Thursday, August 5, 2010

What Is In Your Food System?

With the news report that Vladimir Putin had banned further exports from Russia of cereal grains like wheat and barley it comes to my mind again today how fragile the food system is in the United States and how the industrialization of growing, processing, and delivering food creates a weak system not to mention one lacking in basic nutrition. Having reconnected with many people in the Los Angeles area recently I began to imagine what would happen to the tens of millions of people in that area, many of them trapped in valleys surrounded by mountains, with little water, and almost no usable land in which to grow food if any one of the known and expected natural or manmade catastrophes were to occur. Being completely dependent on a remote food supply isn’t a situation I would willingly put my family in.

Aside from the creeper disasters like drought that slowly erode an area’s ability to produce food, we have the super volcano in Yosemite ready to go off at any time, an eight foot bulge at a plate convergence running 100 miles up the coastline of Oregon, and wildly variable weather like that which caused late blight to reappear this week again in New York. We will have to wait to see if it creates the kind of destruction to whole fields of crops like it did last year. Too much rain might fall drowning fields or making it impossible to collect a usable crop. Many combinations of all of these and our dependence on the Interstate Highway System that won’t work if people are attempting to flee an area create a multitude of potential crises, some of which might make the atomic bombs I was drilled repeatedly to protect myself from in grade school by hiding under a piece of wood look like a welcome scenario.

Maybe it was this aspect of growing up in the United States that has lulled us into a state of euphoric bliss and denial that anything could ever go wrong. After all, we survived the atomic bomb, the Nazis and Soviet Union, the Korean and Cold War and at the same time were fed the same kind of propaganda that every dictator uses “we are the best country”-meaning that everyone else is second class, “people envy us for our freedom”-the rest of the world exists in oppressed slavery, and “God bless America”-yes we really are that much better than everybody else. With that kind of one-two punch why would anybody ever take off their party shoes?

I remember how unhappy my daughter was once when a family decision was made not to bring certain types of entertainment into the house. My wife and I could not understand what the fuss was about but our thinking is much more like the generation that lived through the dust bowl and Great Depression whereas my daughter is like most people today, needing to be entertained and not understanding the limits we put on spending for consumer goods. Her generation has forgotten the happiness of a long drink of cool clean water after a hard day’s work or what it is like to eat after not having had food for a while. For the most part we take cool clean air and protection from the weather for granted and most of us would be terribly unprepared if we had to live outside without these things.

I am sure that it seems implausible to many people that we should prepare for a disaster on the magnitude of the ones discussed here and reported widely elsewhere. It would make sense to think about our food systems, though, for other reasons. Many people believe that we shouldn’t be eating as much cereal grain as we do. No animal on the planet evolved to live on as much cereal or corn as we eat or feed cows and hogs to fatten them up. We feed them to animals to fatten them up the last few weeks of their life and we eat them because they are cheap to grow and lend themselves to mechanized industrialized processes, not because they have the nutrition we need and despite the fact that they are hard to digest and cause a multitude of health problems.

Cereals and corn make us feel good because they release energy quickly and we have associated that sugar rush and addiction with good health. Sometimes feeling good isn’t so good for you, like the skin rush you get when snorting brown heroin, one of the hazards I was exposed to during my time in the U. S. Army. I survived that and lived to tell the tale so I imagine anyone could decide to make any change they want, if they are strong enough, have the right kind of friends, and realize that in order to be a friend first you have to be strong and true to your real needs and self.