What To Do About Food

There’s an increasing amount of chatter on the various major daily newspapers in Toronto about food shortages around the world. Some blame biofuels (especially ethanol), and they’re probably right on – it strikes me that we should worry about keeping our bellies full before worrying about keeping the gas tank full. Some of it also has to do with agricultural issues, like a grain blight that I’ve heard has hit Africa and spread into Iran, which is wiping out grain crops. Now the IMF is getting antsy, saying that it is already leading to instability in shaky economies, and could even lead to war at some point.

Now, I’m not prone to panic over some vauge warnings by “experts”, but I do see the following problems:

  • Fuel prices going up = Increased delivery costs = Increased food costs
  • More crop monoculture (mostly towards corn in the US) = Higher risk of a blight/disease/pest wrecking the crops = potential increased food costs
  • The usual response to such a crisis is to demand that governements & world orgs (like the IMF, WTO, or UN) step in to save us. While I do think they have an important role to play, I think we’ve forgotten a lesson that the Depression generation learned – a degree of self-sufficiency can help weather shortages.

    I’m talking about Victory gardens – people growing vegetable crops at home during World Wars I and II, to supplement their rations. At the time, rationing was enforced by the US and UK, to ensure that the troops were fed. Naturally, this meant that people at home weren’t getting access to as much food as they might want (or even need). So, Victory Gardens were promoted as a way to help reduce the load civilians put on the food supply, which in turn reduced the load on the military to try and ration out sometimes-scarce food supplies. As well, it gave people the opportunity to feel like they were contributing to the war effort, which was viewed as being highly patriotic.

    The reality is, worst-case scenarios do occur. A prime example is the Irish potato famine – a blight swept through a monocultured crop, which in turn lead to massive starvation. Another example is the drought that happened right around the Depression, which decimated grain crops in Western Canada and the US. By growing at least some of our own food, we can ensure that we won’t starve, or pay insane prices for poor quality food.

    There are several environmental benefits to this mode of gardening as well: Biodiversity (especially if you grow heirloom and/or rare varieties), soil improvement (especially if you’re using sustainable and organic methods), and overall improvement of your local biosphere.

    It doesn’t take much – a full-on garden doesn’t have to be a huge amount of labour! Even growing a small container of salad greens or garden cress to add to your food can help.

    So, get out there and plant a Victory Garden! Do Your Part to Save Yourself!

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