Saturday, November 10, 2012

Food Security Part One

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market, due to college work load, and the extra time needed to pull information for this post it was significantly delayed. Due to length the post was broken into two parts with the second half to be posted this weekend. The topic is a bit more serious then is generally covered, as I am posting about food security. The first half is an introduction to it and the second half is about the things you personally can do to achieve some measure of food security on a local level. As they say with politics, all politics are local politics and thus in the case of food security it all centers on the local regions. Before we get to the discussion of food security I have a few pictures from the feild you might like.

This is the dark color that 'Red Giant' Mustard turns when exposed to regular cold temperatures.

This mustard plant displays the other end of the coloration spectrum, where the new leaves take on the deep red color on the margins. Also, some leaves will display characteristic marbled color as the leaf in the lower center.

Black pearl peppers are quite striking with their black-marble shaped fruit and dark foliage which is quite striking against the light foliage of another plant such as artemesia.

When ornamental peppers finally turn red from whatever color they used to be, the seeds generally are ripe, but you want to pick the peppers for harvesting seed once the peppers have started to dry and are crinkled.

A large cotton plant can be quite showy even without the visible presence of cotton bolls.

The calyx of a cotton plant's flower before the flower even opens.

I see these large green garden spiders all the time in North Carolina, this one was protecting it's brood between the branches of a Lantana plant.
I included because it's cool looking, I found it scrambling amongst mulch as I planted pansies in a front yard this week. Not a clue what it is but body shape and size suggests a flightless wasp of some sort. It was about two inches long which makes it a bit big for an ant and the wrong body type and color to be any sort of termite.

While considering the issues we face today I would say that food security is likely one of our biggest weaknesses. The issue is corporate agriculture where absolute profit is the driving motivation, instead of good land stewardship with profit as a secondary motive. It is rare outside of certain limited magazine publications that this topic is ever discussed in any detail and rarer still to have the topic handled by anyone who is an actual expert on the topic with supporting credentials. The lack of discussion leaves one to try and piece the data together themselves, which can lead to confusion on the topic. I think we can all remember how in the 1990's not everyone was entirely sure what the word 'organic' was precisely supposed to mean.

The term 'Food Security' can be referred to in several differing definitions. According to the World Health Organization it has three aspects, food availability, food access and food use. The former of the three is simply having sufficient quantities of food on a consistent basis. The second of the three, food access is having the resources (economic and physical) to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. The latter of the three parts is is the correct use of food based upon information of basic nutrition and care as well as access to clean water and sanitation facilities.  The Food and Agriculture Organization goes as far as to add a fourth part to the three parts proposed by the WHO. The fourth part to food security is Food Stability which refers to the other three parts but over a time rather then immediately.

For the purposes of this post I'm more or less referring to the fourth definition with an addition; that is, part of our problem is that currently the United States is a monoculture sort of producer. That is we produce a whole lot of a few things that are massed in one place and in doing so attract greater problems such as pests and weeds with chemical resistance. But at the same time due to agribusiness's business model we have chemical runoff into waterways and polluted soils not to mention what gets back to the consumer on and inside the produce. Consider that the average head of lettuce from a major producer may travel hundreds of miles to get to a warehouse before it gets to the market, where you can buy it. Since this is the case you must consider then that all it takes to cripple the system is a critical failing of infrastructure, major natural storm (hurricane sandy, Katrina and Andrew), some major fuel shortage or worse a new strain of disease or pest to cripple the food supply system. Also it is important to note that someone with sufficient ambition and malicious intent could conceivably damage the digital system that keeps our transportation system running.

We simply do not talk about food security enough these days, especially in the light of the limits of our own food system in the USA. For instance did you know that there are roughly 7,000 food plants that are safe for human consumption and of those only about 140 are grown in any real quantity? Out of those 140 we expressly rely on only 12, but in America the top five agricultural products aren't what you would think. As for America's top five products are Corn, Cattle (beef), Cow's Milk, Chicken Meat, and Soybeans in that order. With the aforementioned facts* in mind, one has to ask, we rely on 12 food crops, the agricultural plant products in the USA that are produced the most are corn, soy and wheat all of which have been extensively genetically modified and may have lingering health effects on the population. Not to mention these 'super crops' also require more chemical intervention to get a successful product and they are implicated in disrupting local biodiversity. With all that said perhaps there is in fact a fifth facet to food security, ‘Product Integrity’. Knowing what you are to eat and having accurate information to make the choices that benefit your own health in the way you wish it to.

To summarize, Food security isn't a national thing, it is a world wide thing, but we America seem to want to ignore it. It is almost as if we as a people are afraid of having to do things differently much less to have the conversation. Ironically fuel security is talked to death, as is national security, however if you have a nation of starving people those other two stop being relevant.

*All numerical information in this post was pulled from three sources, The World Health Organization, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s respective web sites.

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