The summer of 2014, Chautauqua Institution had “Feeding a Hungry Planet” as the theme for Week Two of the summer. “As the world’s population swells and more countries become industrialized, Chautauqua and National Geographic present a week focused on the increasingly stressed global food supply, a subject the magazine is making into a yearlong series in 2014.”
I did not think I was interested and missed the first three of five lectures. But I attended the morning lecture on Thursday, without a notebook. I was fascinated!
The speaker was Pamela C. Ronald, an American plant pathologist and geneticist, author, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center and Director of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, IFAL, at the University of California at Davis.
She focused on GMOs. In my ignorance, I thought we should avoid all food labeled as being genetically modified. She informed the audience EVERYTHING in our current food supply is genetically modified! Shocking! Only a certain type of salmon on the West Coast and only wild blueberries on the East Coast are not genetically modified. It appears we are kidding ourselves if we think buying non GMO foods is going to make us healthier. She did not talk about the consequences of eating GMO foods, but she talked about the reasons why GMOs have occurred and how beneficial they are – that is, if there were no GMOs, there would be no food supply. Most, if not all, foods would be destroyed or contaminated without GMOs. She informed us there are foods we would not have today if it weren’t for GMOs. Mangoes are one of those foods. We are worrying about how to feed the world’s population in 2050. Without GMOs plumping our food supply, large numbers of people will be starving.
Friday, I came to the lecture with notebook and pen. Randall Fitzgerald, the author of several books, gave a lecture titled the same as one of his books: The Hundred-Year Lie: How to Pretect Yourself from the Chemicals That Are Destroying Your Health. ”
He talked about the future of our food: we work towards abundance or sustainability. Our recycling has increased exponentially. We have forgotten the purpose of refusing to buy something that has to be recycled. We use them to justify our behaviors.
What are we trying to sustain? To rely on oceans for protein. One in ten people are directly employed by fishing. Most fish are globally traded, and more fish are farmed than beef. The need will triple by 2025. This huge need for fish threatens to topple the ecological system. Doctors tell us to eat more seafood. If we only eat from the green list, we fail all the other lists. He says we need a “do not harm” approach. Now is the time to restore the oceans. We manage human behavior, but we do not manage the oceans. 95% of our fish consumption is only ten species. The largest are – shrimp, tuna, salmon. We import over 90% of our fish. We are eating other peoples’ dinner. For 6 shrimp, we waste more in overcatch. Let’s use the food we have to feed 7-9 billion people.
Randall ordered a certain fish for an event at his restaurant. They gave him leftover bait, as they had nothing else. 800 lbs. of flying fish. $24 for bait that night cooked in a sumptuous manner. It sold out by 7pm.
Aquaculture – farmed salmon – post of what’s wrong. Use antibiotics for such density of life. If not farmed salmon, what do you eat instead? Beef! Farmed salmon is the ecological choice and healthier. We have sabotaged our own purposes. We forget about the dams blocking Atlantic salmon from reproducing. We are eating the fish that belong to other people. We will have more of the US under water if we eat only 4% of our ocean food supply. We need to eat smartly from the ocean. We need to eat more vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts.
We have unprecedented diabetes and obesity. We are the first generation in history which will have the next generation living shorter lives!
We need to focus on how humans affect eco-systems in a story of destruction and decay. Acting in self-interest, our ruin will solidify our guilt. Our choices bring sickness and disease to us. We fail to acknowledge how we are affected by them. We are trying to sustain ourselves. Speak not of the tragedy but of the responsibility. We need to recommit to understand our heritage.
He gave us three rules:
- Eat domestically farmed seafood. Set an example globally. Sustain the fishermen.
- Eat lower on the food chain – clams, oysters, sardines, mussels, heron – its cheap, more delicious, and healthier.
- Go to Wegman’s and buy all the farm raised oysters you can and a 6-pack of beer. You can’t eat too many oysters.
Eat together, and eat with joy.
Frozen and canned fish makes it less expensive. Cans are recyclable.
Agriculture is by far the largest user of our water. It also contributes to climate change. 60% burning fossil fuels. 35% from agriculture. 15% transportation. Our use of water contributes more to climate change than anything else!
Animals release methane. More cattle methane comes from the mouth. Nitrous oxide is not a laughing matter. If you use too much fertilizer, it produces Nitrous Oxide.
It is much bigger than an environmental problem. It is a civilization problem. Like – do we have one? We have to stop talking about environment, and concentrate on health and food. How can we sustain the planet we live on?
Of 7.2 billion people, 8 -9million people do not have food security. Those people don’t have enough money for their food. We have plenty of food but 8-9 million can’t get it. We are going to have 2 billion more people. 4 billion are getting richer. Now there is a global middle. 4 billion are getting richer by the world’s standards. They change their diets – more meat and dairy and richer foods.
We will need twice as much food by 2050. We need to become truly sustainable. Rice and wheat are the base of our food supply. 40% of the world’s rice growth areas are declining. Wheat covers most land. Wheat is declining. We put money into corn and soybeans to feed animals. We must stop deforestation! We have to deliver more food on less land.
There is land in the world which is not being used to its best use. Especially Africa. Focus on the base of the food pyramid. GMOs are not helping the African farmer – they need water! They use lower technologies.
Deliver more food with less chemicals. We have to be more efficient. We couldn’t be less efficient than we are today. Be smarter by watering crops. 87% of farmland feeds animals. America, and much of the world, waste 40% of our food. We have to figure out how to grow more.
- Brazil has cut their deforestation by 50%.
- Indonesia is a huge hot spot for deforestation.
- India uses half the irrigation water of the world!
We do have reason for optimism: we have the tools we need, we need to get to work. We need to collaborate. The next 20-30 years will affect the future of our world. Sustainability is about our hearts, not our heads. Figure out what you hope for.