Don’t Miss this One

April 22, 2014 in Food Economics, Foodland, General by Joyce Bunderson

Often the National Geographic Magazine (NGM) is a ‘must see;’ for me May 2014 is definitely one of those issues. It’s not just the great photography that we enjoy each month, but this issue is full of thought-provoking concepts. The cover is even clever – a picture of a red neon café sign saying: EAT across a picture of the earth, with “Serving more than 7 billion every day” off to the side of the earth. The main title of the issue is: The New Food Revolution. Before I leave the general issue I want to direct you to Assignment: Foodscapes on page 11. Also, if you want to see food-related pictures, you’ll not want to miss the picture of the kelp forest off my native southern California coast.

National Geographic is focusing for the rest of the year on food and the challenge of feeding the global population, projected to reach nine billion by 2050 (36 short years away.) Chris Johns, the editor in chief of NGM introduces the concepts that NGM will visit in the next seven months (8 months total). Personally, I experienced a touch of psychological nostalgia when I saw the choice of a picture of a Kansas wheat farmer, as the illustration for Johns’ introductory note. Whenever I see pictures of the massive harvesting or combine threshing-types of machines, it always reminds me of my Kansas farming ancestors – my roots. Also, pages 28-29 have another outstanding shot of wheat harvesting.

Pages 26 to 33 contain pictures to help us get the idea of the volume involved to feed seven billion – going on nine billion. In addition, pages 50-55 help us understand volume food production.

The NGM focus on the local-food movement offers lots of nice statistics and graphic representations. Now that I live in the mountain west (moved 14 years ago from southern California) I better understand the activist attitude that is possible in southern California is not available everywhere. Coastal southern California offers an almost year round growing season; unlike my new home, some plants and vegetables just can’t make it in this area. And some need to be started inside in order to accommodate the much shorter growing season (cold weather comes before a mature fruit or vegetable can be harvested if the plant doesn’t get a head start.) The NGM article shows California as the number one state with farmer’s markets. This focus on farmer’s markets will likely continue to grow. It’s a great benefit to cut out some of the middlemen (broker, manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer); if we go straight from our own garden or from a local farmer to our table or our neighbor’s table.

The real meat of the May issue’s focus on feeding earth starts on page 26; NGM’s Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, without overwhelming the planet. Don’t miss the foldout pictures (pages 36-41) of international farmers – beautiful. The key to the problem is discussed on page 35 of the NGM article. They remind us that agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined – largely from methane released by cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide from fertilized fields, and carbon dioxide from the cutting of rain forests to grow crops or raise livestock. It threatens our water supply and is a major polluter. Agriculture accelerates the loss of biodiversity when we clear grassland and forest for farms.

  1. Freeze agriculture’s footprint – championing the idea of ending the cutting of forests and plowing of grasslands to make more farms. “Agriculture’s footprint has caused the loss of whole ecosystems around the globe, including the prairies of North America and the Atlantic forest of Brazil, and tropical forests that are still being cleared.”
  2. Grow more on farms we’ve got – using better crop varieties, increasing yields on less productive farmlands. They project that approaches learned from organic farming and high-tech precision farming could boost yields in low-yield areas several times over.
  3. Using resources more efficiently – Using customized blends of fertilizers and innovative ways to better target the application of fertilizers and pesticides. Replacing inefficient irrigation systems and incorporating cover crops, mulches, and compost to improve soil quality, conserve water, and build up nutrients.
  4. Shift diets – NGM discusses the fact that feeding nine billion people by 2050 would be easier if more of the crops grown ended up in human stomachs. “Today only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36 percent) are turned into biofuels and industrial products (roughly 9 percent). They present fascinating stats; “For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef. In America, if we eat a plant-based diet (that I written so frequently about) we improve our health and benefit the planet at the same time.
  5. Reduce waste – an estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. So improved storage, transportation, serving of smaller portions, eating leftovers and encouraging restaurants and markets to develop waste-reducing measures need attention.

NGM states that the five steps taken together could more than double the world’s food supplies and dramatically cut the environmental impact of agriculture. Make sure that you make it all the way to page 58 – Beyond Delicious. I for one am looking forward to the next 7 months of NGM. It’s going to be challenging, but I have lots faith that innovative people can pull this off. Don’t miss the May 2014 issue of NGM.