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January 11, 2011 / robertstockham

Fixing our broken food system:

Population explosion.  Drought.  Famine.  Politics.  These are all the reasons that people around the world go hungry every day, right?  Wrong.  The real reasons why we cannot feed the world’s population is waste.  We throw away too much food.  We overproduce foods that we will not be able to consume, and then we truck food all across the globe for no good reason.  And we are greedy.

It is always easy to point the finger at someone else and say it is their fault.  The truth of the matter is that we are all to blame.  We have all led to the current mass production of food and the need for mechanized farms.  At one time, most of the food that we consumed was grown on small family farms.  It was produced locally.  And farming was a career to be proud of.  When did things change?  Slowly, the family farm was replaced by large scale corporate giants.  These conglomerates began squeezing out the family farm in pursuit of the almighty dollar.  And consumers loved it.  Let’s face it, how much will you really pay for a tomato?  Will you pay $5 a pound if it means that it was grown on a small farm, provided living wages to all employees without exploiting them, and used farming practices that were less harmful to the environment?  While we like to all think we would, the lack of these tomatoes in the local grocery says quite simply that the majority of Americans will not.  Furthermore, most cannot.  If you can, well more power to you, but how many of the stocks or mutual funds in that IRA of yours are drawing their profits from the likes ofMonsanto (in my opinion the anti-christ of the farming world) or Dole (the devil of worker mistreatment)?  I live on a budget and thus am guilty as anyone else.  And I like pineapple, on occasion (so you know of another brand besides Dole?)  As we are slowly squeezing out the family farm, we are dumping more food onto the American marketplace so fast that we have to find new ways to use it.  We are sweetening everything with corn, feeding it to cattle and other livestock, and now trying to make biofuels and dishes out of it.  Corn is not really a sustainable product, it just makes massive farms a lot of profit.

The result of all this cheap food on the market?  Stamping out starvation?  No.  Instead, we Americans are simply throwing it away.  I have heard it said that we already produce enough food to feed every person on the planet.  So why aren’t we?  Americans are wasteful gluttons.  First off, we throw out a lot of food.  It is estimated that we throw out 50% more now than we did in the 70s.  Studies say that amounts to between 30 and 40 percent of all the food produced in this country.  A lot is lost at the production and manufacturing level, but at least half of this wasted food is tossed out at home by consumers.  I was sure that this was over estimated, until I really took a hard look at our own household.  Two people living in one house find it hard to eat the food we buy, and it is even worse for someone who lives alone.  Packages of food are too large for small households, and shopping is often inconvenient.  It has become harder and harder to shop more often and buy less things.  I am watching our consumption very closely, but we still have leftovers that do not always get eaten, produce that goes bad before it really ripens or foods that get freezer burn.  The results are probably right on the mark.

Besides the waste in food itself, there are more ramifications to these studies.  More wasted food means more wasted fossil fuels in their production and transport.  Growing excess foods means we use more and more water-a growingly scarce commodity.  To top it all off, our supply chains no longer make sense.  We import apples to Ohio from Washington state, new Zealand, etc. while we have plenty of farms right here to supply our local apple needs.  In fact, I have been told that only 1% of all food produced in Ohio actually is consumed here.  Michael Polin (Deep Agriculture) told how we import butter cookies from Denmark, and export butter cookies to Denmark when we could just exchange recipes.  If we could fix some of these inequities in the supply chain, we could use the saving to transport excess foods to those places where it is needed to feed those who are starving.  But then there is no profit in that.

Then there is the health problems in this country.  Diabetes is on the rise, as well as heart disease and obesity.  Many contribute the excess of food production as  contributing factor to these problems.  Manufacture and marketing of food products is big business in America, and we will work extra long hours to avoid cooking our own food and to provide Twinkies to our family.  We wold rather drive through a McDonald’s than buy and prepare our own food.

The lack of clean water and steady food supplies has lead to starvation, instability, and unrest in many parts of the world.  At the same time, we are tossing out tons of food every year (more than $48 billion worth).  The rest of the world is suffering and we sit back and gorge ourselves.  No wonder so many other countries hate us.  At the same time, envy of our lifestyle has led to the desire to add more meat to the diets in other countries.  This leads to more conversion of global rain forests to grazing lands to support cattle.

So in the scheme of things, war, famine, drought population have less to do with our ability to feed the world’s population than our own wasteful ways.

 

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