Wednesday, May 28, 2008

food choices

As a European I grew up on grain: oats, barley and wheat. The oats were traditional in Scotland, not only in porridge but also in the form of oatcakes and sweet flapjacks. Barley padded out soups and stews. Oats and barley grew near my home and as a child I presumed that was where my food came from. It might have been true. Wheat grew in England and I presumed that the bread my grandfather made was from English wheat (even though he was a staunch nationalist). The picture on the bag of flour looked like an Englishman. When did the UK lose its ability to feed its people, did it, or was it just cheaper to import the staple grains from elsewhere?
For a while I lived on the edge of a housing development in Oxfordshire. The fields across the driveway were wheat, and in that flat landscape the fields went to the horizon. It was something to watch summer thunderstorms move the grain in golden waves. Those fields are under houses now. What came first – the need for more houses or the farmer being unable to compete with cheaper wheat from overseas?
In his book, ‘The Omnivores Dilemma’, Michael Pollan investigates the US corn industry, a fascinating tale of farm subsidies and agribusiness profits and politics. Now the information may become quickly outdated with the rise in corn raised for fuel. Food First has very interesting reading on the agrifuels subject. (Food First should really be compulsory reading for all high school classes.)
The agrifuels phenomena and natural phenomena – droughts, earthquakes, flooding – have been blamed for the current world grain crisis. There is of course more to it. There has to be an effort to change the way we live: we must learn to live in a way that is sustainable environmentally, socially, economically. The following is from the latest, May 16th release from Food First, please read the whole article on their web site:

‘The skyrocketing cost of food has resurrected the specter of the "food riot."
The World Bank reports that global food prices rose 83% over the last three years and the FAO cites a 45% increase in their world food price index during just the past nine months.1 The Economist’s comparable index stands at its highest point since it was originally formulated in 1845.2 As of March 2008, average world wheat prices were 130% above their level a year earlier, soy prices were 87% higher, rice had climbed 74%, and maize was up 31%.3’

I’ve been looking for ways I can change my lifestyle. I don’t have a car, or a telephone, or hot water. I do have a fridge and a computer and music. In the food I buy I try to keep it local – at least to Central America, but it is difficult with grains and legumes. Rice and corn grow here, black and kidney beans too. All good. It’s the lentils (Canada), chickpeas (California), white beans (southern US), and wheat (China?) that I enjoy so much and make life a lot easier that come from far away and are therefore reliant on international trade agreements, world economy and the petrochemical industry for transportation and distribution. How do I cut back? What makes it more difficult is the dogs. They don’t eat dogfood (allergic, probably to the wheat or the chemicals sprayed on the wheat to keep it rat and insect free while on container ships as it moves across the world). They like lentils and can digest them just fine, but beans, not really. And for me bread is easy and familiar, it’s so much easier to take a sandwich to school than to make anything else. I could make cornbread. Locally and in indigenous cultures around the tropics flour was made from cassava, malanga, pejebaye and platanos – all of which I have growing in the garden. I could do that. But it’s too time consuming and I couldn’t keep up with my own demand. I already have one full time job and a half time garden.
Maybe I just live with it, consciously understanding that this is a choice and that there are consequences. Or perhaps I try to do without. Perhaps I try for a trial period to see if I can do without my goods from far away. I think I will. Maybe in June, I’ll be finished with my current stash by then. Today is May 25th, that gives me 6 days. Good. That feels good.
Footnote to that:
Yesterday my beanburger was topped with a slice of raw onion. I didn’t recognize the taste and actually had to look to see what was so good. I really am only eating veg and fruit I grow in the garden. I don’t eat out much either.