Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Not Really Necessary

It's not really necessary, you know. We don't actually have to have 2.5 million Canadians be food insecure each day. We don't actually have to have a billion or more food insecure persons in the world. We don't actually have to have Mike Davis' Planet of Slums. These are choices we've made or allowed to be made.
In the book of his Massey Lectures, A Short History of Progress, historian Ronald Wright spends a fair bit of time looking at the birth of pastoralism and agriculture and at the perfection of hunting. About hunting, he writes:

By 15,000 years ago at the very latest—long before the ice withdraws—humankind is established on every continent except Antarctica. Like the worldwide expansion of Europe, this prehistoric wave of discovery and migration had profound ecological consequences. Soon after man shows up in new lands, the big game starts to go missing. Mammoths and woolly rhinos retreat north, then vanish from Europe and Asia. A giant wombat, other marsupials, and a tortoise as big as a Volkswagen disappear from Australia. Camels, Mammoth, giant bison, giant sloth, and the horse die out across the Americas. A bad smell of extinction follows Homo sapiens around the world.
Not all experts agree that our ancestors were solely to blame. Our defenders point out that we hunted in Africa, Asia, and Europe for a million years or more without killing everything off; that many of these extinctions coincide with climatic upheavals; that the end of the ice age may have come so swiftly that big animals couldn't adapt or migrate. These are good objections, and it would be unwise to rule them out entirely. Yet the evidence against our ancestors is, I think, overwhelming. [....] Upper Palaeolithic people were far better equipped and more numerous than their forerunners, and they killed on a much grander scale. Some of their slaughter sites were almost industrial in size: a thousand mammoths at one; more than 100,000 horses at another. [....]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Outgrowing the Earth

I'm currently reading Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures by Lester R. Brown, the founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. It is proving to be an interesting and accessible read, and one that I was planning to review once I finished reading. I likely still will review it, but it is proving interesting in a different way at the moment.
At the end of each chapter is the note: "Data for figures and additional information can be found at [...]." I finally found myself needing to check the figures for an end-note and popped over to take a look at the website for the book.  Oh my. Research heaven. Data and charts provided in Excel formatted spreadsheets.  And each chapter provided in both .pdf and html formats. All the end-notes converted to footnotes. Everything in the book and more. And all available for online browsing or download.
Now, I'm unlikely to read the entire book online (I still prefer a paper copy for reading), but I could load the whole thing up on a Kobo and read it. Brown has decided that communicating the information in his book is more important than killing trees, and for that, I applaud him. Now, I'm not sure that Brown's (and Cory Doctorow's) business model is viable for everyone, but it certainly is convenient when you're looking to quote from a book. It's also an excellent way to provide more information than you might want to cram onto dead trees, and connect to readers.
So how does this connect to food security? Well, that's what Brown's book topic is, so off you go. Have a read. Here's a .pdf of chapter one to get you started.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Real Deal

This is a CBS report on school lunches in France. What impresses me is not that the kids get lunch, but that they get lunch that matters. Fresh where possible. Local where possible. The focus is on real French cuisine; to teach kids to care about food as a cultural thing.

Can you imagine what this would look like in Canada? The maple syrup lake being stored for export would be served to our kids. Alberta bison, prairie grains, Quebec cheeses.
This also denotes a culture where food matters. Where you teach kids about what is good and why. Its also a culture that actually cares about its kids--there's no sodas or junk food in the schools. You want that, you have to decide to go and get it.
Its no wonder Jose Bove and the anti-McDonald's movement grew up here. Real food still matters. Kids matter. National pride is on the line. It really is sad that I can't even imagine what Canada would look like if we cared that much.