a person for a year, where it only takes 400 pounds of grain eaten directly to support a person for a year. Although, this also shows that we could likely have a higher carrying capacity if we would simply limit our meat intake.

Here's a link to the article: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4264