Thursday, January 12, 2012

Global food crisis: How Hawai`i responds

The possibility of a global food shortage is just one of the arguments in favor of locally produced food.

Several new data points suggest that such shortages are looming. How does one respond? Support local farmers. Grow your own garden. And pay attention to what it takes to feed you.

(Image: Locally grown jabong, a cousin to oranges and grapefruits, known to science as Citrus grandis.)

There are multiple benefits of addressing the local food issue, not the least being that you know what you’re eating and what’s gone into it. More on that later.

First, some food shortage data points.

The Consumer Price Index indicates that the cost of food is rising faster than the rest of the economy. (So is energy which, of course, is needed to ship food to us.) And this isn’t just an inflationary trend at restaurants. The cost of food eaten at home has gone up much faster than food eaten out.

Here’s now the Bureau of Labor Statistics folks phrased it: “The index for food at home has risen 5.9 percent over the past year with all six major grocery store food groups up at least 4.4 percent.”

Not counting food and energy, the 12- month general inflationary number was half that, at 2.2 percent. (These numbers are for November 2011, the most recent ones available. December’s numbers are due out in a couple of days.)

Why are the numbers going up? Perhaps because we’re not keeping up with demand. In 2011, the world produced record grain crops, and still, worldwide supplies of grains fell. Supply has failed to match demand in seven of the last 12 years.

Global grain stores, according to that source, are at 75 days. In the 80s and 90s, they averaged nearer 100 days.

“In 2006, stocks bottomed out at 62 days, setting the stage for the 2007—08 food price spike when international grain prices doubled or tripled in a short amount of time.” wrote Janet Larsen of IPS/Earth Policy Institute, in an article this week.

There’s plenty of apocalyptic prediction out there. Even as staid a publication as Scientific American in 2009 asked, “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?”

In some parts of the world, the crisis is already underway.

So what does that mean in terms of Hawai`i? There’s the likelihood that feeding ourselves will be much more expensive, and the possibility that some foods won’t be available or at least won’t be affordable for some of us.

There are multiple initiatives in the Islands that provide responses. The Slow Food movement is one. It supports diverse, locally produced foods.

Foodcapes Hawai`i talks about edible landscapes and growing at least some of your food at home.

Food security is a focus of Hawaii Homegrown Food Abundance, and its website is a nice tutorial on why it’s important and how to go about growing it. The site has a bunch of useful links.

The state is replete with organizations like Mālama Kaua`i, which supports food sustainability and works for “relocalizing our food, energy, goods an services.”

One nice challenge: eat a meal now and then that includes only locally grown food, and none that comes from off your island.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2012

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