Food matters. For many different kinds of reasons.
With water and air, it’s one of the commodities on the earth that we cannot bypass. In absolute terms, we could live without oil, or even without clothes. Not without food.
Due to a sharp increase in the world’s population over the last two centuries, we have tried to increase our productivity in making food products. We have started considering agriculture as any other industry, maximizing the profits we were making out of it, to the detriment of the quality of the products we ended up eating. We have forgotten that fields were fragile and delicate ecosystems supporting the existence of many beings, and not mere producing mediums that we could stretch beyond their limits. We have forgotten that fields are nourishing our souls in addition of our bodies, providing us with magnificent landscapes that have often been destroyed by industrial farming.
We have forgotten that, in the end, we are what we eat. Nowadays, for any unit of energy of food produced in the US, there has been more than one unit of fossil fuel energy involved in the fabrication process. It would be more energy efficient to drink oil straight away.
Nowadays, soil from the world’s croplands is being swept and washed away from 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished. Damage from soil erosion worldwide is estimated to be $400 billion per year (Pimentel, 1999). And you can’t get fertile soils back in the supermarket next door. Fertile soils are the final and miraculous result of thousands of years of evolution, of interactions between rocks and minerals, living organisms, meteorological conditions, human activities and water flows.
The crisis is so acute that rich countries have started securing their food supplies in the coming years by leasing millions of hectares in developing countries, hence depriving local inhabitants of the corresponding soils.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a UN institution, tells us there is enough food on the earth to feed 12 billion human beings. Yet, in 2006, 846 million people (or 1 human being in 6) were chronically underfed (FAO World Food Report, in Ziegler (2005)).
Just imagine what the situation will be when these people won’t even have access to the land present in their very own countries…
What can we do then? We could engage in political movements to ask our policy makers to make the necessary changes. But unless we change, there’s very little chance they could even do anything.
Growing food is a part of it. Of course you won’t feed yourself round the year with two radishes on a window sill. But at least you’ll know what it takes to get a plant grown. At least you will know how important it is to have a good soil, and to maintain it properly. You will taste the difference between a fresh veggie and one that was harvested green and has travelled thousands of kilometers in a plane before reaching your supermarket. You will exchange seeds with your friends, therefore contributing to safeguarding the earth’s dwindling biodiversity.
You may even find out that there is a profound Meaning for a human being to grow food, and that is foolishness to leave this job to machines and chemical products.
But now, it’s your story.Sources:
Miller GT (2004), Sustaining the Earth, 6th edition. Thompson Learning, Inc. Pacific Grove, California. Chapter 9, Pages 211-216
Grains Research and Development Corporation (2007), Ground Cover Issue 67 – Climate Supplement
Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association (1997), Educational and Informational Strategies to Reduce Pesticide Risks, Preventive Medicine, Volume 26, Number 2
Pimentel D., O. Bailey, P. Kim, et al. (1999) Soil erosion: A food and environmental threat, Journal of the Environment, Development and Sustainability 8: 119—137
UNEP (2009), The Environmental Food Crisis – The Environment’s Role in Averting Future Food Crises
Cartographer : Hugo Ahlenius, Nordpil ; Data: GRAIN, 2008; Mongabay 2008