Food Diversity

There’s an interesting thing about working in the environmental field – you’re really forced to look at environmental data seriously, and evaluate your own lifestyle. I already do some of the things that Al Gore recommends, such as driving a hybrid vehicle (and working at home so I don’t drive much), using long-lasting fluorescent lights, landscaping my yard so it doesn’t use much water, etc. But clearly, there is more I can do on the carbon budget – so I plan to go look that up, calculate what I use, and see if I can’t work on reducing it.

But the issue of food is one that frequently comes up, and which I’ve been thinking about more lately. We live in what is possibly the most interesting time in history for food diversity, and I LOVE food. Love eating it, love cooking it, almost as much as, well… you know ;)

Next time you go into a grocery store, really look around and think about what you see. At the Central Market near where I used to live, I could buy emu meat from Australia (excellent and very healthy), fresh seafood from Japan, Korean kimchi, African spices mixes, Indian curries, berries in winter from South America, and organic just about everything. This store didn’t bother with an organic section – organic food was everywhere. You could fill up your cart with it. And this is a basic chain grocery store in the Seattle area.

We have access to so much incredible food now, due to global distribution and niche marketing. Probably more than anytime in history – but enjoy it while you can, because the future looks grim. By the time I’m really old (and the women in my family live to be 90-100), I am fairly certain much of this food will be a distant memory.

In my copy of Science today were two articles illustrating what I’m talking about. One was the study of global fisheries that you’ve probably already read about. Still, it’s worth repeating – 91% of global species in coastal areas have declined to less than half of their former abundance, 38% (including fisheries) have collapsed to less than 10% of their former abundance, and 7% have gone extinct in the last 100 years. The decline and collapse of global fisheries is increasing at an alarming rate, with fishermen putting out greater effort and getting less catch. At the current rate of decline, it is projected that ALL global fisheries will have collapsed by 2048. ALL. Just what are people going to eat??? That’s only 40 years from now!

This is not the first report like this by reputable scientists. You may recall a similar sounding of the alarm by NOAA a few years back. But do you think this is affecting people’s behavior? Of course not. At a recent convention of fishing nations, most pushed to eliminate the use of bottom trawling on the high seas, because it destroys the bottom habitat along with catching the fish. Several prominent fishing nations (e.g., Japan) opposed it, and treaties on the high seas require unanimous agreement. Japan is a wealthy nation that depends on fisheries to feed its people. I can’t help but wonder what they think they’re gaining.

The other was a review of a new book called Six Arguments for a Greener Diet. This book pretty much overwhelms the reader with data supporting why one shouldn’t eat meat, the reasons being 1) health benefits, 2) reducing foodborne illness, 3-5) improving the quality of soil, water, and air, and 6) reducing animal suffering. Now these arguments are nothing new, and worthy of consideration. But one really stuck in my mind – it takes 20-30,000 gallons of water to create just 1 pound of beef.

Think about that for a minute… Let’s say we’re having a back-yard barbecue for our friends, and serving up hamburgers. Maybe we buy 4 lbs of ground beef for our summer party. That’s an incredible 100,000 gallons of water!!! Imagine if we got a bill for all that water use from our local water company – it would cost a fortune. Certainly we would change our ways to avoid paying that much. But since we never pay for this water usage, we don’t think about it. Now you might be tempted to say that you’re paying for it in the price of beef. To which I say, nuh-uh. Compare the price of a pound of beef to the price of 25,000 gallons of water if you had to buy it from your water company, and you’ll see right away that the beef farmer is getting that water essentially for free – through water rights to his local river or groundwater. Water rights that are in increasingly short supply…

And that’s just one impact of eating beef. I won’t go into any more – you get the picture. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, and I do love food. But increasingly I’m thinking, we need to eat at the bottom of the food chain to avoid a lot of these types of impacts. If you want to eat meat, eat a shrimp, not a cow (you couldn’t possibly conserve enough water to make up for eating any amount of beef). If you want to eat a fruit or vegetable, eat one grown close to home, not one that has to fly in an airplane to reach you (LOTS of carbon emissions there) – even if that blackberry from Nicaragua is organic. If you want to eat a fish, learn something about where it comes from and whether the fishery is sustainable. All of this will go a long way toward ensuring that there is still some diversity left for us to enjoy in our 80s, much less for future generations and populations who have limited food supply choices.

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3 thoughts on “Food Diversity

  1. freesparrow says:

    Living in a country which hs extremes of weather and is currently in the worst drought in recorded history, I am beginning to see the impact of environment on food. A cyclone in Queensland earlier this year completely destroyed the national banana crop and bananas went from $2 – $3 a kilo to $16 per kilo – out of the reach of many people.

    As children we were never without fresh food but it was quite plain in retrospect. Immigration and greater food consciousness brought much diversity to our tables and it shocks me to read your comments that some of the food we take for granted will be less available.

    But then, I am middle class and privileged. In the area where I work many people are on low incomes, without much transport, and live in what the sociologists call “food deserts”. They are unable to get to shops and markets which sell fresh food. Yet there are often nearby fast food outlets like McDonalds.

    We are encouraging the development of community gardens (vegetable) and farmer’s markets with aided transport to begin to deal with issues like this. Of course, you can’t have a community garden without water and that is also a major problem here.

    Water is a scarce resource now although not so in Seattle!

  2. Coppermoon says:

    Bravo! I’d like to send you on the road to talk to the public!

  3. I AM talking to the public
    ~points at her e-pulpit

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