Waste Not, Want Not: We Can Already Feed Ten Billion

One of our LFS 350 lectures this week was a TED talk by Tristram Stuart. He spoke about the extent of food waste in both developed and undeveloped countries today, and the numbers are shocking. A worry often presented about population growth is that we will not have enough food to feed ten billion people. In fact, we already do. The problem of course, is that this is testing the planet’s ecological limits severely.

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A number I found especially interesting was the statistic of 3-4 times the amount of food being available in the United States as is needed to feed the entire US population a nutritious diet. I do think that Stuart fails to mention that excess food is not as bad a thing as some might make out. I would argue that it should be considered an essential aspect of food security that a population not only have healthy, accessible, culturally appropriate food available at any given point in time, but also be able to maintain that diet for at least a year’s time using food and resources which are available at that time and do not need to still be planned for or produced. This is essential when we consider the need for preparedness and self-reliance in a community, particularly in harder times. If even minor disasters like deaths in the family, unemployment, and so on occur, having a barrier of food available takes away the major stress factor of having to see to those needs as well. On the individual and family level, this should mean buying extra. When we look at a population, however, this will show up as “excess” food. It should not be considered as such. When larger disasters, such as flooding, forest fires, or blizzards hit (all things that happen in Canada every year), it means that emergency response has these resources at their disposal.

Even with this consideration, developed countries obviously still have a lot of excess food. Sure, we might be able to feed ten billion people with available food…but not with its current distribution and accessibility. The EU regulations on things like the shape and size of cucumbers and bendiness of bananas are rather memorable examples of the nature of some of laws contributing to waste. It would be a rather funny look into the strange minds of the Eurocrats if it were not also the case that laws like these contribute to the waste of atrocious amounts of food each year. The following images are striking:

The amount of bananas wasted because of improper shape on a single day on a single farm. Numerous farms throw out similar or higher numbers each day, for months during harvest.

Now I’m sure not all of those are unusable. Soups or sauces?

In line with the preparedness theme, it would be a great idea to use some of this waste to make storable, nonperishable foods. Soups and stews which can be canned are an example. For some entrepreneurs out there, it might be worth seeing if this can be done so that the end product can be sold at lower cost. It’s a common and valid criticism that many of the local , healthy foods hitting the market are only accessible to higher-income families. Yuppies, hipsters, etc, can benefit, but can the downtown east side of Vancouver? Providing low-cost, healthy, and maybe even local food would be a great way to overcome this obstacle, and hopefully allay some of that waste at the same time.

I highly recommend this video. As well as looking at more sustainable food production, finding ways to decrease waste is essential in order to create food systems which can serve us in the coming decades.


Whose Consent?

Today as part of my LFS 350 readings, I read this article detailing the experiences of researchers, mostly students, working with Northern indigenous communities and the trials they faced balancing the needs of their work with the requirements of ethics boards. The article focuses especially on conflicts which can occur between the boards’ standards on the one hand and the customs of aboriginal communities on the other. The conclusion the article comes to is that researchers should be given more leeway, particularly in the field, in the methods of negotiating consent. Moreover, it would be far more efficient for boards to allow previous consent forms and other documents to be edited and reused, rather than starting each project from scratch. I believe that the article is quite correct on this point. Indeed, it reveals a lot about the strict and unyielding ways in which consent is conceived of in universities in general and academic research in particular.

A frequently-cited example of an obstacle was that researchers realized that written consent forms and anonymity conflicted with traditionally accepted methods of interaction in these communities. It was considered disrespectful to not cite a person who gave you certain knowledge, or to require further contract when oral consent had already been given. This begs the question – given the extreme focus on consent, should it not be rooted in the way consent works in the real world, especially given the heavy academic and even legal penalties which can result if consent is not considered to be present in research. Take this statement by a researcher who had developed close relationships in the community, saying that they had even begun to consider her a friend:

“From an empiricist standpoint, this would be coercion but from my feminist and post-modern perspective this is reality and the lived experience of conducting research . . . in a small northern community. I wondered whether anyone would refuse consent considering I was thought of as one of their co-workers?”

It seems ridiculous to consider consent to be so narrowly present that only contracts can communicate it. Indeed, in the case of practices like written contracts which can violate cultural mores, certain regulations of the ethics boards makes consent harder to obtain than it would otherwise be. While realizing the need for ethical oversight, it seems certain that reconsiderations need to be made.

A comment in the article that I found interesting was the mentioning of requiring community consent and not only individual consent, due to less distinctions in aboriginal cultures between these notions. It caused me to think, however, of situations where the former may undermine research. This is especially true if we are investigating the views of community members on the way in which things are being run, asking questions about leadership and corruption, and investigating topics which community leaders may have vested interests in keeping out of the public eye. Community consent interpreted as consent of the leaders (chiefs, elders, etc)  may in fact have drastic effects in these areas. It also fails to realize that the person within these communities does in fact have individual agency, and refusing to acknowledge this inhibits research and is quite plainly dishonest.

It’s clear that this issue is one most of us will have to face at some point, if we haven’t already. Hopefully we will be fortunate enough to be dealing with more enlightened people on the ethics boards. While keeping consent in mind, it’s essential that it not be legalized and formalized into an abstraction. The results can end up making the whole project an exercise in futility.


September Startup: Let’s Get Blogging!

Hi everyone! Classes are starting again and hopefully things are looking bright this year. I got to talk to a number of people during the first Global Resource Systems class and it seems like there’s potential for lots of interesting projects and developments this year.

I’m writing this post for a couple reasons: first to update where it looks like I’m heading in this program, and second, to provide something of a plan for where this blog is going over the next semester.

I transferred to the GRS program in my second year from Arts. Originally, I was looking to combine my interests in politics and economics with the Econ/Polisci combined major. GRS allowed me to take a closer look at food production, and I was considering the policy field.

After having done a course in International Agricultural Development (FRE 340 – fantastically taught by Chris Bennet), plus LFS 250, and ECON’s Wealth and Poverty of Nations course, I’ve become more focused on development as a field. By development I don’t just mean the economic development of the Global South, but also redevelopment in Western countries as our economic needs undergo radical shifts in the coming decades, due to technological progress on the one hand, and climate change, economic turmoil, and political and social changes on the other. After having followed the Idle No More movement over the past year, the possibilities for First Nations to initiate economic growth on traditional lands beyond natural resources is a subject I would like to examine. That includes consulting in getting businesses started, food production, and also sustainable natural resource opportunities. Internationally, I want to look at ways in which Europe, Russia, Canada, and other “global North” countries can devise development policies and programs to work toward mutually beneficial social and economic outcomes with the global South, and particularly to better manage the underlying causes of mass migration.

On this blog, I plan to start looking at these and other development topics in depth. If possible, I would like for other people in development, GRS, or simply interested parties to begin networking more and using our blogs to discuss these topics online. I will be posting more regularly – I’m going to try for a new post every two weeks or so, in order to balance quality writing and regularity in posting.

LFS 350 offers a particularly exciting opportunity this year: my group will be working with Inner City Farms in order to identify future retail opportunities. As I want to look at business consultation for growing firms in the development field, I’m pretty stoked. I’ll cross post from the group blog when those begin coming out – currently I am still waiting for authorization.

Hopefully this year will bring about greater focus as well as a broadening of horizons – no, that’s not contradictory. I’m looking forward to working with you all again. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll join in the fun!

Warning: further reading of this and related blogs may result in increased awareness levels and tendency to adopt sustainable lifestyles.