OUT OF STOCK – The Beginning Of Our New Food Future
The end of the industrial food system marks the beginning of our new food future.
The world has begun the most significant and profound transition in how we produce, distribute and consume food in our lifetime. Over the next decade, the globalised industrial food system, that has historically fed our ever-growing consumer demand will radically change. In what can only be described as a perfect storm of internal and external forces, our food systems are now being catapulted into the new twenty-first century, whether we like it or not.
The Covid 19 pandemic's effects on global and national food supply chains sounded the first siren warning of a looming international crisis. For many developed western countries, it was their first experience of empty grocery shelves and supply limits. The shock consumers felt when denied access to staple items like fresh fruits and vegetables was palpable but was masked by the more significant issue of the virus. Our food is sacrosanct, and any change or threat to supply or availability raised suspicions that perhaps our implicit reliance on the industrial food system was something that now begged further scrutiny. We suddenly became conscious of the fact that we had placed all of our collective eggs in the same proverbial basket, and now the basket felt like it could break. The reality of the situation was though, the basket had broken decades earlier, and the pandemic had both shone a light on this truth and heralded the beginning of our new food future.
Our current globalised industrial food system is now under a multi-faceted attack from forces on all sides. Some of these forces include the World Economic Forum, green political policy, regional wars, pandemic disruption, the end of globalisation, conscious consumerism and the reestablishment of national food sovereignty. Farmers have been firmly placed at the centre of this battle. Saddled with the responsibility of feeding the billions of our earth's inhabitants, they generally struggle to make financial ends meet. Farmers are expected to produce huge volumes of food on razor-thin margins while navigating unpredictable weather events and market conditions. To do this, they have had to rely on many practices that negatively affect the environment and the nutritional quality of the food they produce. Yet, it is not the farmers who should be framed as the bad guys in this situation, but us consumers and the corporations that serve our needs are the root cause of these issues.
Price has been the only metric used to measure the health of the industrial food system. With pay increases remaining largely stagnant over the last thirty years for the majority of workers, food prices have been kept artificially low to remain affordable. Corporations have been able to exert monopolised pressure on farmers to keep prices at a bare minimum. Any action by farmers to improve their practices for health and environmental benefit would incur an increase in costs for them. They have no mechanism to negotiate for higher prices for their positive actions. They are stuck between the condemning howls of the environmental activists and politicians and the clenched price-set fists of supermarket corporations. Without consumer demand driving the need for chemical-free food and a willingness to bear some of the inevitable increased cost of production, farmers have no path forward to a better food future.
In the latest instalment of this battle, the political leadership of countries like Holland and Canada have now placed nitrogen pollution reduction targets on farmers and their operations. To meet these new targets, farmers will have to reduce production capacity and therefore, farm income. Industrial farming is a highly leveraged expensive business with huge operational costs, and any change in production outputs and earnings will force many farmers out of the industry altogether. The political parties mandating these new pollution reduction targets would seem oblivious to the catastrophic potential of reducing global food production outputs for the millions who are already food insecure.
Anyone with even a basic appreciation of the negative impacts of industrial food production would understand that there is a genuine and urgent need for change. The agricultural practices of the last fifty years have wreaked havoc on our health and environment. How to manage this needed change and continue to supply food at current production output levels is the problem no one seems to have an answer to. A reduction in production output will ultimately lead to a global food crisis with exponentially higher prices and devastating supply shortages. As grim as this scenario is, it is only one aspect of this unfolding revolution of food.
Many believe that history shows us that pandemics, famine and war are inextricably linked. The Covid 19 pandemic saw the world shut down for large periods during 2020 and 2021. The economic impact of those shutdowns is still being felt and their economic costs calculated. In what may, in hindsight, appear to be a colossal over-reaction by global governments determined to ‘shutdown’ the pandemic, the abandonment of trade and commerce during that time has had devastating impacts on food production and supply. Images flooded the media of empty grocery shelves and farmers ploughing non-saleable crops back into fields.
For a time, the world economy flatlined and though its pulse has returned, it is far weaker and more irregular than ever before. The pandemic was a body shock to the global industrial food system from which it is yet to fully recover. It is in this state of recovery that it must now navigate the seismic changes brought by the green utopian political leadership. They appear determined to drag the global industrial food system into the twenty-first century at whatever cost. Whilst there was never going to be the perfect time to enact these much-needed and overdue changes, their impacts could now place global food security in the critical care ward permanently.
At this time we also face the reality of war. Regional conflicts and wars have continued unabated throughout our history. Usually, they have limited global impact outside of the countries and people directly engaged in them. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is different as it involves two large global suppliers of food, fertiliser and energy.
“Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70 percent of its sunflower oil and are big suppliers of corn. Russia is the top global fertiliser producer.” Aljazeera
The impact of sanctions on Russia and the inability of Ukraine to export products from its ports will massively reduce global supplies of wheat. Wheat is a key commodity and is used to produce thousands of downstream processed food products. It is incalculable how many supermarket products will be affected, initially by limited supply and ultimately by rising input costs. Also because of the Russian war with Ukraine, global fertiliser prices have hit record highs that have exceeded the prices reached in 2007/8. During that time the rise in fertiliser prices triggered a food crisis for over thirty developing nations and led to internal conflicts and riots. Only swift action by the UN and the World bank narrowly averted it from becoming a global food crisis.
When we consider the impact on global food security from influences like the Covid-19 pandemic, nitrogen pollution targets for farmers, the Russia/ Ukraine war and general political and economic instability around the world, it would appear impossible for the current prices we pay for food products not to continue their upward climb. If we can take a positive from the situation it would be that although this change is being forced upon us and the short to medium-term prognosis does not look very good, some of it was desperately needed and well overdue.
Perhaps the best thing all of us can do, as we ride out the wild gyrations of an old and dying system, is to take some responsibility for the food we eat back into our own hands. Very few of the big issues we face in life can be easily alleviated with a packet of vegetable seeds and a few square feet of soil, but a food crisis can only be so for you if you have no other option but to buy your food from a third party source. If you reduce or even remove your dependence on the system you will get to insulate yourself from the worst of its effects.
Perhaps the reestablishment of individual food sovereignty in the form of new technology-driven backyard vegetable gardens is also a part of the next future of food?
About The Author
Terry Memory is the author of "The Smart Veggie Patch" which will be available through Pan Macmillan in July 2022. He lives with his wife Gemma, and their six kids live on a forty-acre organic farm in the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania, Australia. Terry and Gemma produce most of their food requirements for their family with a two hundred square meter Protected and Controlled Environment garden that also thermally heats their home. As a successful health food entrepreneur, Terry co-founded the 13 Seeds Hemp Food and Tasmanian Tea Companies on his farm. Terry is a passionate sustainability and self-sufficiency advocate with over twenty years of practical experience.
TAGS: Veggie Patch, Vegetable Garden, Raised Garden Beds, Growing Your Own Food, Self-Sufficiency, Sustainability, Homegrown, Homesteading, Off-Grid, Organic Food, Backyard Garden, Community Garden, Urban Garden