Food security may be gravest concern
Since the horrific September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Americans have become aware in a new way of "homeland security." For most of us, that means security from terror, improving airline safety, renewed military defense.
I think we now need to make sure that homeland security also includes food security. We must ensure a secure and safe regional food supply. We have to think in a new way about where our food comes from, and how we can ensure that everyone in a large yet vulnerable city like New York, or in smaller suburban or rural communities, has enough to eat, and access to their own cultural foods.
Americans take for granted a global food system that brings all kinds of food from all over the world to anyone who can afford it. Yet the real threat to U.S. food security is the inability to produce our own food, close to our homes.
Military terrorism is in all our minds, but what happens when terrorists are able to corrupt large food and water systems, or destroy bridges and transportation systems on which our present globalized and vulnerable food security depends?
We must begin thinking seriously about "food miles." In our present food system, the food we eat travels on average about 1,200 miles. This makes our food system tremendously vulnerable in the field, in storage, or in transit. We get a foretaste of this threat when an area is afflicted by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, or hurricanes. In the changed world after September 11, that kind of threat can touch all of us.
How can we do this effectively? Every community should be able to produce at least a third of the food required by its residents. At present, in many cases, less than five percent is produced locally.
Local production means economic revitalization, as dollars circulate in the local economy. Every community should have a food system that connects producers, processors, distributors and eaters. This would demand a rethinking of agriculture, from industrial farming and large-scale production, to a multiplicity of small-scale farms with vegetables and animals, and a revitalized marketing system.
The good news is that the seeds of this new food system are already present. Farmers markets, where citizens have access to local food, are springing up all across the country. There are now around 1,000 CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture) initiatives in the U.S., reaching 100,000 people.
The Farm to School movement connects schools and colleges to local farmers and brings fresh food to student cafeterias. Urban agriculture Ã¯Â¿Â½ growing food in and around cities Ã¯Â¿Â½ is spreading. Consumers are using their food dollars to support organic production and the humane treatment of livestock. We need public policies to expand regional food security as part of homeland security.
Food Security and World Peace
Just before her untimely death, I interviewed Robyn Van En, one of the pioneers of community-supported agriculture in the United States. "Eating from a regional food supply," she said, "would be a real step toward world peace. Growing food is the common thread throughout the world, in that everybody eats. It connects everyone across all party lines, all ethnic and religious differences."
Robyn spoke of multinational food companies who control so much of the food, and extract it from starving countries to stockpile it somewhere else until the market changes. "If every place in the world had its own regional food supply and its own regional food security, the world would be a very different place. It would be different if people just did not have power over others to manipulate them with food."
I have been thinking of these words since the terror attack of September 11. The breeding ground of terrorism is poverty, hunger and hopelessness. More than one billion people live on less than one dollar per day. Nearly two billion more survive on less than two dollars per day. They are outside the market.
Biotechnology companies claim they will feed the hungry, and ADM calls itself "Supermarket to the World." Yet these are empty words for the billions of poor people outside the corporate market, who can ill afford to feed themselves. Many have little access to food at any price.
A hungry world is indeed a dangerous place. Only when our food policies begin with the hopes and dreams - as well as the knowledge and skills -of the urban and rural poor of the world, will we build true food security. This will be a huge step toward national security and world peace.