The Biscayne Times

Jun 25th
Food for Thought PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim W. Harper -- BT Contributor   
February 2013

Some things you can do locally to lessen the world agriculture crisis

Wbigstock-fruits-and-vegetables-for-sale-7724255orried about the planet? Or are you more worried about what to have for dinner tonight? Worrying about what you eat today makes more sense than worrying about a flood that might happen in 20 years, but both relate to your survival.

When that 20-year flood washes away the food you were planning to eat for dinner, then you will really, really worry about the planet that feeds you.

How secure and safe is our food supply? Let’s start with fresh water. Locally we are doing quite well and, recently, your household should have received a brochure, mandated by the Clean Water Act, that details where your drinking water comes from and how it is tested. The take-home message is this: Drink tap water. It is safe. Do not believe propaganda from the bottled-water industry. Stop buying packaged water. Use your faucet.

The wider, long-term picture is not so rosy. The nation’s breadbasket in the Midwest continues to suffer one of the worst droughts ever recorded. You will see the effect on food prices this year, so you may want to stock up on canned corn.

Internationally, desertification is spreading and, tragically, it corresponds to some of the poorest places on earth. An inverse relationship exists between the wealthy world, which has produced most of the accumulated pollution that fuels climate change, and the poor nations that suffer its worst impacts. We simply don’t feel the threat of climate change like they do in Africa and Asia. However, Australia is feeling the heat right now; it is basically on fire, and its climate-change-deniers are converting into believers day by day.

Extreme weather and growing populations put both water and food supplies at risk everywhere, so no one should be feeling too secure in their long-term outlook. Heard of “peak oil”? Most likely we have reached peak water, peak grain, and peak fish. On the other hand, modern agriculture can produce much more food than our planet’s seven billion people need; the problem is uneven production and distribution. Again, wealthy nations tend to have stockpiles while poor ones face shortages.

Owing to overpopulation, hunger worldwide is possibly worse than at any time in history, with one billion people malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent alone, according to the Earth Policy Institute. (To put that number into perspective, that’s equivalent to the entire world population circa 1800.) We have the capacity to solve this problem this year. We only need astute leaders who care.

Every day, the earth’s net population increases by more than 200,000, with the majority born into poverty. For us, the take-home message is to be thankful and grateful for our abundance -- for now -- and to resolve to expand food justice both globally and locally.

In Florida we can feel pretty good about our agriculture and access to healthy foods in the short term. Especially at this time of year we should be feasting on local produce.

Shop at a farmers market. Demand local produce at the supermarket. The Biscayne Corridor will get a boost of healthy (but expensive) food when the new Whole Foods market comes to North Miami this spring, but even there you’ll have to search carefully for locally harvested produce.

Check out some of the grassroots movements that are producing local food on a small scale: the Greater Everglades Foodshed, the Urban Oasis Project, and Slow Food Miami. Support our local heroes of permaculture, a practical method of sustainable gardening and living. Marcus Thomson offers classes with Permaculture Miami, and my fabulous yoga instructor, Catherine Johnson, grows an incredibly productive garden at her home in North Miami Beach, proving you can feed yourself with an average-size yard. (Also read this issue’s cover story about Chef Keith Kalmanowicz and his Love and Vegetables project.)

Many serious issues confront our food supply: the expansion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the shrinking diversity of seeds, the continued overuse of pesticides and fertilizers instead of organic methods, inhumane industrial animal farming, and subsidies that create an oversupply of cheap, fatty, and processed foods that are a root cause (along with inactivity) of the nation’s obesity and healthcare crisis. How ironic is it that Americans are eating themselves to death while whole continents are malnourished? How shameful.

Just like the climate, our global food system is out of balance. As an individual, you have little control over this situation, but you have great control over what you eat.

Here are some tips to restore your balance: Become “vegetable strong” by choosing more meatless meals. Search for local and organic produce. Remember that you are what you eat, and also where you eat; become a locavore by shopping at markets and restaurants that offer local produce.

Above all, be grateful for now. Today it’s others far away who are suffering food insecurity. Tomorrow, it could be us.

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