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Food: The Next Challenge to Our Economy?

July 28, 2014 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Some projections indicate we will be a planet of nearly 9 billion people.

If that is true, feeding everyone may become a serious problem.

There is already an issue of water – in our own country.

I half-jokingly tell my kids that my generations’ wars were about freedom and liberty and theirs may be about the basic necessities for survival: food, water…and who gets stuck with all of the garbage we produce.

Food issues are not only about population but also emerging countries who can spend more – and thus consume - additional food.

A bigger issue may be on how we produce it.

Will this affect us?

I think we know by now that while our mountains and lakes are our #1 asset, shopping, cultural activities and food are popular experiences. They may choose our locale because we have those combination of experiences that attract them over another mountain-lake region—and we compete with a lot of cool places.

Any of us that shop notice how food prices change. Substantial changes to availability and price of food could have a serious impact on not only our tourism economy but to you and me as well.

It’s hard to believe as we see flourishing local farmers markets, and many of us dabbling in our own gardens or participating in community supported agriculture.

The soil may be shifting beneath us.

Availability of local foods The availability of local food has become much wider, expanding opportunities my father never had. However, for restaurants to buy local meats, they must be processed by an approved USDA butcher. I understand these facilities may be declining in the North Country, making travel, availability and a possible impact on cost something to be aware of.

Change in Value The growing awareness in wellness, as we’ve discussed the last several months, has a major food component. A 2013 study by the World Food Travel Association and Mandala Research states“…almost a third (30%) deliberately choose destinations based on the availability of activities related to local food and drink…”

A Larger Issue?

National Geographic Magazine is currently running an 8 month series of articles on the “Future of Food.” Yes, you heard that right – 8 months.

In May, their cover story was “The New Food Revolution.”

It was very revealing.

In their lead-off article “A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World” by Jonathan Foley, he begins by stating, “When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to our economy.”

He states that agriculture is “among the greatest contributors to global warming” and one of the “thirstiest” users of our water. This will only be aggravated, he suggests, as our population grows and countries like China and India prosper, growing their appetite for food. “This double whammy of population growth and richer diets,” he writes, “will require us to roughly double the amount of crops we grow by 2050.”


Food for Thought

How we address this has become a “fierce” and “polarized” battle between “conventional agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and organic farms.” He suggests a 5-step process “that could solve the world’s food dilemma.”

These include “freeze agriculture’s footprint.” Here is an interesting tidbit for you: to grow crops, the world has already “cleared an area the size of South America” and raising livestock uses an “area roughly the size of Africa.” “Agriculture’s footprint,” Foley says, “has caused the loss of whole eco-systems.”

His other steps then include increased production on existing farms, a greater effectiveness of resources, an interesting commentary on changing our diets and reducing waste. For example, “up to 50% of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed.”

Who’s Using What?

What is interesting to me is how much we grow things that we don’t eat directly ourselves such as feeding livestock and alternative fuels.

Its small farms in fact that “often deliver more food that actually ends up feeding people.”

Addressing the food dilemma, Foley says, “will require a big shift in thinking.” Just as we all have become accustomed to make more from less, agriculture is not exempt.

The good news, he says, is that we have wherewithal. According to Foley we “need to be more thoughtful about the food we put on our plates” and to “make connections between our food and the farmers who grow it, and between our food and the land, watersheds and climate that sustain us.”

The New Gold?

It seems we are truly becoming an interconnected world and not just one of technology.

My parents went through a depression and lack of food. We should not assume that future generations will not be immune to this possibility raising its ugly head again. Despite all of our technological advancement, or perhaps because of it, the basic necessities of life such as food and water may become the new gold –and potentially the new destructive battlefield of who controls it.

As usual being aware and then taking that knowledge to use our best resource –our ingenuity and our humanity – we can make great strides to solve a potential world crisis.

Natural or Artificial Answers?

I would certainly hope the answers will be more natural production that supports our small farms and not an ingenious synthetic food pill. That possibility may not be all sci-fi.

It’s food for thought – or is that thoughts for real food?


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