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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Food Crisis

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Plato said that society is "just a few meals away from babarism." And I guess it is more true in our modern age than ever before. Apparently, the British M15 use a 'four meals away from anarchy' scale to evaluate threats.

I typed 'food crisis 2011' into a search engine and got over 54 million results. Okay, so I don't watch or listen to much news, but I the last person to hear about this?

I don't really understand enough about the global food market, but
it seems like there are predictions of ramifications for all of us this time, not just those nations forced to import food or those having issues growing their own at the moment. It seems everything is so out of balance that the crisis will be felt globally. Usually, because we live in a wealthy country, we seem to just absorb the cost when grain prices double overnight (as rice did a couple of years ago, and wheat has before too). But what about when more than one crop is affected? And what about our neighbours?

It seems to me that there are several causes to consider:
Our government doesn't value the agricultural industry
A lot of our country's farms are foreign owned
Peak Oil
Climate Change (or a lot of bad weather, if you don't subscribe to the climate change theory)


And there are things we can all do:
Eat local - grow your own if you can
Eat less meat (or stick to grass-fed, wild and other, more sustainable, choices)

Food shortages have been an ongoing global issue for much of modern history. But I bet there wasn't over 54 million search engine results until 2011, when the majority of the western world is facing something most of us have only witnessed through the media to date...

How do you feel about the current food crisis situation? What are you doing personally to prepare? What about your local community - is simple, green, frugal catching on?

Further Reading:
Food Security
Local Food
Peak Oil
Climate Change
Transition Network

22 comments:

Vicki's Bit-o-earth said...

I learned of the global food crisis over a year ago. I probably watch the news too much, but it gave me the heads up. Plus, my family came from many generations of farmers. I've bee stocking up for awhile now.

Heather's Blog-o-rama said...

Since I am on a very limited budget, I'm very aware of food prices. I also live in an apartment so gardening is out of the question for now. One thing I"m going to try for sure in the spring is container gardening. I've never done it before. I'd like to try zucchini for sure, because I love it. Maybe something else, too. Otherwise, what I do now is to literally plan my meals around what's in my pantry and only buy things when they're on sale. I also shop the "outer perimeters" of my local grocery store. I know that's not quite "emergency food preparedness" However, that's what I can do NOW with the resources available to me ;) :) Many of my friends that I know personally and in blogland are growing more food, raising chickens for meat and eggs etc..because it's an easy way to feed their families. Anyway those are my random thoughts to your question :) :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

dixiebelle said...

For the last 3 years, my family and I have been preparing for future food security issues. The last 2 in particular, we have been on a steep learning curve... growing our own organic produce & creating a mini food forest, getting into permaculture, preserving and processing our own food, learning about storage and stockpiling, and alternative food cooking methods (ie. fermentation, solar cooking), and encouraging others to do the same through our involvement with PermaBlitz ACT, and of course, my blog.

Food awareness, Local food (and food in general!) are my passions. It can all seem a little doom & gloom, but there are so many positives going on. Our Australian government is taking notice:
http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wpcontent/uploads/FoodSecurity_web.pdf

And the world/ big business is starting to take notice:
http://www.smh.com.au/national/unlikely-alliance-20110204-1agw6.html

I recommend:
http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/thefutureoffood
http://www.foodincmovie.com/
http://www.freshthemovie.com/
http://www.joshbyrne.com.au/permaculture_dvd.php
http://foodsovereigntyalliance.org/afsa-manifesto-launched

Start eating SOLE food... Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical!!
(Sorry! Did I mention this is a passion of mine!! ;)

The Professor's Wife said...

I plan to start regularly buying eggs from a farmer down the street, to continue to stockpile, and to TRY to grow some of my own food!

David said...

I have started building a basement storage area for the stocking of preserved garden food as well as sale items that I use on a regular basis. Five raised garden beds have been built and are functioning with an automatic gravity feed watering system. Plans for expansion for the next couple years are in the works. Next winter a basement food growing area will be operational as well as a seed starting station.

Have a great food storage day.

Oya's Daughter said...

Growing my own food has been a huge help and is a big issue for people who are like myself - as a disabled person we don't have the energy or resources to do the big stockpiling and local shopping (I can't walk very well so the market shops have gone to the wayside, it's tescos I'm afraid *sigh*). So cultivating a home garden, whilst it seems like a "luxury" to the cuts-hungry government in the UK right now, is vitally necessary as the price of fresh fruit and veg is skyrocketing.

Bel said...

Hey, thanks for all the comments! Vicki, I have also heard about the food crisis in the past (it's been happening for a few years), but not, as dixiebelle pointed out, in our own mainstream media and from our own government...

Heather, can you help your friends with land who live locally swap you garden labour for produce?

Dixiebelle, thank you for all those links - wow!

It's great to hear from others who are not only stockpiling, but seriously looking for solutions for a more secure food supply.

Robert said...

I have a large allotment, and several beehives. It's not much, but it's something.

Linda said...

Once Russia banned exports of wheat last summer (due to their fires), I bought my first 50 lb bag of wheat and I locked in the price on another of corn for grinding at the current prices. I went directly to an organic farmer for the corn and ordered the wheat from an Amish co-op.
Buying these staples in bulk, from as close to the farm as you can get is the best way to get a good price. If you can find (or form) a buyers club or coop, that is even better.

It would take too long to discuss the issue but the current rise in prices began with the commodity speculators just prior to the Russian fires because so much of the world was in drought. Crops had not yet been harvested so there was no final tally yet to drive prices and panic. These commodity speculators are unregulated and a huge part of the problem-whether there is a shortage or not, they are the ones that send the market into panic in the first place. This is why its never just one crop affected.

Fleecenik Farm said...

Back in late winter of 2008 I went to buy a 25lb bag of King Arthur flour and it was 8 dollars more than the same bag just weeks before. This was when it hit me how close the price of oil is tied to the food we eat. Later that summer oil went to 147.00 a barrel.

This chapter of the food crisis is being impacted by extreme weather events and speculation in commodities. My concern is that at a time when more people are living on less money, not just in the developing world but in western societies as well, we find that governments are embracing austerity. In the US the new budget proposed by our president and congress take aim at the social safety net; most importantly, at the Woman Infant and Child nutrition program for low-income mothers and children.

Not only do we try to grow most of our own food and source locally but we also buy in bulk. One thing I would like to pass on is a program we have in our state and might be available else where. We have a Plant-A-Row program in our state that is run by our cooperative extension. This program asks farmers and gardeners to pledge a row in their garden to donate the produce a food bank or soup kitchen. Many of these helpful organizations are also going to feel the pinch of decreased help from the government and their costs will also be impacted the increase of food prices.

@ Heather, tomatoes grow really well in containers:)

Mrs. J @ Road Less Traveled said...

My husband and I have been working to grow our own vegetables, and we don't eat meat or dairy. Presently, we are vegan, but we'd like to get chickens and we would eat their eggs. We have been working hard to expand our garden so that we can grow more veggies, and I've been working on improving my seed starting. :)

We're newbies (we're both in our 20s), but we're trying hard to be somewhat self-sufficient when it comes to food. I wish more people would do that! It's scary that the vast majority of people don't even know how to produce their own food.

Kate said...

I first came to understand the global food crisis a few years ago. The books Depletion and Abundance, A Nation of Farmers, and Twelve Myths About Hunger really opened my eyes as to what's going on with the global food supply, the so called green revolution, GMO's, and hunger.

We've had a short reprieve from the worst of the crisis in the last couple of years. But the crisis is back.

Those of us in the overdeveloped countries have the blow of increasing food prices blunted for us because of the way our food system works. The price of global commodities that go into processed foods is a tiny fraction of the sticker price. Ten cents in a box of cereal. Five cents in a bag of chips. The rest of the price pays for packaging, marketing and distribution. And it matters little to us because we pay a smaller fraction of our income for our food than any other people in the history of the world. People living on $2/day spend 50%, 80% or even more on their food. What are they going to do when the price of wheat goes up 40%?

My reaction is to get serious about growing more potatoes and corn/maize, along with all the other vegetables and fruits. I will do my best to feed myself, and spare the global supplies for others who can't.

Hazel said...

I'm in the Uk and I know the 4 meals to anarchy theory came close to being played out when our lorry drivers protested about fuel prices a few years ago.

The price of fuel is now even higher than it was then and hauliers are muttering darkly about their livelihoods. 4 meals is 4 days and our supermarkets (supplied by said hauliers) hold 3 days worth of food...

I've tried speaking to friends and neighbours about it and have resorted to telling them I always keep bread and milk in my freezer just in case.
Suggesting they keep even a basic stock of food or telling them exactly what I have stored appears to be tantamount to walking around with 2 pencils up my nose saying 'wibble wibble' a la Rowan Atkinson.

I can prepare my own family, but my responsibility to my neighbours does worry me. It's easy to say they should have prepared, but my immediate neighbours have 4 children under 8. They're constantly borrowing food because they've run out as it is (they always replace it, but I do sometimes pretend I'm out of it too because I get fed up of being a convenience store. And it's not good for them to rely on me because they can't get organised. But can I really tell them I have nothing for them to drink in a crisis?


On a practical note, sprouting seeds are excellent for people with no gardening space. I've been using them in sandwiches for my children's' packed lunches instead of the ubiquitous cucumber or tomato over the winter. Mustard and cress are great, and they love alfalfa. I liked radish but the youngest found them on the spicy side. Mung beans have gone into cooked dishes too and we're trying red cabbage at the moment. There's loads of info on the net.

Meanwhile I've got lots of potatoes ready to plant and I'm working on season extension in my vegetable garden.

Bel said...

Kate, thanks for those book titles, and thanks to those who explained the hows and whys of the current situation. It seems like such a complicated topic to understand for many of us.

I guess I will do a follow up post, expanding on what to do next...

I'm still keen to hear how people feel others in their community are going with living simply...

Nicole said...

Hi there,
Love this site.
I did a review of SBS documentary "The Future of Food" with some reflections of my own thrown in... its a timely topic.
Personally, we are trying to learn all the skills that kept our grandpaents self sufficient, and grow our own fruits and vegetables (not exclusively, yet, but thats the plan!)

Diāna said...

Thanks for heads-up! I've lost 4 laying hens and a rooster since last autumn and only 6 hens are left so I thought before I read your post perhaps I should give up poultry farming altogether seeing as it takes so much space of my not too huge garden and you can't very comfortably and safely combine hens and any new shrubs or trees or vines or basically anything planted for that matter, as the hens will do just about the impossible to scratch and dig any bare piece of soil they can get their beaks in. I've tried placing fir branches with needles around the young and vulnerable trees and bushes but it's a very temporary solution. However, after this post I must say I will strongly reconsider giving up the hens and will do more research on how to organize the life of poultry and the life of a garden in a more acceptable way. And I'm grateful for all the other comments from other parts of the world. It's good to know we're basically all in the same boat.

Anne said...

This year GMO alfalfa, sugar beets (and right on their heels a gmo corn for ethanol production) is available for sale.

Very few people care enough to be aware of where their food comes from, the way it is processed, the effort to create it, the ethics of how it was raised... until it hits them in the pocketbook.

GMO genetics are dominant traits. Those genes are patented. (read.. illegal to save/ propagate. Literally family owned farms have been lost because of this.. a change in the wind. Corn pollen can travel almost 2 miles on the wind)

There are just a few companies that are actively trying to control the global food market. The major angle is starting at the seeds. (Not something one thinks of when buying bread.. cereal..tomatoes.. meat.)

So right now people are planting gardens (always a good thing).. but most are oblivious to what they take for granted.. seeds and saving seeds.

If you think buying "heirlooms" is avoiding that.. be aware that various people can get access to thousands of old strains held at seed vaults. These companies are getting patents even on the heirloom strains.

Sadly this information is not as exciting as what trouble some pop icon is in... that is while our plates are still full.

Although every great once and awhile it does get a write up..

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

Bel said...

Thanks Anne! Seeds are so very important. I am involved with a local Seed Saving Network and have posted about Saving Seeds here before: http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2009/03/magical-seeds.html

Terra said...

I signed up as a follower today, and know your blog will inspire me to save, recycle, buy local and more, which I love to do.
I am giving away one copy of the book "The Upside of Downsizing" by Karen O'Connor on my blog this week.

Fleecenik Farm said...

This post inspired me to start a challenge at my blog.

Wendy said...

I don't have t.v., and therefore am pretty much out of the "news" loop, except for internet. The food crisis was very much on the periphery of my radar, but I will definitely be checking out all of the wonderful recommendations for books, websites, etc. shared here.

For our family, this will be our third or fourth year of seriously growing a garden (with still MUCH to learn). Last year we significantly expanded the amount we planted (including my husband's family in our growing venture), and this year my top two priorities are to spend siginifcant time planning and researching the types of plants that will grow best in our area, hopefully expanding to at least a three-season harvest, and oh, a third, planting more medicinal herbs and educating myself on their use.

I'm going to be joining Fleecenik Farm's Plant-a-Row Challenge via her blog.

Diane at Patchwork Economics said...

Food security has been a key issue for me for several years now.

Initially, it was centred around my desire to downsize and simplify: the less I spent on food the less I had to work.

But now, it's about a larger view of the world.

Current practices are unsustainable and too closely tied to the supply of cheap oil. Not to mention the effects of crazy weather patterns on agricultural production.

Being as self-reliant as possible is the smart thing to do.