Every week in the news, we hear debilitating and depressing figures about the decline of our planet and food systems. The oceans are running out of fish, desertification is occurring at a rate 30-35 times faster than we’ve ever seen before, and air pollution has gotten so bad that even Paris has decided to ban driving cars on certain days each week. And then there’s this statistic for a kicker: it’s estimated that some six million children in the world will die from starvation this year, and over a billion people in the world are suffering from malnourishment and hunger. Absolutely heartbreaking.
It’s not exactly a hopeful vision being presented to us. What’s important, however, is instead of becoming frozen by the immensity of it all, we need to accept what is true as it stands and then continue to make choices that can alter the trajectory in a meaningful way.
Let’s start with the facts: is it at all realistic to think we can we force all the multinational corporations to leave off their oil addiction, or sanction the companies clear cutting forests for roads and pipelines, or shopping malls? Looks pretty slim. But, if we come to realize the main driving force behind these operations is money and profit, we begin to see that we have powerful choices to make when it comes to where we put this particular energy to work. Albert Einstein famously said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. We all know that something about mindset and our behavior needs to change in a huge way, so one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is: what does the future of food look like in an era of global depletion?
We know by now that global warming isn’t really about the toilet paper you choose or the light bulbs in your house, and it’s not about banning plastic bags in grocery stores when every food in the interior aisles remains encased in packaging. What it is really about is how we digest resources on this planet: land, fuel, and water – and importantly – how these choices are dictated by what we choose to eat.
But here’s a little perspective: In 1948, in an article on “the world population crisis”, Albert Brandt and James Payne told the readers of the American Mercury that “even allowing for spectacular advances in agriculture and industry, the earth simply could not support 4.4 billion people in the year 2048. There would be the constant threat of famine, pandemic disease and unthinkably vicious wars for survival”. So maybe there’s hope for us yet.
Here are 5 trends to embrace or support however you can:
1. More Plants, Less Meat
While plant based diets are becoming more and more common, and are certainly a valid choice for many, we also want to stay true to our values here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating when it comes to our understanding and support of bio-individuality. However, one thing we all can agree is how the unnecessary cruelty and damage inherent in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) should be taken into account and confronted. CAFO raised livestock is the basis for all conventional meat, dairy and egg production in this country, and it’s playing a huge role in air and water table pollution, not to mention how much waste is involved, and all in the name of “cheap”. If you haven’t researched this yet, it would be a very good idea to do so. Granted, any version of industrial agriculture poses the same problem.
For example, while we often hear that 70% of the grain we produce in this country goes to feed animals in these CAFO systems (and we begin to understand the degradation of soil, biodiversity, and clear cutting that goes hand in hand with this), simply choosing to alter the destination of this grain does not solve the issue. And here’s the reason why: the argument that these grains can be better served when fed to humanity does not solve the problems that mono-cropped agriculture produces on the land base. It’s still damaging to grow grain (or soy) in this way no matter if humans eat it or animals do. It does not matter if you subscribe to a paleo outlook or a vegan one. If you’re relying on the conventional options, or you’re unwilling to consider how your diet can (or cannot) scale across the globe, then you’re still part of the problem. This is not meant to be a simplistic solution or discussion. Hardly the case. We do invite everyone to research the realities of industrial agriculture and choose for themselves the diet that speaks to their heart, mind, and body wisdom.
When we suggest eating more plants, we are encouraging everyone to readopt (or discover for the first time) a love for horticulture, for fruits and vegetables in their abundance. More than 2,000 plant species have been domesticated for food, yet nearly of all half our food calories come from: wheat, rice, and corn. So what do we do about the thousands of overlooked plant species — and perhaps some diversity of animals? This means it’s time to branch out and begin eating more variety, and perhaps think of meat as a condiment, as many cultures do throughout the year, instead of the nightly centerpiece.
2. Get Educated
Charles Eisenstein, author of The Yoga of Eating, presents studies that organic growing methods can deliver two to three times the yield of conventional methods when done properly. This goes toward debunking a pervasive myth that the only way to feed the world is with industrial level agriculture. The very reason that these industrial methods were brought in, we were told, was to fight issues of world hunger. But their effects on the land base and soil, not to mention the food quality, are actually perpetuating and recreating the very same outcome that led to their need in the first place: land degradation, erosion of soil, and contaminated water resources are no joke. We’re creating deserts all over the world (Mexico, China, Australia, Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US, Canada and many others).
Standard farming practices dictate that we till the soil, but this actually upsets the delicate bio-organisms that live and flourish there in optimal food systems. This results in the die-off or these organisms and it’s this result that our current agricultural technology actually depends on. We get our “soil fertility” from their dead bodies vs. their living ones. This is why the Nile River valley and the Sudanese deserts exist. This is why Iraq is perceived as a wasteland, this is why within 150 years of America’s inception we experienced the Dust Bowl. This is also why we’re told we require petroleum-based nitrogen fertilizers that we subject our soils to, and it’s one of the reasons we’re wasting through our topsoil at an astounding rate. When we consider this reality, and begin to study more about the history of food production on this planet, we begin to see that just we don’t know Jack about dirt.
However, there is a hidden truth at work here when we understand the difference between using living systems vs dead systems to grow our food: we can actually create an inch or two of topsoil every year. It does not require over a 1000 years per inch as is often mythologized. In fact, the record is 4-6 inches of new vital topsoil in a single year! Want to learn more about the possibilities? Check out the work of the Savory Institute and the Permaculture Research Institute and their familiars, and start to educate yourself about soil production, holisitic land management, and ways to make deserts arable. There are lots of exciting and hopeful options out there.
3. Grow something
We used to be a country of farmers. If we could simply return to a healthier percentage of participation, where 10% of population engaged in agriculture or horticulture (instead of the current 1-2%) we would most likely find it a much easier prospect to feed each other without petrochemicals or pesticides. Even small steps, like planting fruit trees in your city or neighborhood, growing tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, or other seasonal crops that you are willing to share (in your backyard, porch, or community garden plots) can do wonders to increase the pleasure we experience around food while helping to create community.
4. Community Supported Agriculture
Now this isn’t about signing up for a local basket of food to be delivered to your house each week – although this is a great start – but truly supporting the community. Get involved with how your community eats, set up donations to help those who would ordinarily be deprived of fresh foods due to their economic limitations. Get to know your farmers, ranchers and local producers. Create food shares, or meat shares with friends and neighbors, so that everyone can eat truly nourishing foods. It also allows us to eat seasonally, which is incredibly beneficial to the body for many reasons, including allergies, taste, and nutritive values. Some of the biggest work to be done is about changing the culture itself, and when it comes to food, decentralization and self-sufficiency is essential. It’s also very empowering.
5. Waste Not Want Not
Nearly ten years ago, Frances Moore Lappé (made famous for her “Diet for a Small Planet” books) wrote in an article for Food First that, “the world today produces enough grain alone to provide every human being on the planet with 3,500 calories a day” or “4.3 pounds of food per person a day. That includes two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs”. So the reality of food scarcity, while a true issue in particular areas of the world for certain, is also a question of distribution. In large part, the issue is potentially solvable if we just rethink how we’re willing to feed each other. Which leads us to the next ugly truth. Perhaps you’re wondering where all this food is currently going? Did you know that in February 2014 the USDA released the fact that, in the US, 31% (133 Billion pounds) went uneaten? Or that each year on average, this amount is closer to about 40% ? It’s just tossed out, or left to rot. That’s a fairly large waste of resources, not to mention that food in landfills actually increases methane gas, and contributes to global warming. Just think of all that freshwater and land, all that fertilizer and energy — all for nothing. Additionally, here in the US about $1 billion gets spent just to dispose of our food waste.
Many of us growing up were instructed to clean our plates before we could leave the dinner table. While the method may have been lacking some decorum and understanding, and even proved detrimental to some of our later food habits, the fear of waste was certainly warranted.
When you step back to take it all in — yes, it can feel absolutely overwhelming. Maybe we just need to see these statistics as an invitation to become aware of our “foodprint,” as it were, but it’s also heartwarming to know that it’s still not too late. There are still ways to regenerate our relationship with the planet and our relationship with food. So what are you waiting for?
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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