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Food security is an essential element of resilience. It prepares for the worst, but even if the worst does not come it provide benefit such as boosting the local economy, supporting small and medium businesses, and often providing a greater variety of better quality food.
The term “food insecurity” refers both to the actual availability of the food supply and to its safety. It’s the central theme in Paul Robert’s book, End of Food, which provides great detail on this large and complicated issue. One of the points Roberts makes is that regional food systems can add greatly to food security of both types.
Knowing your food producer increases food safety. Consumers can know who is accountable for the safety of the food if it is local. Producers of industrial food are largely anonymous and the source of bacterial outbreaks can be difficult, or sometimes impossible, to trace. As described in Dr. Hackett’s essay, industrially-produced food requires a great deal more petroleum energy than does locally-produced food. Availability of oil and the price of that oil affects food availaility and affordability. When oil reached $4.00 a gallon in the summer of 2008, food appeared to be scarce. We had our own small food panic in Humboldt County. Local TV news showed some of our neighbors buying such large quantities of basic food supplies that the Eureka COSTCO had to restrict the number of bags of rice each customer could buy at one time. As energy becomes scarce and more expensive, local food will become even more important to our food security.
Industrially-produced and processed food is heavily dependant on petroleum fuel. The U.S. food system uses ten times more energy than it produces in the form of food calories. Used to fuel transportation and farm equipment, petroleum is also used in fertilizer, many pesticides, and in processing and packaging foods. Petroleum fuels have heretofore been cheap and abundant, but that scenario is changing. As many other parts of the world grow and develop higher standards of living, the demand for and the price of oil goes up. As oil becomes more scarce, the price will rise. Oil prices rose enormously in 2008. The effect on the global food system was rapid and dramatic. Global food prices increased almost 50 percent. Some countries stopped exporting food; there were food riots in others.
Two additional issues threaten food security: scarcity of water and global climate change. Industrial agriculture uses more water than is provided by precipitation in the form of rain or snow. Agricultural water is coming from ancient aquifers and is being used faster than those aquifers can be recharged. Weather patterns are changing. Draught conditions exist in many parts of the world. Farmers in the Central Valley of California dramatically reduced their planting in 2009 because they did not have enough water. Less planting means less food, and food at higher prices. Industrial agriculture is a contributor to these global climate changes.
Three of the major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane. Industrial agriculture is major contributor of CO2 and N2O. Livestock production alone creates 18 percent of greenhouse gasses globally. We cannot know all of the effects of climate change, but this we do know: where and how the world produces food will change.
Supporting local agriculture now means that we will have the farms and local food system infrastructure needed for our future.
Livestock and food security
Animal feed and food security
Highly inefficient food production practices, even when entirely within wealthy countries, have a global impact on food prices. Grain-fed livestock have a high ecological footprint, requiring large areas of land to produce the grain. Such practices increase the demand for grains, and thus food prices and food security, especially in developing countries.
This is much less true where animals graze on grass or eat scraps.
The impact is greater on developing countries and particularly on the foods purchased by the poorer segments of those countries, because the price of basic foodstuffs makes up a greater proportion of the price of purchased foods. Non-grain foods are not directly affected, but the demand for land to produce food for livestock will indirectly increase the price of all foods.
- YES Magazine,Spring 2009,pg.19
- YES Magazine,Spring 2009,pg.24