Sunday, February 08, 2009

food for thought- and the world

i have been shaking my head quite a bit lately- i guess i don't understand people. i am one of those people who don't like change- one of the many reasons my path to nirvana will take more than several lifetimes i expect. that and my loathing of all things dick cheney- but i digress. i like order and quiet and routine, but whether i like it or not, my life has changed and will continue to change until i am pushing up dandelions.

recent reports state that 1) global climate change is irreversible for at least 1,000 years. i should be into a few lifetimes by then. so, what does that mean? well, it means that the weather patterns are changing and some places will experience extreme drought and others will flood beyond belief. australia is one of the world's largest food producers- rice, wheat, etc. guess what? and the american west is drying out- and according to my farmer's almanac, 2009 is poised to be hotter and drier than normal. whatever normal is these days.

2) water is drying up or being polluted so that it is non potable. what's left is being used up by an exploding populous- 6 billion folks on the planet means a whole lotta water being used. we use fresh water for industry, agriculture, washing our clothes and dishes, cooking, flushing toilets, etc. think about that the next time you take a 30 minute shower. :) anyhoo, water isn't free either. i pay for mine. and guess who is buying up water as fast as they can?

i realize that the economic crisis is a big deal- but you can live without shelter longer than you can without water and food. so, what are we to do? my thoughts are this- grow your own. yes, i said grow your own. and this is where i start shaking my head because this is where i usually start hearing myriad excuses. the truth is- most of us have room to put at least one square foot of vegetables. many of us have really lovely yards with shrubs and flowers and garden gnomes. if you have garden gnomes- you can plant your own food.

what? no garden gnomes? do you have a postage stamp yard? you can plant basics. do you have a sunny window or a small porch? you can plant basics. you can grow a corn stalk, a squash vine and bush beans in one square foot of garden. you can grow cherry tomatoes or regular tomatoes in a large flower pot- peppers, onions, etc. any of the basics. you can grow lettuce in window boxes. network with your neighbors and start a community garden on a vacant piece of land or start front yard gardens. urban gardening is on the rise with folks gardening on rooftops or within their own apartments or townhouses.

i hate to frequent dollar stores- but you can get pots and potting soil really cheap there to get started- or if you have a yard- a shovel. but what about seeds? look into seed exchanges or seed societies. many times, they are free as they are exchanged between members. i am an heirloom snob because if i am going to put in the sweat and the labor to grow my own- i don't want monsanto's genetically modified seeds. they are partially responsible for the decline in natural pollinators and combined with the chemical fertilizers- they have cut honeybee populations by more than half. they can keep their seeds.

ask around your own areas- many families save seeds from year to year and pass them down (hence heirloom) but don't necessarily belong to a seed exchange. as for making compost- that one is the easiest. i started out with a rubber maid tub with holes poked in the bottom and in the lid- and voila! i put paper products and vegetable scraps in the tub and let them work their magic. i had a small amount of compost and minimal smell. believe it or not. i used it on the rose bush in front of the apartment where i used to live with a postage stamp yard.

the biggest excuse i hear is- it's too much work. too much work? because you are so busy doing what exactly? give me a break. what are you going to do when the farmers who supply the farmers' markets can't grow food anymore? when they either get driven out of business or can't grow the monsanto seeds? monsanto is forcing farmers all over the world to use its seeds with disastrous results:

argentina

india

iraq

and they are making inroads into africa. they are forcing north american farmers to use their soybeans, corn and most recently- sugar beets. think of the implications of that.

at any rate, if you aren't convinced- read this and this.

think about 'emergency' stock in a grocery store- how much inventory does one typically have when everyone runs in to get bread, milk and batteries during a storm? bottled water? they only keep enough on hand for a few days. if the food supply dries up- where are they going to get the food to stock the shelves? one of my blog buddies has a friend who works in the industry- this is an email i got from her:

"I spent this afternoon talking to someone about how grocery stores are extremely vulnerable in this economy, not so much of the shipping issues, but because of the way food marketing is structured.

This individual, who had worked in the industry for several decades, felt that it is extremely likely that grocery stores will stop functioning long before the food runs out if only a few major food producers experience any sort of problem along the supply chain.

I'm going to pass along what I learned, but realize that I'm no way an expert on this subject. I feel like this information was very important to understand because the empty spots on the shelves signal a big problem for major food retailers. Literally, they are unable to switch gears and to carry most locally produced foods. You will NOT be shopping there in the future.

Big food companies practice something called vertical or horizontal monopolies market control. They either control one key ingredient to the success of the product, such as being a pizza company and controlling all the mozzarella production (horizontal market control); or they control their entire process (vertical), such as owning every step in the process, from growing the wheat for the dough, the tomatoes for the sauce, distribution, etc.

So say we have a fictitious company called Acme Crackers and it is a vertical company. It controls everything along the way in its products from growing the ingredients to stocking the shelves. Acme negotiates with all the grocery store chains to sell its crackers, buying six inches of prime shelf space in the cookie aisle. This is a very big deal and may not seem like much, until you realize it's a contract for that six inches in every store.

Realize that almost every product in the store is handled this way. Shelf space is contracted like real estate, suppliers get a guaranteed specific amount of space which has a specific location. This applies to bread, dairy, soft drinks, soups, boxed pastries, etc.

Because of these contracts, you cannot put Progresso Soup in the Campbell's area, even if Campbell's is out of a specific type of soup. It's legally binding.

Individuals and companies distribute Acme Crackers to the grocery stores in a franchise operation. They stock the shelves, make sure the contract space is where it's supposed to be, etc. Acme Crackers bills the main headquarters of all the Big Chain grocery stores for one big check, then cuts individual checks to the distributors for their share of the money.

Okay, here's where it gets doomerish.

If anywhere along that supply chain, there is a problem -- like no wheat for flour to make the crackers, the factory making the boxes shuts down, or the distributor goes out of business, there's no product on the shelf.

That section of shelf sits empty.

More importantly, the grocery store is not making any money because it doesn't have any products to sell. Because of these marketing practices, it is extremely difficult for a very small company to compete, so most grocery stores carry the products of very few suppliers. It might be that 90% of a store's inventory is really supplied by 10 or 20 food mega corporations, because so many of them make a huge number of products.

If a company like Kraft went under, you would see 150 less
BRANDS in the store, which could represent as much as half of the store's items.

So when Acme Crackers starts having problems with getting product shipped from it's warehouse to the distributors, the grocery store cannot fill the void with a local product. It must leave the shelf empty.

If you had an across the board shipping problem, and say it affected even one of the mega corporations brands, it would bankrupt
all the grocery stores in no time flat, because all of the major chains have this same contract and can't put a different product on the shelf.

You should also realize that these mega corporations control food beyond the grocery stores. They are heavily invested in fast food restaurants, commercial food service, cookware, appliances, dairies, batteries, etc. That's why you see weird stuff in the grocery store, because the corporations control a lot of diverse consumer goods.

If one of these mega corporations went down, it would scarcely be believable the impact would be so enormous.

In order for us to shift from a national food model to a locally produced one, we will have to see either a complete revamping the way food is marketed and sold (highly unlikely) or a new way to sell food, which will have to completely restructure everything. Likely, we will return to specialty markets, where there is a butcher, a baker, dairies, etc. and the public accesses the producers direct."

i googled and googled to find out a link but i guess these sorts of things are industry trade secrets or something. anyway, i hope that this is food for thought. no pun intended ;)

update:

another blog buddy sent me this story about california agriculture

"The loss of California's crops would stun not only US, but world markets as well. The state exports to almost 150 countries and had exported $8 billion worth of agricultural products in 2004. In 2006 (latest figures available), that export total had grown to $9.8 billion and the state is ranked the fifth largest agricultural producer in the world (pdf), the country's only major producer of many fruit, vegetable and nut crops, with a total production of $31.4 billion in agricultural outputs."

6 comments:

fjb said...

Monsanto has been on my hit list for a couple of years now. All the damn dairy farmers around us plant the genetically engineered corn produced by these guys. I go out on road trips in the summer and take pictures of the signs that are required by law to be posted on fields planted with this crap.

The batch numbers must be visible, so researching them to find out what they are isn't hard. The "Round-Up" ready variety scares the hell out of me. This stuff is completely resistant to herbicides, so I can't imagine genes it contains to make this possible.

an average patriot said...

good one Betmo!
Funny but I just had this conversation with Brother! We talked about it before but if it gets bad you can not even have a garden because you plant it and thousands will be stealing it at night unless you can guard it all night!

Anyway it would come down to foraging! I would be okay but not with thousands of people competing.
I figured I was going to talk to one of my friends who is a town councilor and run it by him to mention at a meeting that the town use some of its plentiful farm land to grow crops for the citizens to buy cheaply.

The town will be hurting too with declining home values and their eroding tax base.
It wouldn't be too easy living here in the winter but I always figured I could dig a hole and get by! Anyway you look at it this is just starting, everything and it will; get a lot worse as you know and I am sick of saying. All I can say is what a future!

It pisses me off that we keep getting threatened with mayhem first by Bush now Obama but after bankrupting America we will have the mayhem. I told you it would be staved off until Bush leaves!

Dave Dubya said...

I wouldn't be surprised to see forms of community collective gardening get very popular. If enough neighbors share in the project, they could provide the security required to protect it.

A dismal prediction, but then again, I saw this "war on terror" coming for ten years. And most of us who pay attention knew this financial collapse was inevitable.

Wally da Weasel said...

Great post, Betmo!

And as I've said in the past, I think the dangers of GM seed have yet to be disclosed. Things like asthma, diabetes, ADD, PAD, etc, etc, etc, have been skyrocketing. I see no other common denominator.

As for the empty spaces on the grocery store shelves; I am not a lawyer, but if there is a failure to fulfill supply, I can see a good case for breach of contract. I doubt that the suppliers would have standing in a court of law.

PS-- I love the word verification I got, 'heashot', even though the word 'he's' is mispelled. You are soooooo sweet.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

And the greatest tragedy of it all......

The tremendously talented Woman that has taught so many the art of gardening on a thumbnail, can not eat any of the delicious organic products produced, because....


She has bleeding ulcers from constantly worrying about this, and other stuff!:)

My counselors used to call what you're doing "Mental Masturbation." Getting ready for an event that may never happen:P

Everything you say is true, and we damn sure are standing on the brink of a cliff, let there be no doubt.

But we are still standing. It's when we feel that falling sensation, we have to worry!:)

betmo said...

that may be so dan'l sweetie but i like to prepare for the worst and hope for the best :) and better a positive, proactive piece to enthrall my readers than the normal doom and gloom i usually pen ;)