The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 4

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 4: A World in Food Crisis


In moves to make food more profitable, we've also made the food system less resilient and more vulnerable.  One major point of vulnerability is its dependence on oil, and particularly on cheap oil.  This need has created a direct link between food prices and oil prices.

The cheap food that was supposed to solve world hunger has actually driven down incomes, and has ultimately exacerbated poverty and the hunger that comes with it.  Despite fifty years of proof that cheaper food is not the answer to hunger, Big Ag is still pushing the need for "more food" to feed the world's growing population.  People get poorer when food gets cheaper, so many of the world's hungry remain too poor to afford even our "cheap" food.

During the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008, American food banks were unable to keep up with demand.  We were actually lucky: dozens of other countries experienced outright food riots.  Rioting over food occurred again after various weather abnormalities caused production shortages around the globe.  In essence, the system is too vulnerable to weather events and too dependent on finite resources to continue producing at its current rate and price.

**Editor's note: At this point the author notes that transportation and methane emitted by garbage as the primary generators of the greenhouse gasses driving global warming.  Upon reading this passage, I cursed aloud and tossed the book across the room.  I may have experienced some bleeding from my ears.  More on this later.**

Greenhouse gases are fueling climate change, which is causing more catastrophic weather events.  The concentration of single crops in limited geographic regions means that one such even can remove a food from the entire system.  A coinciding reduction in national grain stores around the world has allowed large grain companies to "take control of the global grain trade - to their great profit."

The search for more arable land is leading to the exploitation of developing regions - particularly in parts of Africa and South America.  Alarmingly, the arable land in notably food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia is being leased to grow food for export.  This is seen as an investment opportunity for corporations.  Domestically, American and Canadian farmers are posting record losses and selling land cheaply to international speculators.  Cheaper food very simply means that farmer are being paid less; these are the results.

Meanwhile, we're running through non-renewable resources.  Oil production may peak and begin to drop off in the near future.  Fresh water resources may also become scarce in the next century due both to how quickly they're being used and because of contamination.  Tragically, as industrial farming becomes ubiquitous, knowledge of traditional (less oil and water intensive) farming methods is being lost.


About that global climate change situation.  To fail to address the impact of animal agriculture in the production of greenhouse gasses is lazy at best.  Agriculture both accounts for a larger percentage of global greenhouse gas production than transportation, and involves an enormous amount of transportation itself!  Those food miles aren't racked up on magic flying carpets.  And all that's not to mention that energy production creates more gasses than either agriculture or transport.

If a person were somewhat conspiracy-minded, that person might be led to think that a book about the food industry written in 2012 that regularly refers to UN FAO studies and yet ignores its major study on the food industry that is readily and freely available is doing so intentionally...  But none of that craziness here, right?

On a totally separate topic, did y'all know that Cowspiracy is now available online?  ;D

ANYWAY.  On Sunday I noticed grapes at the Broad Street Whole Foods.  My first thought was, ooh, grapes!  My second though was... from Chile?  Chile is 4,500 miles away from New Orleans, give or take.  At $2.39 per pound, somehow I don't think that the true cost of those grapes is represented in its price.  Did you know that bell peppers are a seasonal food?  And from what I can tell at WF, they're only grown organically in Holland.  What gives?  Is it REALLY cheaper to fly peppers in from Europe than to source them locally?  Are there SO many levels of bureaucratic red tape necessary that it's just totally unfeasible to supply shoppers with these products?  So many questions.  Also, it's high time I figure out the wonky system at Good Eggs.

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