Tuesday, April 22, 2008

International Food Crisis

The past few weeks the international food crisis has been in the news a lot. There was an article in the New York Times and a couple of radio stories on NPR to name a few. Mostly they highlight how we are now facing crises in the global grain supply and how that is leading to political unrest in many places. Global Warming, oil prices, ethanol, and the lifting of trade barriers, along with a growing demand for protein rich foods like beef in China, India, and other countries have been blamed for the situation.

Solutions being proposed range from closing the borders to imports to encouraging more people to adopt vegetarian/vegan diets, to switching from grain dependent diets to potatoes (I’m sure there are some folks in Ireland who may have an opinion on that last one).

Not much mention of changing the system to one that more closely aligns with natural laws. Changing from a system built on importing resources to fuel unending growth to one that uses local resources to meet local needs and accepts the limits of those resources as the limits to growth in that area. Not much call for more local, small scale, ecological agriculture as a way out of the crisis.

I think they are wrong. If we develop, (or even allow the development of) small, local, sustainable food production aimed at meeting local needs we will be taking a giant step toward food security, social stability, and environmental balance. Unfortunately, the powers, and the folks funding the powers, won’t allow this kind of small scale development because they lose their control of the market and the population. They keep the current, GET BIG OR GET OUT, system in place with government incentives, expensive food “safety” regulations, and corporate sponsored “research” aimed at promoting their position.

I’m choosing the path of Non-Cooperation. Join me. Live Locally.


Anonymous said...

I think your suggestion of "live locally" is catching on, but it can't support the current state of our urban or even suburban development. I can certainly appreciate that cities shouldn't have developed beyond their means, but it isn't very realistic to expect areas such as NYC, Washington DC, or even Northern Virginia to be sustained by local growers. I don't think it is a "control issue", but rather more of a practical issue. I don't farm other than the tomatoes on my patio. I am part of a local grower's CSA, but I don't rely completely on that for my family. And truthfully, if all of my neighbors tried to join a CSA there wouldn't be enough local land to support the town where I live. Maybe we shouldn't have grown beyond our means, but who should we send packing? How does one cull (not literally) the current population so that we are back to the numbers that can be sustained by the local productivity?
Just "food for thought" from a non-farmer who enjoys checking in on your admirable progress. (Back to lurking.)

Alan said...


You are right that the current state of local production couldn't come anywhere close to meeting the needs of any of our larger population centers. However, part of that is mindset rather than production capacity. There are many ways food production could be increased in the urban/suburban areas without everyone needing to become a full time farmer. Food isn't the only thing on the list of basic needs that (I think) must be produced locally. Water and energy also need to come exclusively from local resources, and "waste" needs to be returned to the local resource pool. How we go about that and what it does to our current social structures is the next great adventure. My point is that those are the rules that every other living thing on the planet live by, and it has worked well for millions of years. Perhaps we need to refocus our creativity.

On the issue of how do you adjust population size to fit production capacity, I must say that is a messy one. We know that populations in general grow or shrink as their food supply expands or contracts. Sometimes it is violent and messy, but usually it is very gradual. As long as we continue to increase the overall food supply the overall population will continue to expand. This isn't about problems caused by distribution/power struggles, it is purely about the fact that humans aren't made of nothing. A little less food will result in a decline in the population.

Also, when we change what we value and how we share resources people will be more willing to take some responsibility for meeting the basic needs of their own community.

I'll leave the rest for another post.


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