4.13.2008

crisis of food, crisis of heart

People are starving all over the world.

People who already live on a knife's edge of hunger and need are being pushed further into hopelessness.

This is scrambling my mind and weighing on my heart. I seldom say this about anything, but the global food crisis feels so huge and so hopeless to me.

* * * *

As societies collapse, the people clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder will always feel the effects first, and the people on the top will be sheltered the longest. At the very top, consumption - and superconsumption - blithely continues. The tide rises, the people on the bottom drown, and people further up the scale begin to feel the effects.

We see this all around us, as formerly middle class Americans huddle in tent cities, as people riot for food, as rice is delivered in armoured vehicles.

For those of us who already view the global situation as a series of resource wars, this development fits squarely into the picture. The very scary picture.

If the spectre of people starving all over the world doesn't move us, perhaps the spectre of riots, terrorism and massacres will.

Canada is home to much of the world's fresh water and large reserves of oil. How will that figure in?

We know that one major factor contributing to this global crisis is biofuels. We knew it was obscene to grow food for cars, instead of people, but the people with cars can pay, and the people who need food cannot, and profit drives the world.

* * * *

This morning I was crunching some numbers, figuring out how to pay some bills while we save for our vacation. I'm researching where to buy pasture-raised meat. We are planning our party, and filling up our gas tank, and watching baseball on cable TV. And people all over the world are sinking into desperation because the price of a bag of rice is more than their monthly income. It's obscene.

I feel helpless. Please tell me I'm not. Please tell me, what can we do?

9 comments:

James said...

We knew it was obscene to grow food for cars, instead of people, but the people with cars can pay, and the people who need food cannot, and profit drives the world.

One of the big frustrations with this is that there are forms of biofuels that don't take away from food production. Cellulosic biofuel is made from agricultural waste, but there's no R&D money for it because the corn lobby's convinced Washington that corn's the way to go. Likewise with soy biofuel, which has a much better fuel output / energy input ratio than corn. The soy is made of soy bean oil, but the soy bean protein can still be used for food: you can grow both the fuel source and the food source in the same plants.

I spotted this place while out running errands today: The Healthy Butcher.

L-girl said...

"but there's no R&D money for it because the corn lobby's convinced Washington that corn's the way to go."

Corn owns Washington, it's true.

You're right that it's probably too reductionist to simply equate biofuels with the food crisis. It's more the way the biofuels industry is being run. But that's the reality of it.

Thanks for the Healthy Butcher link! I will post my farm/meat research soon.

L-girl said...

CORN should be used for food, not motor fuel, and yet the United States is committed to a policy that encourages farmers to turn an increasing amount of their crop into ethanol. This may save the nation a bit of the cost of imported oil, but it increases global-warming gases and contributes to higher food prices.

Candidates for president need to tell Americans the truth about ethanol, but they are falling over themselves in pursuit of the farm belt vote. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want more ethanol factories built than even President Bush envisaged when he called for 15 percent of US gasoline consumption to be replaced by alternative fuels by 2017. John McCain, who correctly called the ethanol push a boondoggle in 2000, now says that it is "a very important way to achieve energy independence."


From Can't Eat Ethanol in the Boston Globe.

Tim Webster said...

Food crisis is not only driven, not only by reckless biofuels, which are often net consumers rather than producers of energy. But also by wanted destruction of productive farm land.


The suburbs of today are designed and build for cars and not people.
Suburbs are a land usage and pollution disaster, simply because social cost and benefits of land usage are not taken into consideration. The US sub prime crises is in reality also a housing crises which can be best solved by redevelopment, not new development. Developing of new land well discarding existing developed land simply results in either the old development or the isolate new development being in practical
terms discarded and worthless.

Suburbs are gobbling up the best farm land, because the social cost of losing this farm land forever is simply not reflected in the land
price. To reflect this cost a land usage transitioning tax needs to be
charged when ever land is transformed from natural wilderness or farm usage to urban or industrial usage. The land usage transition tax should be 8 times the selling price for farm or forestry usage. Also land in its natural green state, whether it is forests, farmland or parks within a city needs to be taxed a much low rate to reflects its social benefit.

Property value taxes do not accurately reflect the social value of land. High value land enjoying access to social transit services are under valued. As a result people sit on this land preventing
redevelopment. This prevents redevelopment of this high value land, insuring continued low property values and denying cost effective higher density redevelopment. Many more people would have an opportunity to enjoy access to transit if this was not the case. Land near transit should be taxed based on the access to transit it provides. This land near transit should taxed at the same rate regardless whether it is 30 story high rise condo, or a parking lot. Height restrictions near transit are senseless. Green space
regulations however do make sense.

History is about to repeat is itself.

Much of the hardship suffered in the great depression was the result
of incredibly destructive land practices we would not even dream of today.
http://www.cyberspaceag.com/visitafarm/southwestkansasfarming.htm
One of the farming practices of that time was to burn the stubble -
the plant stalks left after harvesting. At this time, all fields were planted back to a crop and burning made it easier to plant. But, burning destroyed the organic matter that would help the soil. One of the favorite farm implements of the time was called a "one-way". This implement would turn the stubble under, saving the organic matter, but it left the soil exposed to the hot sun and dry winds.

To Quote the author.
We here in Southwest Kansas have learned to live with "Mother Nature" rather than fighting her!

James said...

the United States is committed to a policy that encourages farmers to turn an increasing amount of their crop into ethanol.

US policies on food and farming are very problematic. I saw a great chart called "Why Does A Salad Cost More Than A Big Mac?" comparing the "food pyramid" to the "subsidy pyramid" -- meat forms a rather small part of the food pyramid recommended diet, but is by far the most subsidized food industry.

The best diet advice I've heard recently comes from a book, I think it's called In Defense of Food (I haven't read it, I've just heard the author interviewed):

Eat food
Not too much
Mostly plants


(By "food", he means minimally processed food. I.e. if they have to spell "fruit" as "froot" to avoid lawsuits, don't eat it!)

James said...

NPR's Science Friday had a segment on biofuels this past Friday which covers three non-food methods of creating biofuels: GM corn that has an added enzyme which breaks down leaves and stalks into sugars to turn into ethanol without affecting the kernels, catalyzation of agricultural waste into gasoline, and extracting hydrogen from biowaste.

This episode has another segment on using charcoal as a superior fertilizer, one which keeps soils rich instead of depleting them.

L-girl said...

In Defense of Food is Michael Pollan's current book. He's the same author of The Omnivore's Dilemma that I blogged about extensively, the man who sent me searching for pasture-raised beef.

James said...

NPR's Science Friday has interviewed Pollan about In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma

L-girl said...

Pollan's books are getting an enormous amout of publicity. It's an encouraging sign that people are so interested in his ideas.