The price of food is rising. Inflationary food prices have occurred in more than 60 countries over the past two years, and in many countries, people have taken to the streets to protest.
Extreme weather is taking a huge toll on global food production. A frost hits Mexico. A heat wave in Russia causes wheat fields to burn and the need to stop exports to keep wheat in the country. Floods in Pakistan damaged four million acres of crops. Droughts in Africa are a constant concern for successful agriculture.
But extreme decisions made by humans are also affecting food prices. If your job is a Commodities speculator, it doesn’t matter if you know nothing about the facts-on-the-ground reality of agriculture… when you play with numbers, it can push up the cost of staple foods and this leads to more suffering for the poor who are barely surviving. And when millions of acres of land have been taken out of food production to grow biofuels, the inevitable result is higher prices.
Although food is required by all living beings, humans have for some reason felt themselves as superior to other beings, and to the planet. Wherever we have destroyed native landscapes, it has followed that the lives of those who lived there are also affected. This loss of habitat is the basic reason why the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, the disappearance of bees, has been spreading around the world. As our plants’ pollinators, bees require nature, not intensive monoculture-based farming practices, or sprawling and flowerless lawns in the suburbs. Bio-dynamic beekeepers are saying that just planting flowers in our gardens, yard or in a planter will help provide bees with necessary forage. They suggest that about a square yard of the same type of bloom planted together is best because bees like volume of forage.
Another sobering reason for rising food prices is depletion of our steady sources of water to operate intensive agricultural practices. The largest underground freshwater supply in the world is in North America, called the Ogallala Aquifer. It stretches from South Dakota to Texas, where America’s heartland food production occurs, and is drying up from the tens of thousands of agricultural wells that tap into it. This giant aquifer is not being recharged in any significant way from rainfall or rivers. When the water is gone, the croplands dry up, followed by erosion, and winds blowing away the dry soils. Known as “fossil water”, large aquifers are running dry in parts of India, China and the Middle East. Along with cheap fossil fuels to drive the tractors, this cheap water is what made industrial farming economically feasible, and has kept food prices down.
Without it, Industrial Agriculture as we know it is slowly dying, while poisoning itself with GMOs (any discussion on geo-politics of food must mention them). It looks to me that large corporations have done a hostile takeover of the food supply, and with the world’s people as their market, food items have become globalized. What a tragedy this has been for people who now cannot afford to buy their dietary staple they have relied on for centuries.
An example is Quinoa grown in Bolivia. This superfood has been discovered by health conscious shoppers in wealthy countries, who love its taste and its near-perfect balance of proteins with all 8 amino acids. Global demand for quinoa, combined with the globalization of processed food, has changed Bolivian society. Local farmers might earn more, but there is now chronic malnutrition in quinoa growing areas. A 50 year-old street vendor is quoted: “I adore quinoa, but I can’t afford it anymore. I look at it in the markets and walk away.” The New York Times reported that at a supermarket in Bolivia, a 2 pound bag of quinoa costs about $4.85, compared to the same weight for noodles at $1.20 and white rice at $1. As we enjoy their quinoa, let us pray that Bolivian lawmakers realize they must keep quinoa affordable for their own people.
To avoid such a problem, the logical action to take is to grow food for local consumption. This is the best way to establish sovereignty over our food supply—we grow what we want to grow, using seeds we harvest from year to year, and with humble respect for our natural surroundings. Local Food Sovereignty is an antidote to the unenlightened man-made conditioning that took over our thinking about food with the advent of Industrial Agriculture.
Gardeners amongst us know what foods grow well in our local climate. As food prices rise, we may decide to train our minds to enjoy some of the local foods we more or less ignored as long as we had so much inexpensive choice at the grocery store. Recently, at a friend’s dinner gathering, we were served soup made from Jerusalem Artichokes, which we call “sunroots”, a root vegetable high in potassium and B vitamins, and good for maintaining friendly gut bacteria. Over the years we kept it “for survival purposes”, but had not found the method of preparation that made us want to eat them. So, back to the soup … it was delicious, and a revelation. I have recently replanted our patch, and am becoming more adventurous in adding sunroot to veggie dishes. It is time to dig up last year’s sunroots and replant, making sure they are not too crowded.
Local food comes from the garden, and the wilds: super-green springtime iron tonic of nettles, summertime wild greens and berries. And let’s revive valuable home food production skills for storing food. Making sauerkraut has eluded me all these years, until recently, when I learned how easy it is to put up one canning jar of it at a time.
The concurrent crises occurring in the world now point to more of us facing extraordinary circumstances. The human instinct for survival is so strong that we will eat what there is.
The Japanese are in survival mode. They are grateful for instant noodles. Only a few days after the earthquake and tsunami, an extraordinary letter from a woman in Sendai was circulating via email:
“I find food and water left in my entrance way. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is okay…
“I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group…
“Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow, as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide… I feel as part of something happening that is much larger than myself. This wave of birthing is hard, and yet magnificent.”
Let us remember this inspirational message as the coming food crisis unfolds.
Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 37 years, and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.