January 14, 2011
Recently there has been an incredible flurry of news reporting about food shortages and the pending global food crisis. Everyone who looks at the indicators would agree that this crisis is only likely to worsen. It is estimated that the Australia floods alone could cause a 30% jump in food prices. Although the average shopper already can feel the food inflation, it is difficult to recognize the severity of the looming food shortages. After all, there are still 15 types of colorfully-boxed Cheerios packing the isles, which gives us the illusion of abundance.
The truth is that we are headed for large food production shortfalls, manipulated or not, while middle-class food demand grows massively in the developing world. For decades the world’s agriculture community produced more than enough food to feed the planet, yet some now believe we are reaching “Peak Food” production levels. In turn, other experts believe the “food bubble” is about to burst, and not even the biotech companies can save us.
However, there are still vast unused stretches of fertile land that can be used around the globe, and the U.S. ethanol mandates that reportedly consume at least 25% of the corn harvest could be reduced to ease the burden. Therefore, it seems that despite the extreme weather and dwindling harvests, food production still has room to increase, but not without foresight and planning.
Additionally, the current systems for growing food are fully dependent on oil to achieve high levels of production, while livestock production is running at full concentration-camp capacity; the end product must then travel thousands of miles to get to store shelves. Clearly we can see the fragile nature of this system, especially on human health and the environment. Consequently, solving the so-called “food crisis” is far more complex than simply fixing statistical supply and demand issues.
Indeed, these are turbulent times where humanity appears to be nearing Peak Everything. Ultimately, solutions to the food crisis will begin at the local level. There are cutting-edge farming techniques gaining popularity that produce a large variety of crops by mimicking nature, as well as innovative techniques for small-scale food production at home or in urban buildings. These hold promise for easing local hunger.
Personal ways to protect yourself from food shortages may seem obvious to some, but many feel the task can be insurmountable. To the contrary, here are 5 simple ways to protect yourself from the coming food crisis:
1. Create a Food Bank: Everyone should have a back-up to the everyday food pantry. In this environment, you should consider your personal food bank far more valuable than a dollar savings account. Start by picking up extra canned goods, dried foods, and other essentials for storage each time you go to the store. Also, hunt for coupons and shop for deals when they come up. Devise a plan for FIFO (first in, first out) rotation for your food bank. It is advisable to acquire food-grade bins to store your bulk dried foods, and be sure to label and date everything. Besides the obvious store-able foods like rice and beans, or canned goods, some other important items to hoard are salt, peanut butter, cooking oils, sugar, coffee, and powdered milk. If you don’t believe the food crisis will be too severe, then buy items that you would eat on a normal daily basis. But if you believe the crisis will be sustained for some time, purchasing a grain mill to refine bulk wheat or corn may prove to be the most economical way to stretch your food bank. Some emergency MREs are also something to consider because they have a long shelf life.
2.Produce Your Own Food: Having some capacity to produce your own food will simply become a necessity as the food system crumbles. If you don’t know much about gardening, then start small with a few garden boxes for tomatoes, herbs, or sprouting and keep expanding to the limits of your garden. And for goodness sakes, get some chickens. They are a supremely easy animal to maintain and come with endless benefits from providing eggs and meat, to eating bugs and producing rich manure. Five laying hens will ensure good cheap protein for the whole family. If you have limited growing space, there are brilliant aquaculture systems that can produce an abundance of fish and vegetables in a small area. Aquaculture is a contained organic hydroponic system where the fertilized waste water from the fish tank is pumped through the vegetable growing trays which absorb the nutrients before returning clean water to the fish tank. Set high goals for independent food production, but start with what’s manageable.
3. Learn Food Preservation: Food preservation comes in many forms such as canning, pickling, and dehydrating. In every case some tools and materials are required along with a good deal of knowledge. If you can afford a dehydrator, they all usually come with a preparation guide for most foods. You can also purchase a vacuum sealer if you have the means. A good vacuum sealer should come with thorough instructions and storage tips, and will add months if not years to many food items. If you’re a beginner at canning, start with tomatoes first. It’s easy and very valuable when all your tomatoes ripen at the same time and you want fresh pasta sauce in the winter. A bigger ticket item that is nice to have for food preservation is a DC solar powered chest freezer. It is the ultimate treasure chest.
4. Store Seeds: The government and the elite have seed banks and so should you. Seeds have been a viable currency in many civilizations past and present. They represent food when scarcity hits. Before the rise of commercial seed giants like Monsanto, local gardeners were adept at selecting seeds from the healthiest plants, saving them, and introducing them to the harvest for the following year, thus strengthening the species. Through local adaptation to pests, genetic diversity was further ensured; it was long-term thinking at its finest. That is why it is important to find heirloom seed banks and learn to save seeds from each harvest.
5. Join or Start a Local Co-Op: Joining local cooperatives is very important, especially when food shortages occur. You may not be able to provide for yourself completely, especially in terms of variety, so having a community mechanism to spread the burden and share the spoils will be critical. If you don’t know if you have a local food cooperative in your area you can search the directory at LocalHarvest.org. You may also be able to get information from your local farmers market. If your area doesn’t have a co-op, then start one. These co-ops don’t have to be big or elaborate. In fact, it may be more optimal to organize it with friends, neighbors, or co-workers. Whether you join or start a cooperative, work to expand the participants and products.