Archive for the 'food' Category

Hunger in the US

Sharon November 17th, 2009

So here are the numbers.  One in nine (and probably soon one in eight) families need food stamps to keep food on the table.  And despite the fact that we are subsidizing food at a vast rate - seriously, think about the enormous impact of subsidizing food for 37 million Americans - they are still hungry.  The USDA report that was just released apparently shocked the President, who equally apparently, hasn’t been paying attention.

In a year, despite food stamps and other resources, the USDA reports that 17 million Americans went hungry.  One out of every *FIVE* children went hungry last year - a jump from one in six last year.  Child hunger is increasing dramatically, much faster than adult hunger.  In some states in the midwest, including Ohio and Illinois, the numbers were one out of three.  Think about that - about the fact that in the middle of the densest stands of calories in the world, one out of every three kids in a classroom goes hungry.  Half a million children are frequently hungry.

For those who think that the food crisis is over, or somehow conveniently far away, this should be a reminder that it is present, and it is now.  The hunger numbers have been going up steadily since 2007 - and we mostly pay attention at the holidays.  But annual attention isn’t enough anymore - we have to pay attention all the time.

We have spent trillions bailing out the banks, and stimulating the stock market - while we have failed miserably to provide for the most basic needs of our citizenry - food, shelter, health care, protection of the elderly and disabled, a defensive military.  This is what government is for - not to micromanage the banks, not to remove risk from those best able to bear it.  But we’ve abdicated our real responsibilities.

I’m fortunate in that I write to people who, if they can’t make their government act, know how to act themselves.  We’re going to need more gardens, more cooking teachers, more food preservers, more neighbors looking in on one another, more friends lending a helping hand - because someone has to pick up the slack when the government falls down.


Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue: World Food Day and the Problem of Equity

Sharon October 19th, 2009

Yesterday was World Food Day, and the media dutifully paid a tiny bit of attention to the 1 billion plus people who suffer from chronic hunger.  All the usual problems were trotted out, including multiple quotations in many media from the Australian National Science Director Megan Clark’s observation that to feed a growing population, we will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than we have in all of human history. 

“That means in the working life of my children, more grain than ever produced since the Egyptians, more fish than eaten to date, more milk than from all the cows that have ever been milked on every frosty morning humankind has ever known.”

This is a brilliant quote, and stunningly evocative way of making clear how acute the problem is.  I hope that it does effectively bring home how large the question of our food security is - because I think most people in the developed world see food as largely trivial.  Even movements towards better food tend to work under the assumption that someone (farmers) will take care of providing better, safer food for us, if we simply “create demand.”  Thus we set ourselves up as baby birds, mouths wide open, waiting for someone to provide our needs. 

I would put the problem a little differently than Clark does, however.  Because while the quantities of food needed to sustain our population, even in the best case scenario, where we gradually bring that population down, are astounding, in some ways, that’s a secondary project - the primary one will be the pursuit of justice.

Aaron and I wrote _A Nation of Farmers_ to try and help end the baby-bird view of agriculture.  We argued that the days of agriculture as something we are not participants in, except perhaps as “consumers” are now over.  And one of the central questions we asked was whether we could in fact, feed a world of nine billion people.  The answer was a tentative yes -accepting that such a choice further degrades our ecology and can only exist in the context of a stabilizing population - that is, sooner or later we all starve to death if we don’t do something to continue and enable our demographic transition.

We presently grow enough food to feed 9 billion people.  That’s an astonishing realization for most people - that the world produces about double the number of calories we need.  That means that even if yields were stabilize, we could feed the coming population and gradually stabilize it (this is a large project obviously, and not my primary topic today, but we discuss it in ANOF), on just what we grow now.  The difficulty, of course, is that during the next 50 years, we are expecting radical reductions in our ability to grow food due toc climate change.  We can expect to see, for example, more than half of the 17% of the world’s irrigated land that provides 30% of the world’s grain harvest, taken out of production due the loss of water supplies.  For every 1 degree of temperature rise, rice yields fall by almost 15%.  Facing four degrees represents a disaster.  But it was more than just climate change that made us tentative about our ability to feed the world - it was the problem of justice. 

Our tentativeness wasn’t due to dependence on technological breakthroughs, or even fear of declining ability to do the work or make fertilizers in a depleted world.  Believe it or not, we don’t actually need any major technological breakthroughs to feed the world with minimal use of fossil fuels.  A lot of people assume that nitrogen fertilizers won’t have a substitute - but all those nitrogen fertilizers we’ve been using over the years are being recycled over and over, persistantly in human urine - we have all the high nitrogen fertilizer we will need, if we can tap it.  The same is true of rising prices for Potash and Phosphorus depletion - these problems have a solution - the fact that our bodies contain these minerals. Humanure, properly and safely composted at high temperatures, is a reasonably complete fertilizer.  Human and animal bones can continue to make up the difference.  We will have to return to a model of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and do so with careful attention to the prevention of disease, but it is viable.

Nor do we doubt that human labor can replace fossil fuels - or rather, it can replace them in the appropriate model.  What has been found in the former Soviet Union and Cuba and in other places where fossil fuels suddenly become scarce is that small scale, diversified agriculture can match or exceed outputs - that is, the total amount of food, fiber and fertility produced by a small, diversified farm is generally more per acre, even if the yield of a single crop is lower - ie, a small farm might produce less total corn, but more total calories.  It won’t be easy to break up our largest industrial farms, or to shift our diets towards a wider range of crops, to develop truly local food systems, and to teach millions of developed world residents that they no longer have the option of acting like baby birds, that they have to take a role in their food system, but it can be done. 

We are not organic purists (that is, we both practice organic agriculture, but aren’t dogmatic about saying all farms need to be perfectly organic), but we recognize that the future of agriculture is much lower input than at present - and thus it is important to recognize that organic agriculture has kept pace in both yield and output with Green Revolution agriculture - that is, if we were dependent on fossil fuels for agriculture, we should see that organic yields haven’t risen along with chemical yields, but we haven’t seen that at all.   More importantly, there are two values to low input agriculture - where organic food is more expensive in the rich world, because of the high cost of human labor in relationship to cheap fossil fuels, in the poor world, the case is the opposite - one study found that even if yields were lowered overall, organic agriculture would result in less hunger, simply because people could afford more food that way.  If we imagine a world where fossil fuel prices eventually rise out of range of many people, we can expect to see this transition occur in the rich world.

Perhaps more importantly for the larger question of whether we can feed the world, organic agriculture, with its close attention to soil, has shown to be more resilient in times of stress - with fewer and fewer “normal” years for growing, and with farmers all over the world facing wild gyrations in weather patterns, it is of the utmost importance to emphasize good soil management and crop resilience - and soil conscious, small scale, low input agriculture generally exceeds the results of conventional agriculture in years of drought or flooding or other weather event.  These weather events will be the norm, not the exception as time goes on.

Along with organic agriculture, we have a number of tools that can at least soften the blow of climate change on our agriculture - there’s work to be done on the world’s soils, it is possible to shift crops in drying areas towards more drought tolerant ones, and perennial and woody agriculture offer crop possibilities we haven’t fully explored.  Climate change will be an enormous wild-card challenge to our ability to feed ourselves, no doubt - but it isn’t necessarily climate change that creates the deepest doubts.

But if we can manage yields in face of depletion, and if we can adapt our agriculture to climate change, we still face the deep root question of equity - and it is here where our hopes for a world without profound and chronic hunger across the board falter - because last year, when we crossed the 1 billion mark in the world, hungry and added 100 million people to the list of the starving, we had record harvests.

Think about that.  Last year, we did, at least for one year, grow more food than we ever have in human history.  And hunger still rose and overflowed, and millions died - most of them children. 

Why did they die and starve?  They died because we didn’t care enough about justice.  The UN FAO attributed 40-60% of the rise in hunger to biofuel growth - when cars and people compete for food, the cars win.  The rich world found a way to use their food to keep their oil addiction going, and we as a people said “screw the hungry.”  There’s simply no other way to read this - we knew that biofuels drove food prices up for the poor, and we burned them anyway.

Why else?  High meat consumption of livestock fed on grains - the average poor person eats virtually no meat, the average rich one eats eight times as much grain, mostly in the form of meat.  We care about the hungry, at least in principle, but not enough to stop eating factory farmed, grain fed meat and other animal products.

Other reasons include the rich world’s failure to make good on its pledges to help out the world’s poor in the food crisis - we promised money and then we backed out, because we were busy giving money to Goldman Sachs, who obviously needed it more than starving children.   There’s also the globalization-induced movement of large portions of the world’s rural population to cities, where they are dependent on grain markets.

There are plenty of other factors - poor management in the countries themselves, political issues, bad agricultural practice, lack of investment in the kind of crop research that would help - a whole host of them. But the majority of the factors simply come down to this - we don’t care enough about justice to actually feed the people we’ve got now, so why do we think we’re going to care later, as it gets harder?

There’s a really good reason to take up the banner of justice here - and that is this - we’ve already proved that most of the richest and most important people in the world don’t mind seeing people go hungry as long as it doesn’t interfere with their accumulation of wealth.  Having established that, why on earth would any of us think that they’ll mind seeing *us* go hungry? 

Unless we grasp that equity is the central issue here, we will see a world where more and more of “us” and more and more of “them” are hungry, and where the lines between us and them are badly blurred.  The good news is that we could decide that we care more about “them” than we do about other things, and focus *now* on justice, and on equity - on making sure that the world’s food goes ’round.

The truth is that in some ways, we’ve got the tools to handle the basic crisis of production - they aren’t easy tools to enact.  It isn’t easy to shift from a society where all you have to do is be a consumer to one where you have to be a producer.  It isn’t easy to accept that your diet and way of life have no future, and you have to change them.  It isn’t easy to learn to eat new foods, or grow them yourself.  It isn’t easy to change whole practices and economies around.  But in some ways, these projects pale against the giant project of creating a greater degree of human justice.

In the coming 50 years, in my life and my children’s  a great number of unfair, unjust things are going to happen to both the world’s poor and world’s “on their way to becoming poor” - we will be forced to flee the coastlines and the dryest parts of the world.  We will struggle to live with much less energy and fewer resources.  We will face crises we’ve never seen before.  We will struggle to keep up food yields, and to feed our world.  And nearly all of us, wherever we live in the world, will feel unfairly used - because, after all, none of us meant this to happen, it isn’t fair.

And it isn’t.  None of us individually made our situation.  But the only hope of having a decent and humane future is this - that we ally with our fellows - next to us and around the world, that we the future poor and the present poor tie our sense of injustice to the project of creating greater equity - of ensuring that food goes first to the hungry, of sheltering those who are most vulnerable, and of mitigating suffering as our central project.  Justice, justice shall you pursue.  And all the days of your life.


Garden Salvage

Sharon October 14th, 2009

In her superb book _This Organic Life_ writer Joan Dye Gussow talks about making do with flood damaged produce - and why she doesn’t just go out and buy fresh, perfect stuff. 

“We harvested 37 pounds of onions, but despite my best efforts, some of them cured with soft spots where mold had gotten underneath the outer layers and would work its sway through the whole onion if we didn’t stop it.  So we had to cut up many onions and freeze teh good parts - or cook them.  All of which accounts for the fact that a year and a half after we arrived in Piermont, I found myself one morning cutting up a half-rotten onion to salvage, and realized that a year earlier ?I would have thrown the whole thing away.” Gussow, 103


“The lesson I take away from the realization that our crops will sometimes be drowned is not that those of us who live in the colder states can’t be relatively self-reliant; we can.  And although Alan and I would have been wise to choose higher ground, I’ve seen no sensible agricultural scenario that suggests that anything can be done to insulate food production from the vagaries of nature.  If we wish to feed ourselves from our own regions, and allow others to do the same, we will need to try and adjust our choices and our appetites to what Nature will provide in a given year.  We need accept the fact that in some years we won’t have al the potatoes and onions we want.  On the other hand, we will sometimes have more raspberries than we can eat, and the crops that succeed will be both safe and tasty.” Gussow, 107-108

Yesterday, I was reminded of this passage as I set myself to salvaging food from my garden.  In my case, it was my sunflowers and dry corn.  I’d noticed that blue jays after my sunflowers, but hadn’t seen that they’d gotten to the corn, too.  The sunflower damage seemed minimal when I checked a few days, so I optimistically elected to leave the sunflowers up a few more days, until our expected first hard frost down in the insulated lower garden.  This was a mistake, big time - yesterday, after our frost, I went out to gather the heads, only to find that most of them were very nearly empty.

Now this was non-trivial because those sunflowers are one of the ways I’m trying to minimize my dependence on the feed store and purchased grains - my chickens and turkeys will happily empty a head in a few minutes flat, and each seed reduces my grain costs.  The corn is an even bigger issue - this was food for us, a sweet grinding corn I love - there is no comparison with the bland cornmeal corns available most places.  Fortunately, the jays didn’t get the majority of the corn - but I was still out there, pulling any ear that had even a short row of kernels around it.

Ours was a tough garden year - we had over 20 inches of rain alone in June - you can tell the history of the year by my garden - I have two long areas that were planted in the lower garden after the beginning of July - these areas are flourishing. Everything else…well… there was a lot of salvage this year.  It doesn’t matter - we still cut the bird pecks out of the tomatoes, break off the slug damaged bush beans, eat the stunted vegetables, dehydrate potatoes or sweet potatoes too wet to store well.  It is food, and you don’t just waste it.

And this, I think, is a mindset that is worth getting into early on.  It would be easy to say “oh, it was a terrible crop, why bother.”  Or perhaps to say that the birds can have the last of the sunflower heads - after all, they are, we are told in the Torah, entitled to a share of the grain as well.  Fair enough, but now they’ve had their share, and I’m taking mine.  Even if it is imperfect.  Even if it wasn’t what I dreamed of.

The ability to make something of vegetables caught by frost, flooded, stunted by drought, partially eaten by some creature is one of our gifts - food preservation methods can mean that something that would otherwise have been lost can be saved - onions that won’t store well can be dehydrated or frozen, as Gussow points out.  Or new recipes arise for green tomato pickles, the outer leaves of cabbage and green pumpkin pie.  It is food, and you don’t waste it.

Today, in front of the woodstove, my children and I will draw back the husks of our corn, and hang it up to dry further in the house.  Most of the ears are full, some are not, but we will save what we can - because it is our food.  When we committed to growing it, we committed to this - that we will regard our food as primary.  I’ve no sorrow in buying to replace a lost crop, or to expand upon our gardens - that is normal and natural.  But if I grow it, and I possibly can, I will eat what I grow before I rely on other sources. 

It is hard to believe how differently people who live through food scarcity regard food - in some cultures, to tread on a piece of dropped bread is a sin, and a deep one.  In Elizabeth Erlich’s superb memoir of Jewish food, and of learning from her Holocaust survivor mother in law, she observes her mother using her thumb to ensure that every drop of egg white was removed from a shell, and when she enquires, her mother in law observes that her own father died of starvation - how could she ever waste food.

We are told that the only good and safe and healthy food is perfect - we are lied to and told that perfect looking is better for us, even if it has been doused with chemicals.  Up to 20% of all produce in the US is discarded and wasted simply because of cosmetic imperfections.  We thus lose the old habits of thrift and care, and the value that says “this is food, we do not let it go to waste.”

I don’t want to lose that. Asher came out with me to pick the corn, in a cold drizzle.  We picked the little ears and put them in bushel baskets.  We picked the big ones. He helped me spot the last few, and when he said “are we all done?” we didn’t stop until we were sure.  Not because I don’t want to feed the jays - but because it is food, and if I choose to feed the birds, it will be consciously, with intention, not because I let food, good food, go to waste.



Sharon October 11th, 2009

This weekend involved some serious apple picking - we had old friends visiting and a chance to try out a new orchard near us with some interesting old apples.  Now I’m not an old apple snob - or at least not entirely.  I’m very much interested in new introductions coming from breeding programs that reduce dependence on chemical controls, and I think some of the newer bred apples are as good as anything old - Mutsu, for example, is one of the best storage apples in my pantry.

Now apples aren’t a small thing for us - Eli is addicted to apples, they are his favorite food, and we buy about 12 bushels of apples every year (our own trees are just coming into bearing, so this is on top of what we produce), as well as making some cider when we can borrow a press, out of the wild apples on our property.  We dry apples, sauce them, make apple butter, but mostly eat them out of hand.  When anyone says they are hungry in our house, the one thing you can always have is an apple.

We enjoy everything from the earliest Summer Transparents and Oldenbergs that start off the new season to the September gravensteins and cortlands, but for me, real apples begin in mid-October, when the Northern Spies and Roxbury Russets are ripe.  They are tart and crisp, and something about each bite says “more, more.”    Apples grow in other places, of course - New York is only the second largest producer in the US…but to me, apples are inextricably linked with the cold, rocky soil that I was born into in the Northeast.

Today we drove into an Amish neighborhood to find an orchard that mentioned that they have Esopus Spitzenberg apples - Bellinger orchards in Glen/Fultonville for them that are out my way, although I fear that this year, they no longer have Spitzenberg apples.  You see they had a bad year for that variety, and only a few trees, and I pretty much harvested the lot (it wasn’t that much, in defense of my greed ;-) ).  They have a winey taste to them, sweetness, crispness, and an underlying spice - there’s nothing not to love about them. 

My kids can gorge on Pound Sweets (the old fashioned sweets are much better than most sweet apples, more complex) and Baldwins to their hearts content, but I’m hiding my Spitzenbergs, and doling them as a reward to myself and my husband, to be eaten with homemade herbed goat cheese or had as a snack on a particularly productive day, when they are well earned.  My own Spitzenberg trees are still small, but I smile at them a lot, and pat them, give them a nice dose of goat manure and a lot of kind words in anticipation of the days to come. 

It is no accident that we still revere Johnny Appleseed, or that wherever european settlers went, the brought apples.  The apples were a long lasting touch of sweetness, that for some varieties, kept well into winter.  They were food for children who ate few sweets, and not enough fresh things all winter long.  Their juice was sweet and delicious when fresh, and a source of warming alchohol in winter.  The drops fattened pigs or sheep.   They were roasted over the fire at night, and sliced and hung in rings behind the stove to dry.  They were packed into the root cellar and made into pies for breakfast (I have enough old New England WASP in my blood to believe in the merits of pie for breakfast…or really any time ;-) ).  With a mug of beer or cider, a piece of cheese and a chunk of bread the made the perfect, portable, delicious lunch.

Apples are part of my project too - first of all, we eat so many we’d be crazy not to have them.  I read the names on our list, listing places, origins, stories of the past: Roxbury Russet, which came from a neighborhood in Boston near where I grew up; Yellow Transparent, the first apple of summer; Freedom, a new introduction that seems to be resistant to some apple diseases; Baldwin, the old classic apple before Mac, which I vastly prefer; Arkansas Black, which wears its name on its sleeve; Chestnut, a delicious crab cross, tiny and superb; Chenango Strawberry, fruity and tied to my own region; Wolf River, a huge apple from Wisconsin, English Pearmain - perhaps the oldest known apple still in cultivation; Sheepnose, which carries a description in its name…Greening, Winesap, Grimes Golden, Liberty, Lady, Ananas Reinett.

Moreover, our rabbits and goats eat the tree prunings, and the drops.  Sweet cider is our favorite drink, and apples the only fruit that I can get locally all winter long.  We grow other tree fruits and nuts, of course, but while apricots and peaches, quinces and plums please us, there is no other fruit that makes us sigh in delight this way, or whose complexities get discussed, whose favorites get praised and defended as apples do. 

The bags of Spies, Mutsus, Spitzenbergs, Sweets and Macouns came home, but they are only the beginning of our appling - from now until the end of the month, we will be apple foragers, buying from several of our neighbors who grow them, filling our root cellar with boxes of apples in anticipation of the days when the trees are bare and we long for the tang and sweet crunch of autumn.


Start by Asking the Right Questions - Thinking About the Terms for the Debate on Local and Organic Food

Sharon September 11th, 2009

One of the reasons discussions of whether “organic” and “local” can “feed the world” often founder so badly is the whole set of presumptions that preceed such a discussion.  So let’s talk about those - James McWilliams’ book _Just Food_ and others have stirred up a good bit of controversy on this subject, and lots of people seem to know the answers.  But the real problem is that most people don’t really seem to understand what the questions are.

While I may eventually write a review of _Just Food_, which is a thoughtful, if sometimes weakly argued book, I think it is more important to speak about the terms of the debate, because discussions about food tend to begin from deeply wrong premises.

Consider the common question “can we feed the world with organic agriculture?”  Besides the fact that we haven’t asked what kind of organic agriculture (and people like McWilliams consistently conflate multiple kinds of agriculture, assuming that industrial organic and small scale agriculture are the same, and have the same proponents), people raising this discussion almost never actually ask “did we ever try to feed the world?”  The assumption, of course, is that industrial agriculture has always been engaged in the project of “feeding the world” - Cargill, ADM and Monsanto regularly argue that these are their goals, that their research is required to bring new crops that will make it possible to feed two or three more billion people.

The problem, of course, is that there is no evidence whatsoever that industrial agriculture has ever had the objective of feeding the world.  I am repeating here something Aaron and I say in much more detail in _A Nation of Farmers_ (and with full citation), but if you track the research, what you find is this.  The vast majority of increases in grain yields since the beginning of the Green Revolution didn’t feed hungry people - they went to feed livestock, to make meat in the rich world, and then to ethanol - with the help of the same industrial corporations that we plan to rely upon to feed us.  The same corporations that are going to “feed the world” by introducing new, drought resistant crops invested heavily in ethanol infrastructure, helping move more of the world’s grain harvest into gas tanks, rather than into people’s mouths.

At the same time that corporations were breeding herbicide resistant corn, and struggling to breed (unsuccessfully thus far) drought resistant crop varieties to respond to climate change, they were enabling climate change - encouraging the expansion of industrial agricultural plantations of palm, bananas and grain into rainforest areas that are carbon sinks, using heavy chemicals and encouraging corn-soybean rotations that strip the soil of organic matter and leave soils unable to hold carbon in large quantities, and, of course, encouraging people in the poor and rich world to turn agriculture, which could be a net carbon sink, into a root source of up to 1/4 of the world’s total emissions.

We assume that industrial agriculture is “efficient” - and in some ways, it has been efficient at reducing human involvement in the rich world, and replacing it with humans from the poor world or fossil fuels.  But industrial agriculture also is deeply inefficient - that is, at the same time it works towards a stated goal - feeding people - it also operates to reduce our capacity to feed people.  Imagine that, say, Microsoft were to devote nearly as much of its resources to getting people not to buy Windows as they do to selling it, and that gives you a sense of the scale of the problem.  One of the most basic ways to streamline the food system would simply be to stop the “three steps forward, two steps back” system, and go for one or two steps forward at a time.

Moreover, when discussing the future, we must talk clearly and honestly about climate change.  Aaron Newton and I also asked “can we feed the world” and spent several years researching the answer.  Our answer is simply this - it depends on the extent and violence of climate change.  More profound droughts, loss of meltwater for irrigated agriculture, which produces 30% of the world’s grains, more flooding, the permanent loss of some land to food production, higher temperatures that reduce grain yields, all of these things move us towards a food disaster.  And what most commentators ignore in the discussion is this - we have pinned our hopes on GMOs - and we have no evidence (something McWilliams cheerfully ignores) that even were there no other concerns about GMOs, that we can increase yields with them.  McWilliams speaks of the importance of creating drought-resistant cassava varieties for African farmers facing climate change as a good use of GMOs.  The difficulty is that several studies have demonstrated that up until now, no genetically modified food (and they’ve been making them for some time now) has ever had a significant impact on yields.   The fact that so far, GMOs don’t work is a fairly big elephant in the room.

And perhaps it would make sense for us to pin our hopes on that elephant if we had no other options - but what people tend to ignore is this - what’s fascinating about research on small scale intensive, low input (some organic, some not - Aaron and I are not organic purists, but we believe that given our fossil fuel predicament, the chance that we’re all going to be able to dump all the fossil fuels we want on food without causing famine by food price rises is ridiculous) agriculture that focuses on soil and sustainable systems is that they often come close to matching the yields of industrial agriculture, but fall short in the best years.  What’s important to know, however is that in the worst years - the dryest and the wettest, these systems come into their own.  Greater amounts of organic matter mean both more water in the soil in dry years and better drainage in wet ones.  Greater diversity of crops means fewer complete losses.  Right now, the only proven tool we have for responding to climate change in agriculture is small scale, low-input, diversified small farms - period.  We can debate about what the best hypotheticals are, but the proof is all firmly on the side of one model.

Aaron and I spend a lot more time on this question in our book, but it is important to note that our current agricultural model does not either intend to feed the world, nor does it do so.  The UN FAO reports that at this point, two *billion* people in the world live on the product of low input, small scale, non-industrial agriculture.  I often hear people observe that without fossil inputs on a large scale we can feed only half a billion or a billion people - McWilliams puts this figure at 4 billion, which is at least more credible.  But we are already feeding 2 billion people that way.  Moreover, large scale industrial agriculture is not presently feeding the world - 85% of the world’s farms are small farms, smaller than 5 hectares.  These farms produce nearly half of the world’s total grain, and much more than half (since they are usually diversified) of the world’s total food calories.  Local food may not be feeding New York City and the I95 corridor, and it never will - I know of no rational thinker who believes so.  But local food *is* already feeding much of the world - the majority of the world’s poor don’t eat a Caesar salad that travelled 1,500 miles - they don’t even eat rice that travelled that distance.

The correct *QUESTIONS* are not being asked.  To what extent can local food *continue* to feed the world?  How can we begin to grow food in a way that doesn’t undermine our capacity to feed ourselves in the future?  What are the best demonstrated ways to adapt to climate change?  How should add complexity to discussions of organic or local to create ways of eating that actually lead to a future where everyone gets food?  How do we make the best use of our limited resources, in a world of limits?  Until we ask the right questions, we will never get decent answers.  


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