In the movie “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” the lead character believes the earth’s current population is greater than the total number of people who have died throughout history. The character is a 9-year old boy pondering his own mortality while coping with the death of his father after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Some quick research reveals the boy’s assertion is probably not accurate. However, demographers estimate the number of people who have died since the pyramids were built approximately 5,000 years ago is fairly close to the earth’s current population of between six and seven billion people. That’s a daunting statistic too. It caught my attention because of the ongoing debate on how to go about feeding a planet of nine billion people by mid-century.
United Nations projections show that increased wealth in the developing world suggest we need to double food production by mid-century. Others contend we must produce more food in the next four decades than the previous 10,000 years combined.
It’s apparent the only way to meet this surging demand is through the responsible use of technology and innovation that will allow us to produce more using fewer resources. But some advocate a return to food production methods of decades gone by.
Would those who prefer food production methods of 50 or 60 years ago be willing to do the same in other areas? Consider this:
- In 1950 the average automobile in the United States got less than 14 miles per gallon. Some of today’s hybrid models are getting in excess of 40 mpg.
- The first portable computer released in 1975 weighed 55 pounds with 64KB of RAM. Compare that to the array of features on your smartphone that fits easily in a purse or pocket.
- The average life expectancy of the U.S. population in 1950 was 68 years. Thanks to medical advances it was almost 77 by 2000 and is forecast to approach 84 by mid-century.
Much like limiting the development of technology would have denied our access to such advances, limiting the ability of agriculture to continue to innovate and improve productivity will work against our ability to feed a growing population. Doing so will also increase the cost of food, limit its availability, and put the environment at risk when less-than-suitable land is forced into food production.
Today’s famers have been doing their part to meet the challenge. An analysis of data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows farmers in 2008 produced 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs compared to 1950.
We should be celebrating the array of food choices we have today in modern society. We are able to buy conventional, local, or organic. But isn’t it overly simplistic to assert that a certain type or size of farm or food production system is inherently better than another? The fact of the matter is that we are producing safe, nutritious, and affordable food in a variety of ways.
There’s too much at stake to continue shouting past one another as polarized camps cling to “I’m right and you’re wrong” positions. Meeting the needs of a growing global population requires an informed discussion of food system issues that supports continued innovation, responsible production, processing and distribution. Isn’t that the ethical choice?
Posted by Cliff.
We just returned from 10 days in London and Dublin with our three young adult children plus one girlfriend. What a whirlwind – cathedrals, galleries, Roman ruins and the Crown Jewels, plus a few pints here and there. I have a cousin in London and we were also fortunate to able to stay with her and her husband for a few days during our visit.
After a day full day of sightseeing and negotiating the tubes and trains in London, we returned each evening to my cousin’s flat around six o’clock ready for a break. Over plates of dry sausage, cheeses, olives and homemade marinated artichoke hearts, we spent an hour or so talking about our day and what we had seen, while planning our next foray into the city. By 7:30, someone started cooking and we ate dinner an hour or so later, wrapping up by 10:00.
After a couple of days of this routine, I apologized to my cousin for delaying their dinner every night. Nonsense, she said, this is how we eat every day. She told me their meals are typically divided into at least two courses, starters and mains. Each course is meant to be enjoyed on its own with plenty of time in between. Likewise, in restaurants we never felt rushed to finish and leave our table. Plates were not cleared immediately and we usually had to ask for the check. Instead of being expected to eat and leave, we were expected to eat and stay.
Vacation is over now and back here in the real world I know three-hour dinners won’t become the new normal. But during those late night dinners, I was reminded that time spent together at the table is important to making and keeping connections with those we love the most, no matter whether it’s a pizza at home or my cousin’s stuffed sea bass. For me, I’ll be eating like the Brits more often.
Posted by Randa
I’ve been a horse owner for 20 years. I received a horse as my seventh birthday present, complete with a pink halter and turquoise cowboy hat. I grew up on horseback, traveling to shows in the area and throughout the region. In high school, I started training horses and began giving riding lessons. Today, I still show and train horses, and teach riding lessons three evenings a week. I also volunteer at a horse rescue. Horses are an important part of my life.
Unwanted horses have made their way into the news recently. In November 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 2112, a bill which established budgets for the Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies. Unlike previous Agricultural Department funding bills, H.R. 2112 did not contain specific language stopping USDA of funding for horsemeat inspections, as it had since 2007. The bill became law on Nov. 18, 2011, when President Barack Obama signed it, effectively re-instating horse slaughter. And while we may not actually see horse slaughter resume anytime soon, having an end-of-life alternative for unwanted horses is necessary.
Since 2007, the debate on what to do with unwanted horses has become heated, and horse slaughter is the most exposed topic. The Government Accountability Office report says, “Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007, the slaughter horse market has shifted to Canada and Mexico. From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by 148 and 660 percent to Canada and Mexico, respectively.” The argument on what to do with unwanted horses has divided horse enthusiasts.
The debate has many issues. The horse market has hit rock-bottom. Rescues are at near capacity and can’t take on any more horses. And, with our down economy, donations don’t come in as often. There’s been too much breeding and not enough castration. Horses are big, expensive animals, and it costs a lot to care for them, especially when hay prices are high. Plus, with horses, you must have land. People living in urban and suburban areas may have a dog or cat, but you can’t keep a horse in your small backyard. The list is long.
And then, there’s the emotional side of things. Many children dream of owning a pony and horses are seen as an American icon. It’s hard to imagine them being slaughtered. And, while the thought of slaughter is unbearable, putting them down is oftentimes too expensive. But it’s also hard to imagine the number of horses starving because their owners can’t afford to feed them. The line in the sand is typically drawn on whether you see horses as pets or livestock.
When horse owners fall on tough times, what’s the right answer? If a horse is no longer wanted or can no longer be taken care of, what’s the ethical choice? Is horse slaughter a necessary evil?
The unwanted horse debate will continue. But for horse owners, ensuring the health, well-being and comfort of our horses is and will continue to be our number one priority.
Posted by Abby.
In the multi-culturally rich North East neighborhood of Kansas City sits an historic house built of red bricks and a huge white porch. The open front door is a welcoming invitation for anyone in the area in need of dinner. The house is called Cherith Brook, a safe place off the streets for those in need of a warm meal, a dry bed, clean clothes, and most importantly, friendship.
Each Thursday, homeless, area neighbors, and volunteers like myself, join together for a meal. But it’s also more than that. This house provides an opportunity for many of us to be of service to our community and witness the power of a simple meal. It’s a time of fellowship and offers me the chance to dispel stereotypes about people who live different lives than I do.
A homeless man wearing a dark wool stocking cap comes to the evening meal, accompanied by a small woman. One can assume by their mannerisms that both are intoxicated. During dinner, the man hands a small gift to a friend of his who lives at the house. “Merry Christmas,” they say, greeting each other with a hug.
Sometimes, I cook the main course. Other nights, I wash dishes. On this night, I came to visit.
Over a plate of mashed potatoes, roast beef and canned beats, I listen to Faye, who has been homeless since 2004. She used to be a pretty woman. But today, her hair is tangled. She carries heavy bags under her eyes. As she thinks about her boyfriend in the county jail, tears begin to well up. Without him, she is scared and alone on the streets.
Wiping away the tears, she tells me about past adventures, her three kids, her fears and hopes for the future. Watching Faye eat her one hot meal for the day, I realize that this dinner has been more than a physical act of survival – it has been a moment for each of us to connect with another person. A meal for the soul.
By the time dessert is served, Faye’s face has brightened. We laugh together about our kids. After dinner, feeling full of great food and friendship, we hug tightly and say our goodbyes, headed in different directions.
I haven’t seen Faye since that night, but her stories have stayed with me. They remind me about the power of a meal. In need of a rest from the violence, abuse, and drugs, a meal can create a sanctuary for those who need it most.
Posted by Laura.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to reject culinary colonialism. The consequences of limiting food choice are too great to allow the current interest in food production to disintegrate to polarized diatribes that do little more than inflame and alienate consumers who have a legitimate interest in farming and food. It’s time for a more balanced discussion that encourages informed food choice.
I recently had the pleasure of engaging with hundreds of agricultural leaders in Australia over the course of a dozen meetings. Those meetings brought to light the challenges shared by agriculture and consumers alike in Australia, the United States.
A recurring theme in each of those meetings was the concern by many in agriculture over the growing gap between farmers and consumers. In fact, throughout the developed world, this ever-increasing trend is a topic of conversation among farmers and others in the food system.
For far too long, many in this discussion have resorted to attacking those who don’t share their beliefs – an “us vs. them” mentality that limits the opportunity for meaningful discussion about complex food issues. This polarizing debate is unfortunate and unproductive. What would be far more beneficial is an informed discussion of food system issues that will allow us to meet the growing global demand for food, while decreasing our impact on the environment and assuring responsible farming.
Just as a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is a sound strategy for good nutrition, a balanced discussion of the complex issues related to food is a sound strategy for making good decisions on food policy.
I learned a great deal from agricultural leaders in Australia and I look forward to learning more. The open exchange of ideas makes everyone better. I pledge to use that same approach to other issues in the coming year. The next time someone raises a concern about today’s food system I’m going to welcome the question, encourage a discussion and learn more about the issue. I’m going to reject the appeal of culinary colonialism and work to assure we all have the opportunity to make informed choices about our food.
Posted by Charlie