I watched the first episode of Future of Food on BBC yesterday. It made me think really hard. We are facing a problem here. Food security for the future. Not only the quantity of food, but the quality and kind of food. It is the choices we make today that will ensure this security for the future. The trends of today that pose this threat, as covered in the programme were:
1) Water Footprint: When a lettuce is grown in Punjab and imported in the UK, they not only import virtual water, they export drought. That’s a scary proposition. At first my mathematical reasoning prompted me to think that we were counting the same thing twice. But then, I figured. An irresponsible action with double the negative impact can cause a lot more damage.
2) Virtual use of crude oil: All products have a virtual crude oil footprint, and more mechanized it is and farther the distance it travels, the heavier the impact. As a case study – in Cuba, the agriculture was highly mechanized and mostly growing sugar-cane for export when they had cheap oil from the east. But with the collapse of USSR, they were forced to change their lifestyle. Driven by necessity, a household was shown to have just coffee for breakfast, and black beans and rice for lunch and dinner – everyday. Some of them have started farming 20 different crops on the same farmland and resorted to primitive methods of growing food – claiming that the yield is 25 times more and it is a probable solution. But how practical is that? Then and there itself in the programme we the viewers were told – it requires a lot more labour and food prices will be much higher if such methods of cultivation are employed.
3) Climate change: I cannot even fathom the impact it can have on the future of our food. However, the horrific scene from the Kenyan farmer's life was an eye-opener. He had 700 cattle animals and a lush green field a few years back, only 30 odd of the animals remain alive (barely), the land is barren, where heaps of cattle bones lay around.
And to aggreviate it, we are guilty of making the wrong choices, and none of us are free from the problems. One man’s starvation has become another man’s obesity. What is the solution, may I ask you to think? What can we do to contribute that all important drop to the ocean of change?
Growing up with simple means in a small town, I don’t remember having much of processed food at home. A bar of chocolate was an indulgence allowed once in a while. Desserts (home-made most of the time) were occasional privileges or special treats during celebrations. Walking and cycling were a way of life. That simple way of life had a lesson hidden. Here are some small steps I could think of that I can take, individually, as a family member and as a part of the society. Feel free to add your own:
Developing healthy food habits – more of fresh, home cooked meals means less of the processed stuff.
Stop wastage of all forms – recycle whenever possible. Organic compost is a great idea for gardeners. But just to keep in mind that plastic, tin cans, and paper should go into designated bins and not all in the same garbage bag is a big deal for me. But it is a good starting point. Switching off the lights and appliances when not in use is a good habit.
Stop buying and start growing – I want to start with growing my own herbs. If you have the resources, you are entitled to a whole kitchen garden or an orchard at your disposal.
Walk, cycle or use public transport whenever possible. Walking and cycling are great exercises and can be fun activities, and also means of getting to your destination. I started with walking to my local grocery in the weekend and want to try out taking the bus back, instead of a ride back in the car – the bus comes by that way every 10 minutes anyway!
Prefer the locally grown fruits, vegetables, dairy and bakery. They are fresh, diverse, organic, sometimes more cost effective than supermarkets and free of the horrifying notion of exporting drought!
These steps may not always be feasible, but are definitely doable most of the times. I urge you to think before you buy any processed product, to look before you throw anything into the bin, reconsider before stepping into your favourite burger chain. A small tweak in our lifestyles, an informed choice in every decision we take may well be a significant drop in the ocean of change that will become necessary in days to come, to ensure us our food.