One of the sustainability issues that’s rarely reported in the mainstream media is food insecurity. Migrants are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean. And thousands fleeing Venezuela are not just escaping cruel dictators; they’re starving! Here’s some new research about the problem … along with suggestions of what you can do on an individual basis to address the issue. Most of the readers of these blogs can’t believe it can actually happen where you live. And that leaves us vulnerable. Better safe than sorry.
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There’s a Serious Problem With The Way We Measure Global Food Security
22 SEP 2018
The way that we currently measure food security severely underestimates the enormous scale of global hunger.
A new study suggests that if we truly want to put an end to malnutrition by 2030, as per the aim of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, then we need to consider a more holistic approach to food systems.
“There are two main issues with how
we currently talk about food systems,”
… says lead author Hannah Ritchie, a researcher in malnutrition and sustainable food systems at the University of Edinburgh.
“The first is that we focus our measure of food
security in terms of calories (energy),
when micronutrient malnutrition
(‘hidden hunger’) affects more than
2 billion people across the world.
“The second issue is that aspects of our food
system are reported in tonnes or kilograms,
and it’s very hard to put these numbers in the
context of how many people this could feed.”
The new study is the first of its kind to quantitatively map how calories, protein, fat, essential amino acids and micronutrients make their way through the supply chain and onto our plates.
Gathering data on food balance, nutrient composition and food waste from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the authors of the paper converted all measurements to average per person per day (pppd) for the sake of comparison.
The findings clearly show that we are collectively producing more than enough calories, protein and micronutrients to sufficiently feed the world’s burgeoning population. In fact, the results reveal that some nutrients were produced up to five times more than the average requirement.
But despite the abundance of global food production, problems in the supply chain, like food waste, distribution and nutrient losses, ensure that many people in the world remain hunger. Ritchie explains ….
“With large inequalities in food availa-
bility, we know that many people will be
deficient in several essential nutrients.”
Today, approximately one billion people suffer from protein deficiency, two billion suffer from hidden hunger and close to 800 million suffer from caloric hunger. All the while, over two billion people are estimated to overconsume. The authors write …
“This challenge exists across countries of
all income levels, with a growing number
of developing nations experiencing a “triple
burden” – an increase in the prevalence of
obesity in parts of the population alongside
the wide prevalence of undernourishment
and micronutrient deficiencies.”
Tackling this issue will not be easy, especially in the face of climate change and a rapidly growing population.
“With population growth, intensifying climate
change impacts and rapidly changing diets, the
need for evidence-based, holistic assessments of
our food system has never been more urgent.”
… says co-author and climate scientist David Reay, also from the University of Edinburgh.
The challenge of malnourishment is made even more difficult when problems in the supply chain differ for each specific nutrient.
For instance, the study reveals that we lose most micronutrients, like Vitamin A and C, in post-harvest waste of fruit and veggies, while energy and protein is lost the most when crops end up being used as animal feed and biofuel. Ritchie says …
“This is important information to understand.
“Knowing that the highest-impact interventions
for maintaining micronutrients may not be the
same as for calories, which may not be the
same as for protein, will help to focus our
efforts for food security and nutrition.”
The paper does not put forward any solutions. It is simply meant to inform and point out areas where sufficiency can be improved and trade-offs can be made.
Dairy farming, for instance, is identified as a particularly difficult conundrum because it simultaneously helps and hinders global malnourishment. Ritchie explains …
“When you consider that more than 80 percent of
farmland is used for grazing or animal feed production,
livestock are clearly an inefficient way of producing food.
“But, while livestock are an inefficient converter of
feed, they remain the only natural dietary source of
vitamin B12 and an important source of high-quality
protein and lysine (an amino acid) for many people.”
The authors acknowledge that their data does not zoom in on regional, national or local dynamics. Nevertheless, they maintain that it is replicable and useful on a broader scale. Reay concludes …
“This study is just the start. In the future,
this replicable framework can be used to
map food pathways for specific regions
and countries. Our hope is that govern-
ments and development agencies can
use it to assess food security risks and
develop locally specific solutions.”
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So … while none of us are in a position to stop global food insecurity, which is increasing every year, we can at least take steps to safeguard our friends and family … and learn a process that might prove useful to the larger community in which we live.
About 15 years ago, there was a food shortage scare … which ended fairly quickly. However, as our sustainable development is “Net Zero” with regard to heating, cooling, water, electricity, etc., we thought, “Why not food?”
We created a larger vegetable garden than before. And we built a small (12’x20’) passive solar greenhouse, which extends the growing season. However, we’re nowhere near Net Zero. And some foods we can’t grow, anyway. So …
We went on-line and found sources for grains that were hermetically sealed in 15-pound containers that keep the grains healthy for many decades. We had them shipped to us, and we keep them in our garage. We also joined a big box food retailer, Costco in our case, and we buy foods that can be stored – such as canned foods or some frozen foods – in larger quantities. It costs more initially, but the actual “per unit” cost of food is a lot less.
Foods that are not needed immediately we store in our pantry and garage, and rotate them with newly purchased foods.
If food shortages were to happen in our area, we’d have an ample supply for quite some time … perhaps enough time to grow a larger volume of fresh food in our greenhouse and garden.
In addition …
When large quantities of food ripen in a short time, and come into the garden in a greater quantity than we can possibly consume, it’s a great time to can much those foods – tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, etc. – for off-season use.
If you have a local farmers’ market, you might also buy a larger quantity than you need and store that surplus in cans or freezers.
Another example … in the autumn, when apples are in season, they’re great for making apple sauce. You can make other damaged fruit into jams, butters, etc. … or just freeze them, for winter use.
The biggest message: While “sustainable living” means not living in fear, as fear immobilizes us, we also might take preventive measures, rather than just assuming “It’ll never happen here,” and putting our head in the sand. If food shortages never come to pass where you live … that’s great. But if they do, as the saying goes …
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
And … it’ll cost you no more to be prepared.