Thursday, May 01, 2008

Our Amber Waves of Grain


I've been thinking about our global food crisis lately. If you aren't aware of this crisis, I encourage you to read up on it in this five part series from the Washington Post.

I read Diet for a Small Planet back in college, back in the days when I was, believe it or not, an experimental vegan. This was when I first learned that the grain it takes to feed just one cow could feed an entire village in Africa. I also became aware that we really did have enough food to feed the whole world, but certain countries had the power to buy when others did not have that kind of economic strength and that evil government dictators made it impossible and kept their people poor.

I've since at least glanced through a book called "Against the Grain" and had at least one gluten-intolerant roommate. A gal I saw get very thin and whose hair and nails grew like weeds after giving up wheat, oats and barley. I also learned in anthropology, as well as the DC Museum of Natural History, that grain is not actually the best nutritional source. That our hunter-gatherer ancestors, those who ate meat, roots and leaves, were a whole five inches taller than their farming descendents, those who started cultivating grain.

Grain, though not the best source of fuel for our bodies, is the fuel that will sustain the lives of most of the third world. We seem to be able to find all sorts of intolerances and create special diets to get around our daily bread, yet have the luxury of feeding on animals who've fed on our (historically cheap) grain rather than feeding this poor world.

I'm not sure what the solution is here or what sort of protest of diet or soul or what can be done to help this problem. Some refuse to buy grain-fed beef. But that's mostly because of health concerns. Grass-fed is supposed to be better for you. Others just don't eat meat altogether either because of health or animal cruelty or religious convictions. With the rise of grain prices and more corn being converted into ethanol instead of as a food source for us or the third world, going grainless might be another growing diet fad...but then what's left for the health and humanitarian conscience? lettuce?

3 comments:

Steve said...

Way to be well versed on the issue! Yeah, as a hobby nutritionist, I'm not sure either what the solution is. I try to stick to as natural as possible and only meat and veggies (except for pizza night!) after 4pm. But I think the biggest problem is that we don't even KNOW what we are eating most of the time, even when we try to figure it out.
As for feeding the world, one of the biggest problems is sadly simple logistics. Often times, the food spoils or there is just too much for the poor infrastructure in the most remote regions (ie the ones that need it the most!) to support and get it to them. It's b/c of this that USAID and World Bank have made a big push to encourage the donation of pure, hard cash for humanitarian assistance b/c it's faster and cheaper to help people than silly canned food drives which do more harm than good. I have the stats on that if you want/need it for any research.

The more I think of the future and that of bringing children into it, I want to buy a plot of land in some BFE place and live off of it growing my own food and stuff. But since I'm hardly a "Farmer needs a Wife" kind of guy, I don't think I could survive.

I imagine that out of necessity we will all eventually eat like they do on Star Trek by just taking pills and eating will become one of those things the old folks did like farming and the use of outhouses is to us.

SJ said...

canned food drives more harm than good? Yes, please, do share.

Steve said...

Here is a simple
fact sheet
and a website with more info if you want it.