As thinking and feeling beings, it has become difficult to look at the world that humans have created and not feel very sad. Why were so many born to suffer? Why have humans been so careless and cavalier with the planet that sustains us?
Each day we wake up and persevere with our lives. First things first, we need water and food. Here we just turn on a faucet for our water, and choose from a banquet of food in our fridges and cupboards. It is hard for us pampered Westerners to appreciate what it is like to walk miles to collect water or to dig tubers, or to have our lives dependent on success at hunting wild animals. In our culture, almost no one grows their own food (not even farmers); instead, we work for money to buy food.
If we have taken this “store” food for granted most of our lives, we are now waking up to the reality that food grows on land, it requires water and often other inputs, most notably oil and natural gas, and someone does the work. Agriculture has taken its rightful place as everyone’s business.
As we understand the workings of modern industrial agriculture, a major question arises: Will the price of oil continue to rise, as has been forewarned? If it does, and since conventional agriculture relies so heavily on fossil fuels to operate machinery and for transport, would this not lead to higher prices for our staple foods?
Am I being a pessimist, or a realist, when I see how vulnerable our food system is? It is stunning to me that modern agriculture plays Russian roulette with our food supply in so many ways. For example, standard procedure is to “monocrop”. This is where a farm grows the same crop year after year, with no rotation which leaves the crop susceptible to being wiped out by just one disease. And if I tend to rant about GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods, it’s because every aspect of it is absolutely absurd, from the farmers who must buy fertilizer and seed from the oligopoly of transnational corporations, to the depletion of the soil because of the application of so many chemicals, to the idea that according to the GMO corporate propaganda, more food is produced using GMOs. Why? Because the seed kills insects that feed on it. How bizarre then that we humans are expected to be happy to eat this food! Moreover, there is mounting evidence that industrial food does not feed the masses, for it is documented that GMO plantings actually have smaller yields than smaller mixed farms.
While it is impossible to overstate the potential negative effects of genetic engineering on our food supply, the eternal wild card of food production is the weather. Perhaps what farmers fear the most are unpredictable weather patterns, which unfortunately are increasing because of climate change. Imagine how helpless a farmer might feel as he watches his crops die because there is not enough sun, rain, or his fields were hit by a freak hail storm! Besides irreversible damage to crops, such storms also can wreck infrastructure such as irrigation systems and greenhouses.
We should all be thanking the farmers for our food every time we eat!
For whatever reasons, when the food supply decreases, the old law of supply and demand will kick in… and prices will go up. Rising food prices are already the cause of riots in many countries, but in North America we still think we are far removed from such a scenario… but who knows what the future holds for us? A natural disaster could not only wipe out crops, but could also lead to a run on stores that could empty shelves very quickly.
Nevertheless, some social value can arise during times of transformation. The eternal optimist in me entertains the notion that fewer staple foods might logically result in the end of processed and junk foods, for we would collectively demand unadulterated whole foods. This would equalize us socially with the peasants of the world, who always eat simply. The good old-fashioned virtue of thrift would return to the masses since we would be much more careful not to waste anything. And fewer food choices would likely end the rich country phenomenon of the picky eater… if hungry enough, they will eat what there is.
Another potential realization could occur: that we may have been eating much more than our bodies need. People would learn to eat less… and be grateful… for what there is. We might even eat more slowly, savouring what there is.
As part of our reality check, how tuned in are we to survival foods? Not granola bars in a backpack, as in an immediate emergency. But rather actual preparations for potential decreases in our food supply. Acquire some dried beans, which keep for years, and store them in a dark, preferably cool place. Whatever there is an abundance of now we can preserve, through drying, canning, fermenting, freezing and smoking. Reality tells us it is prudent to “put food by” for emergencies or lean times.
It’s also well-advised to cultivate an appreciation for local foods. Because kale grows so happily in our climate, start to add small bits to a veggie dish or soup. It is a good source of calcium and you may notice it tastes fine – and watch eagerly for the right time to collect the seed for future plantings. We might even get over that beets “taste like dirt” if we need the iron. Squash keeps for months and besides being nutritious, can be very filling and often quite delicious. Root veggies are nutritious and store well over the winter. And let’s remember to notice where the wild greens and berries grow.
And what about our use of cooking oil? Where will it come from? My partner and I use olive oil, but will it become too costly to use because of rising fuel prices? We have already started to use less oil; instead of cooking a stir-fry, we call it a “steam-stir”, which basically means cooking the veggies in water and adding a small bit of oil for flavour near the end of cooking as the last of the water evaporates. The food still tastes just as good, while using much less cooking oil and eliminating the free radicals from frying.
Each of us will have to deal with what our circumstances dictate. Fortunately, we are an adaptable species. We might find we are healthier if we eat less. Meat-eaters may become vegetarian; or vegetarians may choose to eat some local deer, rabbit, or even rats…who really knows? Necessity will be our teacher; survival is an instinct.
If we are forced to live through our own Survivor reality, we will be tested not only on the physical level, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. As we learn to surrender to leaner times, we will have choices: to compete with each other for a bigger slice of the shrinking pie, or learn how to share what there is. Cooperation can make the pie bigger, while fighting over it may destroy it – and us – altogether.
Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 35 years and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.