Some food for thought

Here’s my part 2 continued from the Chicken Little post. (Sorry, been away for a while… in Turkey (post coming soon) and was trying to figure out summer (another post on that i guess)).

So, a little late in the news… but, about the food shortage. (Late, but still so very pertinent)

For the short term Canada stands to gain. We’re an exporter of cereals, which means our terms of trade will rise. (Won’t go too economic-y on you but this could be seen as a benefit!)

Map showing projected change in global balance of trade

But, this is a global problem and we’re not immune to it.

We’ve distanced ourselves (both geographically and mentally) from the food production that we’ve desensitized ourselves from the problems that happen in the industry –that is until we start seeing huge price changes. Think about it, what’s your personal view on farmers? Do you link the farmers with the salad that you eat at night? Probably not. We just usually buy our groceries at the supermarket and that’s that.

But that has to change at some point. The agricultural industry is not sustainable and it’s affects will hit us at some point if we don’t change… (That’s the meaning of unsustainable!)

So here’s my food for thought of what could/should happen for us in the western world:

  • Buying local will pick up speed (already happening). Wouldn’t it be cool if city vegetable gardening became the norm? At the end of day at the office, go to the roof to pick up some potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes? (less transit, more convenient for the customer, better ventilation for building, more community aspect?)
  • Waste less food – YEAH FOR DOGGY BAGS! A lot of Europeans are against the doggy bag, but if prices go up, food will become more prized, and therefore shouldn’t be wasted. Like Vancouver, bring your own containers to the restaurant (not so chic, but better than Styrofoam!)
    • New link: NYT Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year, which is about 12 percent of the total waste stream. All but about 2 percent of that food waste ends up in landfills; by comparison, 62 percent of yard waste is composted.
  • Eat less meat -not asking everyone to become full vegetarians – but wouldn’t it be nice if people reflected on their own eating behaviour to address this issue?

What are your opinions on this? Is there something that we can be doing right now that would address this issue?

Remember, we have the ability to give a damn!

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12 thoughts on “Some food for thought

  1. katesaltfleet says:

    I’m glad that you posted the “eat less meat” argument on there. Meat production is an extremely wasteful use of resources, not only in terms of land used to grow animal feed, but also in the water needed to irrigate the crops and keep the livestock. Even avoiding meat one day a week would help.

    For the UN report “Livestock’s long shadow” and the impact of meat/dairy production visit this site. http://tinyurl.com/6bowo7

  2. janeporter says:

    Thanks Kate.

    I’m still on my “don’t buy meat” agenda and don’t plan to sway from it anytime soon…

    This just popped up today – it’s a good case in point.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/weekinreview/18martin.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  3. Steven Kivinen says:

    Hello Jane.

    I am uncomfortable with your suggestion that buying locally is an appropriate measure for saving the environment. First, does the production and distribution of locally grown food actually produce significantly less greenhouse gases (or environment degradation in general) than foreign foods? Second, and more importantly, buying local means less income for foreign (in many cases impoverished) producers. Humanitarian arguments aside, poorer people tend to care less about the environment than wealthy people. If we care about the environment shouldn’t we try to enrich poorer countries by buying their goods and inducing them to want to save mother nature?

    Also, local food tends to cost more. This means money (and productive resources) for stuff like research and development is going towards food and not cleaner technologies. If we care about the environment shouldn’t we try innovate our way out of our problems?

    It seems to me that at least in some cases the benefits from buying local do not outweigh the costs.

    I hope Finland is treating you well!

  4. janeporter says:

    Hey Steve,

    At first I was like “of course its better!” – but, that kind of thinking doesn’t lead to good answers…

    I see your point about food coming from the developing countries. This is one of those paradoxes for the ‘caring’ we face that I wrote about in an earlier post. The number one argument that economists use to push for development is to open up trade and let the developing countries supply what they do best: agriculture. So buying from them supports their livelihood, and buying local means taking that away. (That being said, the protectionist trade agreements on agriculture from the developed nations are more problematic than the current trend to buy local)

    As for the first point, I did some quick research on the other side (I get enough ‘pro local’ on my feeds). You’re right, buying local isn’t always better, and so the blank statement “buy local!” should probably be used carefully…. (note taken:)

    Good read here
    But, buying local is usually better – especially when it’s in season.

    Again, it all comes down to the lifecycle thinking – something that we need to wrap our head around a lot more if we want to make the right choices in the future.

    But thanks though for the comment – it makes the post that much more interesting.

    Did you know that your name meant “Rocky” – kivi = stone/rock. There’s a Kivinen in my building and I think of you every time I see the mailbox;)

  5. Hendrik says:

    Nice post.

    I guess you have read the “State of the Environment and Policy Retrospective” articles, in chapter 8 slide 7 there is a box which describes the benefits associated with urban farming. In Africa and Latin America its practically done in any available space, and also in Europe the trend is increasing. I personally think its a splendid idea and would love to have my own rooftop garden!

    But to get back to Steven’s arguments. Locally grown food does as a general rule produce significantly less greenhouse gases. Food produce from developing countries would need to be shipped to the developed countries, which will produce huge emissions from transportation. Also, as locally grown products are often also organically grown, there is less emissions from fertilizers and pesticides.

    As a side note, agriculture in developing countries is often significantly less productive than agriculture in developed countries (no surprise there I guess), and often food produce does not meet the standards we demand in the developing world (so called nontariff barriers).

    You 2nd point: If we want to make poorer people care more about the environment, we need to educate them and support them in building a working economy NOT build upon agriculture. If we just buy their products without educating them they will be at some point so far that they also want a car, a flatscreen TV and whatnot. I don’t say we shouldn’t help these people to reach a better standard of living, I just am confident that we won’t do so buy just buying their products.

    Thirdly, local food is not paid by the government, companies or anyone else who would invest into R&D for cleaner technologies (at least not where I life, might be that in your part of the world it goes that way =). Its still the end consumer who buys the locally grown food, and those rarely do invest heavily in R&D for cleaner technologies.

    Anyhow. To sum things up, I generally buy locally, and don’t mind the few €s it costs me more (and I am a student), however, some stuff just doesn’t grow in Finland (Bananas for example) and if I go for these items I will buy Fairtrade and/or organic. I do support initiatives to make the world a better place for everyone, though I don’t think that it helps by the way of buying food produces which are made a few thousand km away from me.

  6. Jane Porter says:

    Yes…. I do remember reading about that (was for an exam before anyone thinks that I just go through UN docs for fun!) (see bottom for glimpse of what he was talking about)

    I’m not sure, but I think there’s a bit of a difference between buying local in N.A. and in Europe. Europeans love their outdoor markets and quite often people end up developing a relationship with certain farmers. It seems as though they’re smaller companies – not the huge farms that cater to the supermarket (that being said i really don’t know the behind the scenes of any of this). I say this because I find it hard to say that local farming is usually organic (at least not in NA – but again this totally depends). Canada & US take up 36% of pesticide use in the world (again, that UN doc) – so, to some people, buying that carrot from a heavily machined, high fertilizer, uni-culture farm – is local. And in that sense, the LCA of one flown in organically, and one bought right there would be useful.

    You’re right on about educating the developing countries about this though. I often think about where the world is going to go when we just keep on working on economic development – great – more cars, more ‘stuff’. Telling them to just work on agriculture won’t necessarily curtail that, but focusing on sustainable agriculture will be a necessity for everyone – and a must for some to at least grab hold of the development ladder.

    So about this whole “to buy or not buy local” – I still think it’s safe to say that it’s ‘most often’ better – but the best would be to buy:

    -organic
    -local
    -seasonal

    But this really just poses us more questions. Part of the problem is again that we’ve distanced ourselves so much that we don’t know where the food comes from. Perhaps we as a (mass) society will become more inclined to know more about where are food comes from and the exact process being used…. (god knows what that processed/package crap is made from!)

    for other readers though – here’s a glimpse: http://www.unep.org/geo/geo3/

    Europe
    Some 72 per cent of all urban households in the Russian Federation raise food, and
    Berlin has more than 80 000 urban farmers. The St Petersburg Urban Gardening
    Club has become famous for its promotion of roof top gardening. Its research shows
    that in just one district (St Petersburg has 12) it is possible to grow 2 000 tonnes
    of vegetables per season from 500 roof tops. Many crops are grown including
    radishes, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, beets, beans and
    flowers. The growth of chicory for salads is encouraged as a source of vitamins in
    the winter. Rooftop gardening is popular because the gardens are secure and cannot
    be attacked by vandals. The St Petersburg Urban Gardening Club publishes books
    and has its own web site.

  7. Steven Kivinen says:

    Stone, eh? For some reason I think I knew that (Finnish dictionary perhaps).

    So buying local food is a good “rule of thumb” for minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and distribution of food? That’s good to know.

    With regard to Hendrick’s comments, such a discussion will likely make this post too long.
    So I’ll just say: I disagree.

    P.S. Jane, you going to the Bay anytime soon? Not me (until August)… I have school here in Vancouver all summer. 😦

  8. Hendrik says:

    You’re welcome to disagree with me, otherwise it would be boring. But please then at least illustrate your points so we can discuss =)

    Jane’s point about seasonal, local and organic food is right, in that order as then you will ensure to get the food which will have produced the least emissions (Finnish tomatoes in winter is just not feasible, they take soooo much energy to produce). If I am back in Suomi I’ll get back to balcony gardening, tomatoes, strawberries and herbs grow just fine and its a good feeling to eat something you grew yourself!

  9. […] 23, 2008 · No Comments Thought this talk was highly relevant for the post and comments about food, and it’s from my favourite website…TED of course. In this fiery and funny talk, New […]

  10. Matt Linder says:

    Hi Jane. Newcomer to your blog here. I think I may have gone to High School with you for a period of time as well, but I doubt if I have ever formally met you.

    But anyways, I stumbled upon this post and felt compelled to write something in response as I have been following this story quite closely as well.

    I like your ideas in how we as a society can lessen our impact on these inflating food prices. I personally go to the farmer’s market here in Thunder Bay every Saturday. So I think buying locally, in particular, is a great thought.

    I’d like to mention one other point that might shed some light as to why these food prices are going up. Pension and index funds (in the U.S and Canada especially) have been investing an exorbitant amount of money on many agricultural commodities in the past decade or so. Hence the increase of price in many of our day-to-day foods (wheat, corn, rice, soybean etc..). I read a great article in the Globe and Mail a few days back supporting this theory. The comments posted on this story are a very good read as well.

    http://www.reportonbusiness.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080530.wcover0531/BNStory/Business/home

  11. janeporter says:

    Matt,

    The TBay food market… so good:)

    Interesting point on the investment side of all of this. (Can’t read it right now… gotta go to work, but will check later).

    Update: The UN is now in Rome discussing this whole issue

    Thanks for the comment though. 4 years of pro ball eh? I now remember hearing about the ‘pro ball player at hamm’ 😉 Do you know Saara Haapanen ? She’s also here in Finland with me.

    cheers,

    jane

  12. Matt Linder says:

    Yah I know Saara fairly well. I had a few of the same classes as her back at Hammarskjold. Plus she’s friends with a couple of my good friends. That’s interesting you two ended up at the same university in Finland. Was that pre-arranged or just by coincidence you girls wound up at the same school?

    Anyways, kudos on a very insightful article here Jane. I would imagine this food crisis will moderate over the next few years (or at least that’s what most media outlets will report … lol). However, this trend of greed and gluttony cannot continue here in the Western world (and I suppose you can throw China and India into the mix now too). I guess we will see what happens, but it’s good some of us are trying to do something about our lifestyles and how it affects others.

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