Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Future Has Arrived

via Wikipedia

Would you like to know what your world is going to look like by, say, 2030? A little peek at the wonderful things we’ll be using? Lives we’ll be living? Did vat-grown meat ever become a thing? Are more of us vegetarian? How did that whole Trump presidency work out?
Getting a look is easier than you think. All we have to do is look at Puerto Rico today. Today Puerto Rico is a land of sunshine, environmental devastation, and the threat of starvation.
This year has seen three major global warming-intensified storms hit in the Caribbean and southern US in a row. One, Irma, was rated a Category 5 only because there is nothing higher than C5. This is pretty much exactly in line with NASA, NOAA, and international modelling of the effects of a warming planet. The ocean has been soaking up amazing amounts of both carbon and heat over the last couple of decades. Now, when a depression forms over the ocean, there is much more energy available for it to soak up. And the more energy it gets from a warmer ocean, the bigger the eventual storm.
On the West Coast of North America, this will play out in two ways; the warming ocean will also create larger storms, and the warmer air will pick up more water. As little as 1/2 of one percent more moisture in the air can lead to an increase of fifty millimetres or more (2”+) of rain. With the logging of the last century, this will mean more mudslides, silting of rivers, damage to spawning grounds, and impacts on municipal water supplies.
On the US’ south and East coasts, storms, particularly hurricanes, will be larger, more damaging, and bring more flooding with larger storm surges. Maria, the hurricane that has wiped our about 80% of Puerto Rico’s crops and up to 80% of some neighbourhoods, is the third storm to hit US territory. This too is in line with the models. And it is this sequentiality that is the problem.
In Houston TX, some places recieved over a metre of rain in 24 hours. As the centre of the US petrochemical industry, Houston has claimed the lion’s share of US aid. Florida recieved much of the rest. Puerto Rico, not being a state but rather a protectorate, is coming a poor third. It doesn’t hurt that both Texas and Florida voted heavily for the current president.
This is one year. What will it be like when we’ve had a decade or more of these disasters. Drought and wildfire in the Midwest, or wildfire or floods on California. In Canada, the prairies are overdue for a drought, a wildfire almost took out Ft. McMurray last summer, and the interior of BC has been devastated by one this summer. Insurance against natural disasters is becoming harder to get, and insurance companies are losing their collective minds.
So here’s the thing about Puerto Rico: 80% of their food crops have been destroyed. The protectorate is poor. And, as Amartya Sen has pointed out, in order to survive famine, you have to be able to either buy food in the market, or move to where you can buy or grow food. And the US has been exploiting the fact that if you just provide food aid, you destroy the local markets, making the population dependent on provided food. It’s actually better to slowly substitute money for food aid, in order to build the market back up.
So what are the odds that the current US government will provide a guaranteed annual income to the residents of Puerto Rico? Because it will take years for PR to recover (if ever—there are more storms coming). Or Puerto Rico becomes a state of refugees, moving en masse to the continental United States. And how do you think that’s going to go over in the present political environment in the US?
That’s your future too. There will be a storm. Or another natural disaster. And the country will be overextended, so disaster relief will be limited or non-existant. So you either try and rebuild where you are, or become an internal refugee.
Murphy’s Law dictates that when the disaster hits, it will destroy the most important stuff; transportation corridors, the electrical grid, food. Just like Puerto Rico. And that it will happen at the worst time. The 1% think they can get out of this—it’s why Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. It’s why they’re buying bunkers in New Zealand. And it won’t help.
We cannot keep going the way we are. That route means we’re reduced to a hundred thousand humans, or so. Worst case, we turn the planet into Venus for a couple of million years. As Michael Crichton said in Jurassic Park: “I don’t fear for the future of life on Earth. [...] I fear for the future of human life on Earth.” We have to downshift in a radical way. Converting to sustainable power doesn’t mean we get to keep this life of insane consumerism. Sustainable power means that we live a medieval life in some comfort. If we start yesterday, we might be able to keep the losses to a few billion humans.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hot Road Ahead

We're in deep deep trouble when it comes to our food system. Even without the population growth expected over the rest of the century, we're facing tremendous stresses on our ability to produce and distribute food.  Currently, there's an ideological war over just how food should be produced (do we double down on the industrial model or do we force transition into all-organic production?), a battle that really is pretty much moot.
There will be no choice between organic/industrial. Ultimately, b y the end of the century, industrial agriculture will be ended. The only question is, will it end soon enough to make a difference?
Agriculture, as currently constituted, is, from farm to fork, one of the primary drivers of climate change—even more so than transportation. The production and use of fertilizers produce massive amounts of GHGs (Green House Gasses). The growing demand for cheap beef in particular, and all meat in general, is killing us in multiple ways. Not the least of these is the tremendous amounts of methane ruminants release.
CO2  levels are over 400 ppm and rising, even though the only safe level we know is being under 350ppm. Global temperature is up a degree, and while we keep talking about keeping the rise under two degrees, that's just a number picked out of the air, and the belief that we can deal with a two degree rise is really based on nothing but hope.
The truth of the matter is, even post-COP21 (the 2015 climate discussion in Paris), we're not going to make it. Global warming is going to continue, tipping points will be passed, the current climate-related death rate will continue to rise, and civilization will fall. Our ideological commitment to capitalism has lead to the end of days for democracy and the rise of fascism (don't believe me? Just look at the election of Trump in the US, and the 30 percent support for the Harper Conservatives in our last election).  Money has bought itself political power and enabled the one percent to own just over half the world's wealth. And the one percent have no love for democracy.
Naomi Klein has pointed out the it's all connected. For those who consider themselves progressives, those who consider themselves committed to democracy, those who are social activists, all the causes, all the marches, all the work, it all points to one thing: the need to stop global warming. Everything needs to change. But the problem is, everything needs to change.
There's this assumption that if we manage a transition from fossil fuel to renewables, we won't have to change anything about the way we live. The same inequalities can still exist, the crazed consumerism, the suburbs and cities, everything can continue tripping merrily along. Especially the consumption that requires the output of two and a half Earths to sustain, and maintains the status of both the one percent and Western consumerist society.
That's simply not so. Even with 100 percent renewable power, this can't continue. Particularly industrial agriculture. But there's too much money (and more importantly, too much control) at stake for that ship to turn. We are facing radical changes in how we produce food. Yet we're not even talking about these changes at COP21. Monsanto (and other corporations like ADM, China Agri-Industry Holdings, BASF, Agrium,  own too much (including governments)) to allow change to happen. And that means the coming floods, droughts, and other climate disruption will cause death. A lot of death.
Over at Grain, they're tracking corporations and countries investing in “under-utilized” land around the world (though primarily in Africa), trying to position themselves to advantage in the coming crisis. Massive tracts of land being acquired, emptied of the people who currently live there, and converted into industrial farms. China, worried about the emptying of the countryside and progressive desertification in the north, is one of the big players in land-grabbing. The goal is to grow mega-tonnage of food and ship it back to the home country.  Under the industrial ag model, this translates to shipping African topsoil to China, leaving behind a country as degraded as China itself.
The last time this was attempted was during the Second World War by Germany and Japan. As Lizzie Collingham writes in her new book The Taste of War:
One of the most powerful aspects of making food the central focus of an investigation into the Second World War is that the agrarian policy of the Nazi regime is revealed as one of the driving forces behind some of the worst atrocities committed during the conflict. The experience of the First World War had taught the National Socialist leadership that an adequate food supply was crucial to the maintenance of military and civilian morale. Food shortages among the soldiers on the front and the civilians at home had pushed a deeply demoralized Germany toward capitulation in 1918. It was both fear of a repeat of the disastrous decline in civilian morale and a powerful sense of the German people's superior entitlement to food which made the National Socialists determined that the German population would not go hungry during this war. Instead, others would have to go without food. (pp. 4-5)
There's no reason to think that modern Fascism will be any different from the 20th century version. The National Socialists identified groups as “useless eaters,” planned out how to empty the countryside of countries they invaded in order to put their own farmers in place (farmers who understood “scientific farming” and how to “properly” exploit the land), and how to divert grain shipments to their own troops, leaving civilian populations to starve.
By contrast, when in 2007-8, the world faced a possible grain shortage, what did we do? Did we do anything to try and ensure equitable distribution? No, not really. Russia shut down wheat exports to ensure their own people had enough. India stopped rice exports for the same reason. And neither country brought in rationing or any other method to ensure that all their people had access to food. They just maintained the status quo. The poor were left to face dramatically increased food prices on their own. And in the Middle East, the price of bread brought the revolutions of the “Arab Spring.”
The same business as usual approach is being followed in North America with the current food price inflation; welfare rates are held steady or decreased, Saskatchewan  farmland is sold to foreign corporations while small farms suffer and food is shipped overseas, and even the middle class feels the pinch. Profits rise, nutrition falls, and everywhere food banks and soup kitchen proliferate, letting governments off the hook by downloading the response to those of us who care, but also have no way to impact the policies that are behind the desperation.
This bids fair to get worse as the climate changes. The destruction of California's agriculture is almost complete—and as soon as they get the last of the water out of the ground it will be finished. As will agriculture depending on the Ogallala aquifer. The American mid-west and the Canadian prairies face tighter cycles of longer droughts.
And it's all connected. Food, income inequality, the worldwide water crisis, homelessness, the decline of democracy and the rise of fascism, terrorism, the migrant crisis. Global warming rides  over them all, sending forth the four horsemen across the globe.
On my worst days, we do nothing, hit the tipping point,and I see my children dying slowly in a nightmarish apocalypse.  On a good day? We make real efforts at changing our lifestyle, we hit the tipping point because we've already taken too damn long to come to grips with the problem, and my children die slowly in a nightmarish apocalypse.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

More Bad News

This time, a giant methane leak. A 61 year old well has sprung a leak and is blowing a massive amount of methane. Mother Jones has a good explainer about the leak.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


The prize-winning quince
Photo by E. B. Klassen CC BY-SA
Creative Commons Licenses

I've had a bit of luck recently and come into possession of about 4 kilos (10 pounds) of quince. This has meant that I can do a bit of experimenting with new recipes above making some quince jelly.
Quince likes to be cooked--in fact, without it, quince is almost inedible. It's like medlars in that way. Medlars need to be bletted, quince really need to be cooked. I found a recipe for "rosy poached quince" that I decided to try. It involves simmering the quince in a poaching liquid for at least an hour, during which the quince go from white, hard, fibrous pieces of fruit to a beautiful red, soft morsel.
I got the poaching liquid ready and peeled and cut up the quince. Peeling's easy, but the coring and cutting is a bit harder. Quince, before cooking, are pretty tough. I saved the peels into a small pot, covered them with water an set them to boil and then simmer for an hour, while the fruit went into the poaching liquid. Quince are very high in pectin, so the thinking was to extract both pectin and flavour from the peels while preparing the fruit.
The other recipe I really wanted to try was for slow-roasted quince. Technically, this is braised quince, because you're cooking them in a moist environment. And you slow-roast them for five to six hours. I started both batches in the morning, so the poached quince was something to try for lunch, while the slow-roast was clearly for dinner.
Because the poached quince can and do keep for a week in the refrigerator, the volume of prepared quince wasn't daunting. We had some poached quince for lunch, and then had three or four dinner deserts out of them over the subsequent week. And they were excellent. Quince are delicious and have a lovely scent, so keeping a close rein on spicing is important. I added a couple of allspice berries and a clove to the poaching liquid, and didn't find them necessary at all.
The slow-raost quince have an apple grated over them to help keep thedm from drying out in the oven. I used an Ambrosia, which worked well. Crisp enough to grate well; almost flavourless, so it didn't interfere with the flavour of the quince; and moist enough to keep the quince from drying out.
The braising liquid from the slow-roast quince was added to the liquid saved after boiling the peels, and a bit of the poaching liquid was also tossed in the pot. I broaght it up to a boil, simmered it until the volume was reduced by about 30%, and then jarred the result. This has given me a beautiful, deep red quince jelly. And with the high pectin content, nothing had to be added to jell it. In fact, quince is often used as a jelling agent for other fruit.
We had guests in this weekend, and to amuse their palates, I put a small amount of quince jelly on a cracker, added a bit of liver pâté on top, and topped it with an unknown herb cheese.*  The sweet floral of the quince jelly pairs extremely well with the savoury of the pâté.
The braising liquid also worked well as a drink vinegar. A small amount in a glass then filled with carbonated water was delightful. Next up: Membrillo.

*This came from the remains of a cheese brought back from Amsterdam, passed on to my Significant Other's aunt, who passed it on to us. It's insanely good, creamy and toothsome with a wonderful flavour, and we have no idea what it's called or how to get more.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Secrets of Soil

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has produced a series of educational readers on the secrets of soil for kids between ages 5 and 14. The guides are free,as is the educators guide. This might be a great take-away for compost educators....
The FAO hosts a terrific amount of information about the world food situation, including an interactive map on hunger levels around the world.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Apple Festival--Sooke

Northern Spy apple photo by Red58bill

We made it out to the Sooke Apple Festival on the weekend. This is part of our current "get to know our new neighbourhood" programme. We've been here about three months and have had nothing but a great time; the farm and garden tour, the fall fair (where the significant other took a couple of blue ribbons in the knitting categories), and now Apple Festival.
We found the Sunriver Community Garden and Community Orchard with no real problems. They are tucked away on a couple of acres in a bit of a hollow surrounded by new housing. The housing seems a bit out of place: it looks like standard subdivision/bedroom community housing, when the rest of the town is mostly older vernacular architecture.
The community garden is only a couple of years old, but looks terrific. I talked to one fellow working on his greenhouse door. I mentioned that the 5 metre tall sunflower growing out through the roof was an interesting choice. His reply? It was a volunteer that he decided to let grow and cut a hole in the roof so it could keep going. Which seems typical of the attitudes around here.
The hundred or so plots are well-tended with a lot of work having gone into making the whole garden attractive. Beautiful paths, split-log bench, various decorations, all contribute to a feeling of joy. Which is one of the big differences I noticed between farming in Alberta and farming on Vancouver Island: On the Island, it is not enough to be growing stuff. The farm itself must be beautiful as well. People go out of their way to add beauty to their surroundings. Like the grape arbour we saw that could have been utilitarian and functional. Instead, it was built from four corner-posts with arches meeting in the centre. A stained-glass light in the centre was over a concrete pad studded with coloured glass and other inclusions. Walkways lead in from the four directions to meet under the coloured light. What was originally a structure on which to hang grape vines has become a place, an experience. 
The Apple Festival was held in an open area attached to the community garden, a pop-up venue with a dozen or more of those ubiquitous 3m X 3m pop-up canopies. With everything from pies to pies to pies (there were a lot of pies), there were several local food artisans in attendance. BBQ salmon burgers, these insanely wonderful amuse-bouche of crab-apple jelly and duck-liver pate on little rounds of crusty bread that almost made me cry. Sooke Harbour House had samples of a sorbet made from locally foraged berries and lemon verbena that lifted your taste-buds as it melted around your tongue. And the waffle-maker had a salsa that, when you first put it in your mouth was all about the little berries popping, then about the fruit/savoury combination before sliding away into spicy finish.
There were apples for sale (both cooking and eating apples), with opportunities to sample tastes of different varieties. I finally got to try a Northern Spy (a little tart, firm, moderate crunch), but there were a dozen or so varieties around. There were also a half-dozen or more varieties available as trees for sale. An unexpected plus was the availability of quince--I bought a couple of pounds, including, apparently, the one which had taken the blue ribbon at the fall fair. I'm looking forward to eating the jelly I'll make from them.
The logical comparison to make here is with the Saltspring Island apple festival. The Island festival has a couple of dozen orchards with over 200 varieties of apples. On the other hand, Sooke was more intimate, fun, and had live music from local musicians (including a Hang). And I could walk there. Great time!

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Emergent Agriculture--a review

There is not a lot that is new in Gary Kleppel's book The Emergent Agriculture: Farming, Sustainability, and the Return of the Local Economy. A cogent, well-reasoned take-down of industrial ag--but then, there's a herd of those, ranging from succinct to verbose (for the record, Kleppel is more towards the succinct end of the spectrum). A call for a more appropriate agriculture? Read that. An overview of New Ag farms? Nice, but seen that. 
Where Kleppel's book shines is in the discussion of  the new/old structures of how food moves from producer to consumer. And it should; Kleppel is himself both an academic and a farmer.
Antonio Gramsci described a group of people who, though members of the working class or the bourgeoisie, are an organically developed "thinking class" that "articulate, through the language of culture, the feelings and experiences which the masses could not express for themselves." He called them "public intellectuals." There should be a name for those who, although they hold membership in the traditional academic intelligentsia, chose to immerse themselves in traditional forms of work. We need more of these two groups, and Gary Kleppel, professor of biology at SUNY Albany, is definitely in the latter group.
When trying to see the shape of a new way of living, a new societal paradigm, it helps to have the kind of training given to those who pursue an academic career. Such training helps one to see both the large view and the details. When your talking about agriculture, it really helps to have gotten your hands dirty.
When Kleppel talks about the new/old methods of marketing food, it helps that he's worked a farmer's market and participated in a CSA (community supported agriculture). When we grew food, it was quite clear that the place most farmers fell down was in the marketing of their products.
When farmers get $0.02 out of the sale price of a loaf of bread, the correct response is not to grow more wheat. The better response is to find ways to capture more of the profit from your production.
I kept saying that our customers didn't come for the vegetables as much as they came for the connection. They wanted the story. An example: We had a number of zucchini that were not straight, but curved around small scars in their skins. People hesitated to buy them until I pointed out that these scars came from our pesticide; chickens. The occasional peck at a bug would scar the zucchini skin, leaving it to heal slightly bent. The damage was quickly seen as a mark, not of failure, but of superiority. These were not perfect because of the type of farming we did.
These are the connections celebrated in Gary Kleppel's book; unmediated links between producer and consumer. But not every farmer is ready to be a farmer, an ecologist, and a marketer. This is an area that he misses--the role of the co-operative movement. Co-ops can fill the gap of missing abilities. Small cheesemakers. Farmer's supplying a group-owned store. While the future may play out the way The Emergent Agriculture suggest, it will also be more complex, more intricate, than it suggests. Good book, though.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sooke Farm Tour part 1

Yesterday, 19 July 2015, was the annual Sooke Farm and Food Tour, organized by Sooke Region Food CHI (Community Health Initiative). There were eight stops on the tour, and it seemed like a good way to get to know some of our new neighbours and start to integrate into the community.
We, Paula and I, started our tour with a visit to Saltwest Naturals, our local salt production headquarters. Jessica and Jeff Abel have a small, artisanal operation producing a range of salt products from local sea water. When we arrived, a little after 11 am, the temperature in the “greenhouse” was already 55°C, and the day hadn't really got going yet.
Jeff walked us through the process of making salt: collecting, concentrating, evaporating, washing, and then any final preparation.  Collection is done a few hundred litres at a time, filling a 1600 litre tank. The first step is to concentrate the seawater. Jeff mentioned that our local waters are only about 2.5% salt, much lower than is common. This is an artifact of the tremendous amount of fresh water than pours into the ocean. The local waters are also higher in magnesium (which, if left in the salt in the amount it comes naturally, makes salt taste bitter), and also a broad spectrum of other minerals (a broader spectrum, but lower concentration than Himalayan pink salt blocks that are so popular).
Saltwest uses a small reverse osmosis system to concentrate the brine from 2.5% to about 5% (nifty tool: the refractometer. A few drops spread on a screen, and you can check the salt content of the water).
Handheld Refractometer
Fernando G. (FGM)

CC BY-SA 3.0

 The demineralized pure water that comes from the system is bottled and sold as Canada's first desalinated bottled water.
The brine then gets split between two processes; the first is the raw boil, where large aluminum stock pots are filled and brought to a boil. Aluminum is used because it resists salt damage even better than stainless steel (I had no idea....). Once the brine is concentrated to about 80%, the heat is lowered to ~155°F and held, until flat crystals of salt begin to form and clump on the top of the water. This is salt flowers, fleur de sel, the prized, ultra-fine salt.
Jeff explaining the fleur de sel process
The other process is to fill trays with the brine, and spread them out in the... well, greenhouse is the word we used, but perhaps brine-house would be more accurate. Very quickly, the brine concentrates and the salt crystallizes out. Once the water is gone, the pans are left overnight, and the salt re-absorbs some moisture from the night air (salt is hydrophilic), making it softer and easier to take out of the evaporation pans.
The greenhouse where the brine is evaporated

Salt forming on the brine

At this point the salt is not yet ready for prime time. The next step is to wash the salt. Yes, in water, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of evaporating the water out in the first place. But a brine solution of 25% salt is the most salt water can carry, so washing salt in this brine means the salt doesn't dissolve. Who knew? Washing also removes much of the excess magnesium from the salt, making it taste much better.
Raw salt before washing

For some of the salt, this is the end of the line; dried in an oven to quickly take the last of the moisture out, packaged, and shipped to one of over 350 distribution points (or “stores” as the lay public calls them ). Other salt is re-brined and cooked with onions and garlic or other plants, and the flavours are infused into the salt. Yet more salt in run through a smoker, adding scent and flavour. Salt is bottled, bagged, or tinned up and shipped out, keeping Jessica and Jeff (and a mother-in-law two days a week) very busy.
Now, if you had asked me four years ago if I wanted to get into the salt-making business, I'd have stared at you like you were nuts. I didn't see it coming—there was Sifto and Morton and that was about it. I'd have been interested in learning how to make salt, but not as a business. Four years later, there's several local salt-works; Saltwest, Vancouver Island Salt Co., and Sea To Sky—which makes “Vancouver's Hottest Salt,” a claim I absolutely believe after having tried some (it's infused with ghost chilies, cayenne, habaneros, and pepper sauce). Jessica was saying that the market had gone from zero to highly competitive in a very short time.
So far, most of the salt makers have remained smaller, artisanal operations, very hands-on. But I fear for the future. Too much competition brings the fear that you might be missing out on something you could have—and that brings concentration rather than co-operation. It becomes easier to buy businesses and fold them together to maximize profit, rather than to co-operate and maximize the number of producers and grow the market. Or the lure of profits brings in outside money to do the damage.
Most of our salt these days is mined salt—salt dug from massive underground deposits or washed from deep deposits. Salt-making is one of those processes that goes way back in human history. Salt-pans are common through much of Europe and the Middle East. Salt is one of the ways Gandhi showed the insanity of colonialism—the British passed laws against Indians making salt from ocean water, in order to maintain a profit-maximizing economic control over the country. Salt is what opened up the Canadian east-coast cod fishery—without salt, European fishermen could not have transported fish from the Grand Banks back to the continent. 

MarkKurlansky's Salt: A World History is an exhaustive look at the effect salt production has had on world history, and is certainly worth a read. 

The chapter on salt in Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats is also an interesting look into modern North American salt production. 

All uncredited photographs are by me and released under CC BY-SA 3.0 except the covers of Salt And Twinkie Deconstructed, which are copyright by their respective publishers.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Word: It's Worse Than We Think

via Simon and Schuster

Looking at the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change report and one thing becomes clear; the future is going to be so much worse than we think.
As the project summary says:
A major report on managing the health effects of climate change, launched jointly by The Lancet and UCL, says that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.
The commission reviewed the likely health impacts of climate change on human societies – and documented ways to reverse those impacts. It concluded that there is a need for policymakers, practitioners and the public to act urgently on the human health effects of climate change.
The report is already six years old, and the major problems identified still haven't made it into public discussion in North America. As the Lancet editorial opens:
Climate change will have its greatest impact on those who are already
the poorest in the world: it will deepen inequities and the effects of global warming will shape the future of health among all peoples. Yet this message has failed to penetrate most public discussion about climate change. And health professionals have barely begun to engage
with an issue that should be a major focal point for their research, preparedness planning, and advocacy [...].
Climate change and the projected effects of a changing climate develop quickly into a highly complex group of  inter-related problems: including disease, food, water and sanitation, shelter and settlements, extreme events, population and migration, and politics.
In the Commonwealth Health Ministers briefing on food [pdf], the study points out the following:
  • Climate change will worsen any existing food insecurity--anything bad now will only get worse.
  • The changes brought about by global warming will necessitate changes to agricultural practices--this is everything from what is grown, where it is grown, to how it is grown. But when it comes to the necessity of using GMOs, "the Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (also known as the World Agriculture Report), which was written by over 400 scientists, rejects that view. It sees ‘...a major role for agricultural knowledge, science and increase adaptive capacity and enhance resilience through purposeful biodiversity management’. The options set forth include ‘...irrigation management, water harvesting and conservation technologies, diversification of agriculture systems, the protection of agro-biodiversity and screening germ-plasm for tolerance to climate change."
  • The globalised food and agriculture system serves the interests of large
    corporations, while neglecting the needs of the increased numbers of
    hungry people. Can't say that much clearer, can you?
  • Agricultural practices and the global food system are major contributors to global warming. So, business as usual is just not an option.
  • The current methods of dealing with disaster and distributing food
    aid tend not to alleviate the long-term situation, often resulting in
    dependency upon aid. And that doesn't solve any long-term problems.
  • The impact of climate change on global food security, and in turn the public health risks, need to be tackled holistically. Simply put, there's no single solution. Because the problem is the system, the system must be attacked simultaneously from multiple angles in multiple ways. Which is good, because the only way the system can be taken down is to hit it hard, hit it fast, and hit it in so many ways that the corporations cannot respond effectively.
Six years on, and this still isn't in the everyday discourse. Frankly, every news report should be seen through the lens of climate change. Collapsing economy? Probably good news, as people in economic trouble burn fewer fossil fuels. In Canada, Bill C 51? A tool to prevent concerned citizens worried about climate change from interfering with the corporate right to profit while destroying the world. As Naomi Klein says, This Changes Everything.
Film: ‘Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change’

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Profits First, You Know

"RawBacon" by Jonathunder - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

CBC is reporting on how food manufacturers are handling their desire to maintain their profit margins. Because consumers are "sensitive to price increases," manufacturers are shrinking volumes rather than pushing a higher price at the till.
While this allows prices to be kept stable, it also allows for massive profit increases.Shrinking a package of bacon from 500 grams to 375 grams is the equivalent of a 25% price hike. You may also have noticed that the slices are thinner as well--to make it look like the same number of portions.
Lay's potato chips--already renowned as being more bag than chips, has also shrunk their portions from 200 grams to 180 grams; a 10% change.
And even in the world of milk, where producers (at least in Canada) are generally guaranteed a fair price for their production by provincial milk quota, dairies are messing with standard sizes. Instead of 1, 2, and 4 cup volumes (250, 500, 1000 millilitres), they have begun selling 237 and 473 millilitre volumes.
From an historical perspective, we are paying a remarkably low portion of our income for food. And here in BC, we depend on California for an amazing amount of our produce. So with the extended drought in Cali and the neglect of our local production, consumers here have been getting progressively squeezed. It just happens to come at a time when corruption in the financial industry has left the real economy reeling worldwide. Massive speculation in food markets led to price spikes in 2008 - 2009, and had various countries stopping exports of various foods (such as wheat from Russia). Since then, things have settled down, but both the race for profits and climate change have kept consumer prices for food on an upward trending line.
Things are not going to get better. Research in Canada has shown that farmers growing patented seed may see production of up to $350/acre, but may see net profits as low as $1.50/acre. This is not a recipe for bringing more farmers on-stream (although it will continue to maintain the massive profits seen by their suppliers and those buying their product).