The Challenge of Food

22 Apr 2012

Among the many things to be worried about today is the challenge of feeding ourselves. From the Bible to Malthus and everywhere in the animal kingdom, the threat of famine and the fear of hunger are relentless.

The extreme nature of our times is manifest everywhere - our arguments are intense, our athletes are record-breaking. The boldest among us travel to places like the summit of Mt. Everest and the bottom of the ocean. The rich are RICH and the poor are POOR. One of the most extreme changes, relative to it’s impact on everybody, is the way we grow food. The last 30 years have seen farms transform from family businesses where the animals and plants had not changed in hundreds of years, into factories where antibiotics and extreme genetic engineering blend into a toxic blight of unsustainable monoculture.

The effects are felt everywhere now - from “dead zones” in the ocean to pollution in the environment and tremendous “superbugs” resistant to all known antibiotics becoming present in our health care system. Our food has chemical residues in it, and many of our crops require fossil-fuel-based fertilizer to grow. The insects that plague our plants and animals are stronger then before because they have years of the same crops on the same fields to mutate and specialize. Globalization means that invasive species can ruin whole swaths of arable land or transform the local food chain, in an instant. The chickens grow in half the time. The cows make much more milk. The list goes on.

Food is so basic that problems in the supply of food are often truly systemic. Religions have formed around the festivals of harvest and planting. Many prayers have been prayed for the rain to come (or stop). It is easy to forget just how important it is, because McDonalds never runs out of fries in the USA of 2012. But once it happens it will not be fun. People are just doing what they have to do to survive, from the companies at the top of the food chain (Cargill, ADM and Monsanto, etc), to the family farmers that sell to them and the illegal immigrants who do the work; even the politicians whose food-lobby-written bills have created the problems. But it is now time that we stop the madness.

Please do not get me wrong, I know that the severity of the situation has not gone un-noticed. From survivalist “preppers” who anticipate the collapse of industrial food production, to organic farmers on communal farms doing honest work towards a better world, and local-arugula-elitist-hipsters in Brooklyn, we have all noticed in our own way. But we are not dealing with the situation seriously.

We need to start planning for a future in which we cannot rely on pesticides and antibiotics and fossil-fuels. We have a whole host of possible solutions, and we will need help from everybody. It is now unacceptable to pretend that solar energy for robotic hydroponic greenhouses is competing with organic farmers using back-to-basics knowledge and lots of hard labor. We can’t let Monsanto buy the companies that highlight the horrors of pesticides like this. Maybe we can grow meat in the lab (really). There are lots of reasons to be hopeful. But it seems foolish to believe that we don’t need radical changes from the status quo.

Come on. We can do better then this.