Monday, November 24, 2008

Food Security

The concept of Food Security has become a big political issue for certain segments of society.

What exactly is meant by food security is not a clear concept. In general it means having food produced closer to where people leave. Closer does not have a specific definition, it can mean something like the 100 Mile Diet, or it can mean food from your country, or food from your region. Ultimately it is not the definition that is the issue, it is the underlying ideological thinking going on when people speak of food security. Typically food security is a defacto code for a number of concepts

  • Peak Oil - the idea is that if peak oil happens and we no longer have oil to transport food a long way.
  • Corporate control of food - here the belief is that smaller scale local farmers are better for us than large businesses running farms.
  • Reduction of genetic diversity - large farms have smaller set of goods they produce and therefore a narrower set of genes in use.
  • Dealing a natural disaster - if we have a big earthquake, how will we feed ourselves?
Much of what I see, underlying all of this is a fear of a global corporate agricultural system. Many of the food security activists are really looking to attack free trade and the capitalist system.

I like local food because I like to feel connected to where my food comes from and I like to have fresher food than what most big stores offer. I have no time for the idea of food security because none of the arguments work.

Peak oil is not an issue, we are not about to run out of oil anytime soon and long before we come close to running out, we will have other energy technologies to move our goods. Oil is used because it is cheap and abundant.

If the cost of shipping rises enough, growing food on Vancouver Island becomes economically viable. It costs a lot to farm here and live like a middle class Canadian and the economics of farming is why we do not produce food here. We could feed ourselves on Vancouver Island on an area that is 15 000 hectares of land - that is an area that is 10 km by 15 km. The Cowichan valley could feed the whole island.

Corporate control of food has brought us cheaper, better and safer food than ever before in human history. We need to spend a lot less of lives making sure that we have the food to feed ourselves. We have more and better selection than ever before. Corporations have given us a cornucopia of food. A family of four can comfortably feed themselves for $600 a month in most of Canada. Corporations have made this possible.

As to the genetic diversity issue, it is a red herring to blame the global agricultural business for this. Genetic diversity is something government needs to address and not business.

In the case of disaster, people need to be able to feed themselves for a while. I keep being told we only have a three day supply of food on the island, but that simply does not ring true to me. Most people have enough food in their homes to feed themselves for two weeks - it will be pasta and rice at the end, but the food is there. The stores do not completely turn over their stock in three days, there is no way you can convince me of that. My sense is that on Vancouver Island there is enough food on the island for use to survive for three to four weeks, not three days.

My family could feed ourselves for about six to eight weeks with the food we have on hand, though it would be boring and starchy by the end other than the eggs. I have six chickens that lay one egg a day on average.

Local growers are nice to support, but they are much less efficient that big farms and tend to use a lot more energy per calorie of food produced. The largest amount of fuel expended on each calorie of food that is produced and comes into our home is from ourselves when we drive to the store.

Food is an emotional issue and food security is one of smarter pieces of political marketing that I have seen in a long time, but that is all it is, political marketing.
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