07.02.08

Food Fiascoes

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development at 11:09 am by justakim

This little blurb from the Economist suggests that increasing organic farming will be detrimental to the poor because organic farming is more expensive, less productive, and uses more land. Combine that with sensationalist titles such as “Some 1.5 bln people may starve due to land erosion” and you have a disaster in the making, right?

That’s a very simplistic view of the situation.

One would think that by definition, intensive agricultural production would be more detrimental to the land than less-intensive practices. Perhaps you may have lower yield, or require more work to harvest, but in the long run it is better to preserve the land being used. Add to this the costs of seeds and rising cost of fertilizer (which is tied to the energy market, and monocultural practices that necessitate shipping food around while strangling local farmers, and one must wonder how the poor can afford to live with conventional industrial agriculture.

Distribution prices are going up. And who knows about distribution better than Wal-Mart? Over the last two years, Wal-Mart has been sourcing more produce locally. Not only are they in on the game, they’ve been anticipating it. The forward-thinking is brilliant and profitable.

Wal-Mart said that in the United States, produce travels an average 1,500 miles from farms to consumers’ homes, and it should be able to save millions of “food miles” — the distance food travels from farm to plate — through local sourcing, better packing of its trucks and improved logistics.

In an example, Wal-Mart said that by sourcing peaches in 18 states instead of just two, as it did before, it saves 672,000 food miles and 112,000 gallons of diesel fuel — or more than $1.4 million dollars in transportation costs per season.

Meanwhile, our available fish stocks are changing due to climate change and overfishing. Lobster, crab, and squid are increasing while bottom fish are decreasing. Bad news for some perhaps, but that just means more squid for me!

But Nils Stolpe, communications manager for the Garden State Seafood Association in New Jersey, argues that people’s seafood diets change for reasons apart from availability.

“The reason we’re getting more calamari is because we’re getting more sophisticated as seafood eaters,” he said.

“Ten, fifteen years ago nobody ate salmon, because we weren’t in tune with eating salmon. Now everyone’s growing it, and we’re a lot more familiar with it.”

…say what? All my Northwest brethren understand the inferiority of farmed Atlantic salmon. Where was this guy ten years ago, in a shack? Everyone growing salmon would indicate it has to do with availability. Whatever. It doesn’t matter to me if people eat squid because it’s the popular food, the price, or because they are inspired to diversity. Squid is good. Lobster is good. Crab is real good. Changes are not so good, but tasty.

Onto more bad food news… I picked up some ice cream. I accidentally picked up the wrong kind (cinnamon dulce de leche != chocolate) and in my disappointment, I was pondering the Haagen-Dazs lid and discover they are out to save the bees. They are donating funding to reserach into the mysterious disappearance of the bees.

In case you’ve missed their disapperaance,

Bustling colonies, tens of thousands strong, were emptying in a matter of days. Systematic searches for dead bees around the colonies mostly drew a blank… “Imagine waking one morning to find 80 per cent of the people in your community are just gone,” says May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

There is no shortage of potential culprits; European honeybees make up the vast majority of commercial stocks in the US and they are susceptible to myriad viral and fungal blights and two forms of parasitic mites, one of which wiped out about half of the American honeybee population in the 1980s. Yet, in this instance, the precise cause of the sudden decline, dubbed “colony collapse disorder”, remains elusive. The pattern of disappearance offers few clues, since CCD appears to be widespread and plagues non-migrating colonies as well as those that are moved from place to place to pollinate crops.

Diversity loss could be catching up to us as well. A larger diversity in pollinators leads to more successful pollination. Researchers found that diversity in time of day, and pollination height of pollnators leads to more effective pollination. Different pollinators come by at different times of day, and prefer a different height off the ground to pollinate, so they hit a certain band. Similar groups share similar body types. Some plants specialize and work with a specific pollinator and their success is linked with that one species. Others attract a diversity and benefit from diversity.

The aforementioned European honeybees have threatened many native bee species in the US, including (probably especially) kinds that don’t sting. Great choice, folks.

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