3 Myths About Food

Today is Blog Action Day, and the topic is food, in honor of World Food Day. There are only a few hours left, and while it is tempting to call it a day and just post a few links on Facebook, there are a few reoccurring myths in regards to our food system that I want to dispel – once and for all.

MYTH #1: With all the starving people in the world there must not be enough food to go around.

False: It has been estimated that enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn’t even include vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide. The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most “hungry countries” have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

The U.N. World Food Programme offers another way of looking at it: It says the total surplus of the U.S. alone could satisfy “every empty stomach” in Africa.

In the US, it has been reported over the last few years that, 1 in 6 Americans go hungry. Yet, as Jonathan Bloom, points out in his book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), Americans waste 40 percent of the food we grow and raise, when you look at the calories produced versus calories consumed.

Solutions: Bloom has many suggestions, including improvements in harvesting and distribution, re-evaluating restaurant portions, being more mindful of our consumption habits, and educating our children through gardening programs. With the food that is not used, he discusses the importance of returning the nutrients to the soil through composting, and creating the infrastructure to do that, rather than sending the waste to the landfills where its’ decomposition contributes to greenhouse gases.

MYTH(S) #2: Organic food is more expensive than “regular” food and organic farming can’t produce as much as industrial agriculture.

Organic costs more at the check-out yes, but not in terms of the big picture.

Carolyn Steel, describes it perfectly in A New Food Manifesto, published in the Spring 2011 issue of Ode Magazine. She writes, “Cheap food”—the apparent triumph of modern agribusiness—is an oxymoron, an illusion created by externalizing food’s true costs. Once you factor in all the fossil fuel consumption, rainforest destruction, soil erosion, pollution, water depletion, carbon emissions, loss of biodiversity, rural depopulation, animal suffering and obesity that result from cheap food, it doesn’t look quite so cheap. In fact, we pay a very high price.”

Robert Kenner, Director of Food Inc, says on the Sierra Club Radio Podcast, “When I was a kid we spent something like 18% of our paycheck on food. Today we spend something like 9%. But when I was a kid we spent something like 5% of our paycheck on healthcare costs. Today we spent like 18% on healthcare. So in aggregate our costs have gone up. But there is also the environmental cost. Ultimately the system we use to grow our food…is really not sustainable.”

As far as whether organic farming can feed the world, researchers found that in ‘developing’ countries, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms. They also found that under an organic-only regime, farms could produce between 2641 and 4381 calories per person per day com-pared to the current world equivalent of 2786 calories per person per day.

Solutions: Commit to buying organic when possible. Take a look at your budget. Is there an area where you can shift money so that you have a little bit extra for organic dairy or organic fruits and vegetables at the store? Maybe you could try turning your thermostat up or down by a few degrees and saving on your energy costs, drink tap water rather than buying bottled water, or make your own coffee in the morning? Can you cut out red-meat or meat all together from one meal a week, or one day a week, or more?

MYTH #3: Buying local is a fad.

While farmer’s markets are a cool place to be, this is not a trend that is likely to disappear, and if anything, movements like Occupy Wall Street should be behind supporting local farms over agribusiness, now more than ever.

Woody Tasch, Founder of the Slow Money Alliance, which aims to get a million Americans to invest 1 percent of their assets in local food systems in the next decade, writes, “This is not just about a libertarian impulse to take our food supply back from corporations that seem eager to fill our food with GMOs and to empty our Main Streets of small food enterprises. This is about rolling up our sleeves and doing something that at first seems inconsequential and risky, but soon seems rewarding and impactful — and about as conservative as conservative can get. I’m talking about investing with your friends and neighbors in small organic farms, grain mills, creameries, small slaughterhouses, seed companies, compost companies, restaurants that source locally, butchers and bakers and, sure, a bee’s-wax candlemaker or two. Take 1 percent of your money out of the stock market and put it into food hubs, community kitchens, community markets, school gardens, niche organic brands, makers of sustainable agricultural inputs, and more. Protest is good. Protest is necessary. But even more necessary is a new way of investing that reflects the structural problems of the economy and the realities of the 21st century. Let’s fix our economy and our culture from the ground up — starting with food.”

Solutions: Visit Local Harvest to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Also go to Slow Money to learn more about the principles of slow money and how you can get involved in bringing money back down to earth, and creating a new economy.

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