Category Archives: government programs

The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary

ImageDuring many of my lectures, I have been asked to discuss world hunger as it relates to our food choices because it is a very serious and complicated issue. One billion people in the world suffer from hunger and six million children will die from starvation this year, as they did in 2011. The reality of these figures should be as startling to you as they are to me.

We all seem to have difficulty understanding how our choices, particularly regarding items we consume such as food, could possibly have an impact on something or someone elsewhere in the world. It is so very difficult to see, feel, or extend beyond the microcosm or bubble each of us finds ourselves living within. After all, if it is not directly in our sight, it must not real.

Although having many layers of complexity, to most observers the reason we have world hunger is because of poverty. While on its simplest level this is true, animal based food production systems are directly responsible for many factors affecting hunger, starvation—and even poverty, which then, cycles itself back to hunger.

This correlation between animal (livestock and fish) based food production systems and world hunger is, of course, fueled by the demand for these products and can be found in generalized global factors as well as on a very local basis or regionally within countries where hunger rates are high. Together, these two categories of factors (global and local) insidiously manifest themselves in many ways.

There are two primary groups of people suffering from this poverty-hunger cycle—about 33% are those living in more urban settings (this is the case with those found in the U.S. and other developed countries), while the other 2/3 are those in rural and more undeveloped nations. For both groups, the raising and eating animals (livestock and fish) by our global community ultimately affects food prices, food availability, policy making, and even education to improve agricultural systems in those developing countries. Global factors include control of seed manufacturing and pricing primarily for livestock feed crops by large companies such as Monsanto and DuPont (Pioneer), buying and selling of grain including futures by Archer Daniel Midland, Cargill and through the processing/slaughterhouses and packaging by Cargill, Swift, Tyson, and JBS. These few but very large and powerful companies control over 65% of all seed, grain, and over 80% of all final animal products in the world. It is a very monopolized production and economic system manufacturing seeds at one end and spewing out meat at the other. Because of the global demand for meat (all livestock), cultural, social, political, and economic influences remain strongly supportive of the continued dominance of these large companies and the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in general, which then drives how global resources are being used (land, water, rainforests, oceans, atmosphere, biodiversity, etc.), how money is spent, and how policies are determined. The demand for animal products in developed countries drives resource depletion in developing countries as well as exacerbating poverty and hunger.

Realize that 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe.  One fourth of all grain produced by third world countries is now given to livestock, in their own country and out.

Globally, even with climate change issues and weather extremes, we are producing enough grain to feed two times as many people as there are in the world. In 2011, there was a record harvest of grain globally, with over 2.5 billion tons, but half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. Seventy seven percent of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley, etc.) and over 90% of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. So clearly the difficulty is not how can we produce enough food to feed the hungry, but where all the food we produce globally is going, in addition to the other factors of pricing, policy making, and education. This will certainly become more of an issue as our planet’s human population extends beyond 9 billion before the year 2050.

On a local basis, specific animal based agriculture simply perpetuates both poverty and hunger. This is true whether in urban, industrialized countries, which are affected by all those factors mentioned above, or in rural developing countries. As an example, in Ethiopia, over 60% of their population is considered hungry or starving, and yet they have 50 million cattle in that country (one of the largest herds in the world), unnecessarily consuming their food, land, and water. More than 2/3 of Ethiopia’s topsoil has been lost due to raising cattle. Many countries elsewhere in Africa and in the Amazonian region that suffer from hunger raise cattle inefficiently at the expense of their soil, localized climate, and other resources while producing a fraction of the food they could if converting to plant based foods. This is because of their  very powerful cultural factors to raise cattle as well as demand globally and by neighboring countries.

More than 66% of the world’s poorest people (those living on $2 or less per day) live in rural areas and rely on natural resources for their existence. Global demand and production of fish and livestock has reduced traditional fishing stocks and decimated coral reef systems for indigenous people living on coasts and islands, shriveled and segmented million year old forests. This will only exacerbate world poverty and hunger because while remote from those who consume animal products, it is the world of the indigenous and the very natural resources they have relied on for centuries.

So, how would conversion to plant-based, local agriculture systems change this? Hunger and poverty, in many cases, exist as a circling phenomenon, whereby one perpetuates the other. Addressing the hunger issue will help solve the poverty issue. It has been shown that growth in the agricultural sector of a developing nation is two times more effective than growth in any other area including economics. This is because in Africa and most other developing countries where there is poverty and hunger, over 75% of the working force is engaged in agriculture. Ethiopia has 95% of its income dependent upon agriculture. However, at the same time that agricultural growth is needed, it must be in organic plant based systems because this would be the most efficient use of their resources—many of which are already critically diminished such as water and land.

Instead of using their food, water, topsoil, and massive amounts of land, and energy to raise livestock, Ethiopia could for instance grow teff, an ancient and quite nutritious grain. Seventy percent of all their cattle are raised pastorally in the highlands of that country where less than 100 pounds of meat and a few gallons of milk are produced per acre of land used. If this land were used for the growing of teff, Ethiopians could produce over 2,000 pounds of food per one acre with no water irrigation. The end product could provide a much greater amount of much needed nutrients and even stimulate improved economics with business opportunities to sell teff (as well as many other types of produce) to other countries. Therefore, conversion to plant based food systems for local regions in developing countries would feed more people more nutritiously with more efficient use of their resources, improve long term soil fertility, create economic opportunities, all of which would provide a path toward breaking the poverty and hunger cycle.

Nearly all researchers on this topic could agree that while there are many complex layers of influences related to hunger and that war and repressive government regimes as well as climate extremes all play a role, the most significant are poverty, lack of natural resources and inefficient use of the resources they do have. And although other influences certainly may also play a role in poverty, the most significant and long-term factor that can be changed is with the development of new plant based organic agricultural systems and the education to do so. It is what we have the most control over, with the most profound impact. It must begin, though, with education and an example of this can be found in the Machakos district of south Kenya. This is a poor area economically as well as from a soil fertility standpoint and they are many times in the midst of an unstable, if not repressive, government. Nevertheless, a program was implemented teaching the women farmers, (more than 50% of the farmers in African countries are women) techniques such as erosion and rainwater control with terracing. They began focusing on organic, plant based foods instead of livestock or animal feed crops, and their yields improved by more than 50%, now using produce to feed more people and even creating business opportunities that are selling items such as green beans to other countries.

In developing countries elsewhere, organic plant based agricultural systems have been shown to improve yields by as much as 400%, with an average of 150%. While most researchers and organizations involved in the plight of nations suffering from hunger inherently feel that improved information technologies, increasing intensified livestock operations, and fostering the continuation of cultural practices are where energy and dollars should be spent, I can see many difficulties with that approach. Instead, I feel that the emphasis should be placed on education, redefining the word “yield” beyond short term consumptive gain, and providing guidance for the implementation of fully organic plant based agricultural systems. This is the best way to improve soil fertility for the future, provide the most nutritious food at the least cost to their environment, while opening the doors to economic opportunities—thus, “feeding themselves” and creating a food, economic, and environs security net despite what repressive forces may surround them or they may encounter.

We must remember that although climate change and extremes of water conditions from floods to droughts do obviously exist, much of the soil fertility issues that are faced by developing countries in Africa and elsewhere who have high rates of hunger and malnutrition are derived from how they have managed (or mismanaged) their own agricultural systems over the past 100 years. It would be difficult to blame any other reason than their use of livestock—their complete cultural dependence on cattle. In many areas of Africa, poorly managed cattle herds have caused severe overgrazing, deforestation, and then subsequent erosion and eventual desertification. On average, 1/2 to 2/3 of all the topsoil has been lost across the entire African continent with some areas experiencing complete topsoil loss.  Allocation of the 2.5 billion tons of grain produced globally to people instead of animals, elimination of livestock based agricultural systems globally and locally, education of all small stakeholders and governments in developing countries for furthering organic plant based systems, and of course increased global awareness of these issues and the development of a collective consciousness will help eradicate world hunger as well as many other concerns along the way.

The World Hunger Service and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations stated in 2011, regarding world hunger: “The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.”

And, therein lies the problem—explaining why there has been no progress. This statement vividly illustrates the quite narrowed, simplified view of the very institution that is leading efforts to solve world hunger.

Let’s do our part in reducing world hunger and poverty by increasing awareness about changing to a fully plant based diet. Let’s raise and mobilize the collective conscience. We can do this.

Inspire Awareness Now!

INSPIRE AWARENESS NOW, the non-profit is launched!

ImageInspire Awareness Now is a non-profit organization committed to improving the health and well being of our country and planet by way of food choice—solving many interrelated issues along the way. Inspire Awareness NOW (IAN) will create awareness and initiate sustainable systems where food is involved, reducing Global Depletion on all fronts. With some initiatives, IAN will merely provide information and educational assistance to essentially facilitate and enhance those services and projects already undertaken by the particular institution we are working with, serving as a catalyst for proper change. Other initiatives will demand that IAN serves as the primary provider because it may be the first project of its kind. Inherent in this goal is to develop more accurate definitions of what can be considered sustainable and then create change based on these more accurate definitions. In doing so, IAN will provide educational assistance and network with other institutions that are committed to planetary health, on many levels.

Over $2.3 trillion are spent on health care in our country each year while minimally half of that can be attributed to what we eat. At the same time, we are using our natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Over 78% of all agricultural land and 50% of all fresh water used in our country is used to produce livestock, which then after consumption is the major contributor to our health care crises. Globally, raising livestock occupies 38% of the entire landmass on earth and is the primary cause of the rapid loss of biodiversity—plants, insects, animals—we are seeing on earth (30,000 animal species are becoming extinct each year). The meat, dairy, and fishing industries are also one of the largest sectors affecting climate change. It is common knowledge that the 70 billion animals raised each year emit more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector—all the cars, trucks, planes, and trains in the world, and yet global beef, pork, and chicken production and consumption are expected to continue to increase. One to two trillion fish are taken from our oceans each year, causing irreversible damage to vital ecosystems. Many researchers agree that it would require 1.5 to 2 full earths to sustain what we are currently taking from and doing to our planet.

There are 1 billion people suffering from hunger in the world with 6 million children dying from starvation each year. At the same time, over half of the grain produced in the world, nearly 1 billion tons, is fed to livestock. Global food security is not an issue of production—it’s an issue of where all the food produced is going. Last year (2011), 77% of all coarse grain produced globally (oats, corn/maize, barley, sorghum, rye, millet) was given to animals.

Inspire Awareness Now views these as serious disconnects in levels of awareness and policy. Therefore, we help correct or solve these problems by educating, advocating change, and administering services to transition our current meat and dairy farming as well as fishing systems into organic or biodynamic plant based operations, which will result in much more efficient use of our nation’s water and land, and food supply while drastically reducing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel use. Importantly, this transition will result in the increase in many more job opportunities in skilled labor, management, and education—all of which span the academic and previous job experience spectrum. By providing more green jobs, our initiative will ultimately have a positive impact on the 9% unemployment rate and the current 3% “structural” component of those who are jobless in the U.S. The envisioned goal is for a healthier economy, healthier and more productive population, a truly more sustainable food production system, a healthier country, and ultimately a healthier and more peaceful planet.

There are several notable organizations and movements to create healthier food choices and implement food productions systems. Institutions and communities are beginning to rally around concepts such as Real Food, local, farm-to-table, farm-to-campus, organic, biodynamic, sustainable seafood, grass and pasture fed, free range, traceable, small family farms, CSAs (community supported) and urban agriculture, and humane—all of which are fueled by the desire to move away from agribusiness and the previous 50 years of industrialized, profit-driven food production systems. However, none of these concepts or movements will be accurately considered successful long term if they include raising, slaughtering, and eating animals or harvesting fish out of our oceans or on land. Beyond the primary reasons implicit to their effect on Global Depletion, nearly all of these movements have precepts embedded in misinformation and inaccuracy. While operating with inherently good intentions, the results of these movements and organizations will never be optimal.

Although there are many reasons for this, it is essentially an issue of definition. What entity has deemed a food or production system as “sustainable?” What food can really be constituted as “sustainable?” In the case of grass fed, for instance, it is not a sustainable practice in many geographical regions or on a collective global basis long term from a land and water use, contribution to anthropometric greenhouse gas production, food security, and human health standpoints. And, yet, there is that stamp of approval, made primarily by those stakeholders in the meat and dairy industries—the National Cattleman’s Association, National Dairy Council, AGA, and individuals such as Michael Pollan and others with large audiences serving as experts or advisors to many organizations but who consumes beef and tuna, and raises grass fed cows themselves. Therefore, IAN introduces the concept of ‘Relative’ sustainability—how could our land, air, water, and other resources be best used to obtain a ‘more’ sustainable food product.

It is time that the wealth and wellness of a country or nation are measured not simply by economic standards but by the health of its natural resources, its people, and by the fact that truly sustainable systems, particularly those for producing food and caring for biodiversity, are properly defined and in place.  This then becomes our civilization’s new metric of success.

Please find out more about this very important organization at: http://inspireawarenessnow.org/

Let’s continue inspiring others to become aware…NOW!

You and the 2012 Farm Bill: a new perspective

  For those unfamiliar with this Bill, here is a quick look at what’s happening via two of my most abbreviated definitions: 1. We are all giving an awful lot of money to our government for them to pay large businesses to produce food that we get sick on. That’s pretty much the existing Farm Bill.  2. We give even more money to our government all over again, for them to pay for the health bills of all those people who eat all that bad food—which explains our national health insurance plan, and both are now unfortunately intertwined. Why do you need to be concerned about the Farm Bill? There are a few reasons: One is that you are paying for it—that should be reason enough. Additionally, it is being vastly misrepresented to the public and redrafted as we speak. It will go into effect next year. Less than 2% of the current Farm Bill is used to support vegetables, fruit, and nuts, most of the rest of the money is given to the meat and dairy industries, in one form or another.  All of the major changes proposed for this bill are aimed at taking away economic support from factory farms and providing more to small farmers—thinking this will produce healthier foods. Sounds good, doesn’t it? No, it’s not so good. Essentially, it will be a shift of money away from large meat and dairy operations to small meat and dairy operations—which is not a proper solution. When you hear about “farm subsidies” and “commodities”, it is this Bill that they are talking about. The original Farm Bill, most likely was once a good idea with humble beginnings in 1933 to help prop up farmers battling their way out of the Great Depression, but now it has evolved into a new definition of being disconnected. The current Bill is a 5 yr, $280 billion plan with 15 categories or “titles”, each with its own set of funds. You are hearing mostly about the $42 billion given as direct farm subsidies (these are for “commodities” or corn, wheat, soybeans, and another crops) and also about the $40 billion for two other Titles that provide various types of support such as crop insurances and land set aside programs. These three are the grouping of funds that have supported industrial farming the most in a direct fashion. But, $190 billion or 70% of the entire Farm Bill, is given to 43 million people enrolled in the food stamp program—and that Title has issues as well, but you won’t hear about them because it is more insidious and slides along unnoticed. OK, so what about the other 11 Titles? No one knows much about these because, at a meager $2 billion, they are not considered a problem. But I consider them extremely important. These Titles pertain to such things as conservation and environment, forestry, renewable energy, and research. In fact, if our government would have devoted more of the previous Farm Bills, essentially more of our tax dollars, to just two of those ‘menial’ categories—like, say, to environment and research—they may have discovered decades ago that we are growing our food all wrong. In fact, they would have found out that we are not growing food at all—we are growing livestock, and now fish. In order to move forward with the redrafting of the Farm Bill, a few things need to be sorted out. I’ll review the most important three: First, the Food Stamp program has no proper nutrition education or monitoring system so the program itself, is essentially contributing to our national health care costs and the perpetuation of producing unhealthy food because $190 billion is being spent, by those enrolled, on the cheapest and most readily accessible food possible—food produced with empty calories and from the meat and dairy industries.  Since this will continue to be the largest part of the Bill, it needs to be corrected at least as much as the other subsidy issues. Second, despite what the NY Times and other authors are saying, it needs to be clearly understood that Government subsidies by themselves do not cause obesity or any other disease. Proper food is out there. You just have to find it and create the demand. If we all decided to stop eating Twinkies today, they wouldn’t be made. Again, it begins with education. It begins with awareness—and the Farm Bill (subsidies) need to provide this awareness, before it does anything else. Third, all government funding should be for only those foods that are the healthiest for our environment and for ourselves—organically grown, plant-based foods. Farmers that grow them should be heavily supported and obviously benefit the most. Doing these three things would create the right environment for healthier food to be produced and for proper choices to be made. I encourage everyone to get involved with this. You have a voice but carefully examine what is being proposed because the movement to restructure this Bill is well underway and is quite strong but not in the right direction as I have pointed out here. Since the 2012 Farm Bill will become a reality as a successor to previously enacted Bills, we certainly need to address it right now. However, I have another solution that which would get us on the right track much quicker, while the Farm Bill chugs along—called an eco and health risk tax—which will be for another blog, and can also be found  in Comfortably Unaware.

 

Choosing To Become Obese

It’s about choosing foods.                                                                                              Beginning concepts:

Does high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and/or our government subsidies cause obesity? Michael Pollan has been telling us this and there were others before him. They also believe that HFCS and subsidies cause many of our other illnesses as well. They are so persuasive that even discussions about the 2012 Farm Bill have now been heavily focused on reducing subsidies for the production of HFCS, corn, and other commodity crops. That is fine in one manner, but their energies are focused on the wrong food product. Obesity now affects 400 million people in the world and nearly 40% of all adults in the U.S., but HFCS and our government subsidies do not cause obesity. You do. Well, actually your food choices do. Certainly lifestyle also plays a major role. But in our culture today, that may simply mean the more exercise you do, the more you can indulge in eating foods that are not healthy for you, thus developing choice patterns and essentially postponing some of the negative impact of these foods.

So, what do I mean that they are focused on the wrong food product? Simply, they need to direct more attention to the meat and dairy industries and here is why:

Processed and empty calorie foods are not healthy for you to eat and we all know this. But we cannot be overly focused on that issue without first addressing the many ill effects that eating animal products have. For instance, the consumption of meat has been found to increase the risk of obesity by 25-33% (Int. Journal of Obesity, 2009 and numerous other publications).  Additionally, Dr. Barnard with the PCRM (Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine) demonstrated that individuals who ate only plant-based foods had a 68% less risk of developing adult onset diabetes (which affects 25 million people in our country). Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year on health care costs related to these two conditions in the U.S. HFCS, while not healthy for you to consume in large quantities, is not contributing to Global Depletion (the loss of our primary resources on earth)—the meat, dairy, and fishing industries are. Therefore, if we want to reduce our potential for contracting a chronic disease and at the same time help our planet—let’s begin with addressing the food choice most responsible.

If we completely eliminate HFCS and processed foods from our diet as Mr. Pollan is campaigning for, that would be a good thing—but then clearly understand, that all the far more damaging and unsustainable practices of raising and eating livestock remain.

More will follow regarding food choices, the 2012 Farm Bill, and policies.