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By Jennifer Weston from December 2020

This opening blog post is the last essay for the excellent Edx course Writing for Social Justice. As I live in a farming area, this topic is close to my heart.

A big thank you to Maggie Sokolik, Director of Writing at the University of California, Berkeley for your calm and informative instruction.

Food production and waste

Food is a fundamental to everyone’s life.  Healthy food is a human right not everyone has access to. We know that the world is facing a food crisis that threatens lives and livelihoods around the globe. The population has risen in the past 10 years but the area of arable land use has only risen by 2%.  This has been managed by the 30% increase of pesticides globally (Statistical year book, 2020).  Spraying the crops with pesticides obviously increase yields, but is this the best way to farm?  If land use has not increased but yields have then obviously, we need to use more land in the future to feed a growing population.  Then there will be the tipping point; the classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ where we have more mouths to feed than land to grow food.  Something will have to be done.  Either curb the population growth or find sustainable ways of producing more food.

Perhaps we can open our minds to what items constitute food. We eat a lot of the same foods. 50% of the global crops are rice, wheat, maize and sugar cane (Statistical year book, 2020).  A lot of our food producing land is designated for animal pasture.  Some of this acreage could be converted into arable farm land. Consequently, if less animals were farmed then more people would choose to eat vegetable-based meals more often.  However, changing our habits further and eating a vegan diet could be the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on the earth as recommended by an Oxford University study (World Economic Forum 2020).

If the world’s population expands to 10 billion by 2050 as projected, the world will need to produce 70% more food. The necessary upturn in agriculture and deforestation would result in a catastrophic increase in greenhouse gas pollution.

However, cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73% due to the methane produced by cattle.

To feed more than 10 billion people within our planetary boundaries by 2050, while ending hunger and tackling unhealthy diets, we will have to fundamentally change the food system, requiring co-ordinated and large-scale action by all stakeholders across multiple axes (World Economic Forum 2020).

I would like to suggest small steps that lead to wide-spread change that can be implemented in the following ways:

Eating a vegan diet as previously mentioned.  Any changes to a more plant-based diet can help here.  Eating meat free 3 time a week is a reasonable start.

Why not try widening your palate to enjoy different edible plants that have been ingested throughout history.  Many people have been embracing foraging the hedgerows for nutritious edible plants that are usually overlooked as ‘weeds.’  The obvious plants are blackberries and quince, which have been used for centuries to make delicious preserves.  With a bit of local knowledge and a good guide book, wild edible plants can be a great addition to the menu (Foraged Foods 2020).  

Experts have been exploring new foods to reduce the environmental impact of intensive farming. 50 new plant-based foods have been identified including algae and cacti. There are also new initiatives based on farming insects (The Insect Farm 2020). I hear they are delicious!

Some urban spaces have been transformed into community vegetable gardens by green fingered locals, who grow herbs and plant fruit trees for everyone to pick and enjoy.  This radical act of sharing ensures both the land and people are cared for.

Much has been said about food waste and it’s contribution to global hunger.  It links again to the tragedy of the commons model.  Food that is thoughtlessly thrown away could be a sustaining meal for someone else. 

We must change out behaviours and see all food as important.  If you have an excess then sell or share it. We can longer let food rot in the ground whilst others starve. Arable land shortage is very real in areas of growing population. We should no longer buy more food than we eat and have it wasted.  Be the change you want to see.

Reference:

Statistical Yearbook World Food and Agriculture 2020 (fao.org)

In Focus | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

Wild Plants & Herbs | Foraged Foods

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Eat me if you dare, Robber Fly, Jennifer Weston ©

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