Food is about to get a lot more expensive.
While the world awaits the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines with the hope for a brave new year, food shortages are looming as the next major crisis waiting to strike in early 2021.
The expected global food shortage has many causes, with the high death rate from Covid-19 being among them. As the virus claims 70,000 people per week around the world, the impacts to food production and distribution systems continue to grow. (UN-4-Dec-2020)
From finding enough people to work safely in the fields, to issues in the packing and distribution systems, to limitations on grocery store capacity, the hits start rolling. Then add in the economic strain felt by all businesses exhausted by the restrictions and running out of government supports. As job losses mount, personal insecurity and homelessness continue to loom large over many families. And top it all off with climate change chaos from droughts and fire to monsoons and floods, depending on your region.
It is the perfect storm launching us straight into epic famine.
The coronavirus vaccines are bringing hope to the world, but it will take time to see the positive impacts from these injections. That means we are far from through the pandemic tunnel and great leadership, cooperation and effort will be needed to avert famine of biblical proportion (ReliefWeb 27-Nov-2020).
With the raw edges of our food systems exposed, we are actually in a position where we can transform the way we grow and distribute food globally. The past food system failed millions of people world wide. It failed millions of people right here at home.
Food as big business has failed us all. Corporations have prioritized profits over the creation and distribution of healthy food. It’s hard to make a profit selling fresh vegetables (ask any farmer).
So the corporations dole out sugar-coated cereal and fat laden products engineered to create food addiction and maximize their return on the dollar. They have cut processing lines to the bone and centralized in the name of efficiency until we have lost the ability to locally process foods grown right in our own communities. Farmers are blocked from selling many products like meat and milk to their neighbors by red tape aimed squarely at forcing them into the corporate supply chain.
This is the system that has been broken (finally) by the coronavirus. This is the system we can now change.
We have a window of opportunity to transform the global food system and distribution networks.
That opportunity is named RESILIENCE.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the opposite of efficiency. Resilience is the ability of a system to cope with a crisis, to recover from it, to bounce back ideally bigger and better than before.
You are resilient in some way if you have survived 2020. You have been put to the test, and if you are still here, that says something.
Efficient systems are streamlined. There is only one (person, assembly line, cog) thing performing a specific task. Redundancy has been removed. There may be repair mechanisms, but you don’t pay for anything extra in the system that might suck up profits.
Alternatively, resilient systems prioritize always being able to get the job done, no matter what happens.
Like the US postal service motto that reads: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” – resilient systems deliver.
Which system do you want providing food to the world? Profit-driven efficiency or resiliency that ensures we will all have the opportunity to eat?
Of course this is a drastic over-simplification of food systems. But it lets us take a hard look at why so many millions will be facing famine in 2021 unless substantial investment and change happens, and happens fast.
Resilient food systems arise from the ground up. They arise because everyone understands the significance of having enough food, especially during a crisis that affects our health and wellbeing. They arise because many people in many different capacities start to produce food, and sell or share it locally. It is the system that has served humans for countless millennia, long before corporations dictated your access to food.
Let the Victory Gardens Rise Up
We have seen some of this resilience shine in 2020. The renewed interest in “Victory gardens” not seen since WWII illustrates our capacity to rapidly change the food system. Where once people were told to grow food in their yards and neighborhoods to supplement the food supply during war time, we have a new generation starting Victory gardens in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Food shortages have almost never been about an actual lack of food on the planet. Food shortages arise out of inequitable distribution of food. The fastest way to resolve distribution issues is to grow as much food locally as possible. We have stepped away from this premise of feeding ourselves, and it is time to take back our control over food, individually and collectively as communities and regions.
How can you build resilience in the face of increasing food costs?
Eyes wide open for 2021 means we all need to be thinking seriously about our personal food supply. That doesn’t mean running out and hoarding food.
What it does mean is looking at your contribution to the food system.
What are you prepared to do in 2021 to make sure you and your community have access to healthy food?
What food can I grow?
Everyone can grow food. The type of food you are able to grow is most definitely affected by your circumstances and living arrangements, but options always exist.
At the smallest scale of food production imaginable, growing sprouts can be done on a kitchen counter with a glass jar and some water. You don’t need any gardening skills. You don’t need soil. You don’t even need sunlight to produce highly nutritious sprouts that provide significant health benefits.
Not fond of alfalfa sprouts? No worries. Try sprouting sunflower seeds for an extraordinary taste addition to your plate. Pea shoots are also very easy to grow and provide exceptional nutrition, whether you use them cooked or raw. And the bean sprouts famous in Chinese food are simply sprouted mung beans.
Getting into the habit of sprouting, especially in the winter when fresh greens are in short supply, will not only save your food budget, but it will improve your health. It’s a win-win.
Short on money for seeds? While not a fast solution, if you have a garden plot, you can grow your own sprouting seeds. Some are very easy to do. Simply save some of your harvest and let it set seeds, like broccoli, kale and radish, and harvest those seeds for winter sprouting. This lets your garden feed you twice – once in the growing season, and once in the winter.
And really the complexity of food production goes up from there. With every additional square foot of growing space – literally 12″ by 12″ – your opportunities for contributing to your own food supply increase.
It doesn’t matter if you achieve the growing space with planters, raised beds, backyard gardens, or even front yard gardens, community areas or a plot in the forest. If you lack horizontal square footage, then stand a pallet up on end, fill it with soil and plant that to make a green wall.
There are very few circumstances in which it is impossible to grow something. Grow what you can, and give, sell, or trade what you don’t need to someone else. This is the heart of resiliency.
What food can I process?
For the cost of a couple take-out breakfast combo meals like bacon and egg sandwiches, you can buy a dozen eggs and a package of bagels (and maybe even bacon if everything is on sale) and eat all week. It’s that simple.
Food made from scratch can sometimes be significantly cheaper than processed and brand name options.
Real food that comes from a farm or a garden directly to you better supports food resiliency in your community than buying brand names of processed food off the store shelf.
I think the “BUY LOCAL” philosophy fits best under this header of ‘what food can I process?’ because it speaks to the idea that we can make more of our own food from what we can find nearby.
In a food crisis that comes complete with processing and supply chain disruptions, buying local is a critical link in establishing community food resilience.
The shortest distance that food has to travel from the farm to your fork is the best choice for ensuring you have maximized your food and health potential. That means ditching the brand-name pre-made foods that might frequent your cupboards in favor of some home-made versions.
Cooking for yourself does not have to be complicated.
Everyone can learn to process some of their own food. The ways you can process food include:
- Cooking from scratch
The more food you prepare at home, the more you “win” in the resiliency game.
Food you prepare yourself pokes holes in the corporate strangle-hold on the food supply.
As more people choose to grow some of their own food and to buy food locally, the faster we can re-wire the food-chain for more equitable food distribution globally. Less food will be wasted in non-sense anti-nutrition pre-packaged foods, which means more food overall will stay in the supply chain as healthy and whole food options.
Think about it. More than 2/3 of every big-box grocery store out there in North America really doesn’t need to exist. You could throw out the center of every store and be left with what really matters – the vegetables, meat, dairy and deli/bakery that are typically located on the outside walls of the store. The middle represents a lot of food that could be re-directed into the production of healthy staples to feed the world instead of over-processed and over-priced junk. But to get it out of those center aisles means people need to stop buying brand-name crap, and start focusing on real food.
There are so many easy wins here for people just starting to discover how to process food.
Take tomato sauce as an example. A jar now sells for upwards of $5 where I live. But what is it? Essentially stewed tomatoes with some spice!?!?!
Check out the Super-Easy Tomato Sauce recipe below. I swear by this recipe. It makes a perfect tomato base for soup or pasta sauces every time, for a fraction of the cost of buying ready-made sauce.
Super-Easy Tomato Sauce
4 cups whole tomatoes (any kind) – diced
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
Mix in a large pot (you can double or triple+ this recipe, just keep the proportions the same). Bring to a simmer on medium heat. Reduce the heat and cook gently until reduced by half.
Cool completely. Freeze in ziplock bags in one or two cup portions.
To use, add the frozen tomato base to your sauce pan. Warm it up. For tomato soup pour into a bowl and top with fresh chopped onions and shredded cheddar cheese – Yummy! For tomato sauce simmer for an additional 10 minutes and add your favorite vegetables and spices.– Rose Hill Farm–
Making your own tomato sauce may not save the world. But every time you apply the principles of resiliency to your food supply you will gain skills and independence that will make the next step even easier. One step after another is how every journey is made.
What food can I distribute?
Food resilience is not just about you. Food resilience is also about the community you live in.
Essentially any food you can produce in excess of your own needs may be re-distributed to others. Whether you give, sell or trade that food depends as much on what the food is and on local regulations as it does anything else.
Of course the gardener’s joke – Zucchini – comes to mind. With zucchini you either have zero or wheelbarrow loads to give away. . . . . in which case your neighbors run for cover when they see you coming for fear of another giant vegetable being gifted to them.
We all just need to think a little bit further outside of this box to figure out some food that we can contribute to our communities. In lieu of growing extra food yourself, you can contribute your time and energy to helping someone else grow or process food. For example, community gleaning projects can help match up people with too much food to people looking for food to process. This can create yet another win-win for food resiliency and reduced food waste.
When it comes to achieving long term food resiliency, the number one choice I recommend is EGGS.
Eggs are a perfect food source, containing all the essential amino acids and healthy fats that we need to protect our health during the pandemic. They don’t require refrigeration. And they can be produced pretty much in any climate where people live.
Keep Three Chickens
Chickens take food production and the possibility of distribution to a whole new level. Just three chickens can consume your kitchen waste and turn that into new fresh food daily. Just three chickens will produce a dozen eggs each week (on average and with some seasonal variability).
With a few more chickens, selling eggs can provide a source of revenue for some families. They can also be a valuable item for bartering other things you need.
Ask What You Can Do For Your Country
The pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the ways we do business, in what we consider a health threat to be, and in our understanding of just how closely linked we all are to each other.
The new year may see millions of our brothers and sisters, who survived the second wave of the pandemic, fall to famine unless each one of us carefully considers how food will be produced and distributed moving forward.
Every person who eats has a role to play in the food system.
We can move that system back towards resiliency by answering three key questions early in 2021:
- What food can I grow?
- What food can I process?
- What food can I distribute?
We are all connected. Resilient food systems can be created when individuals rise up and take some responsibility for not only their own needs, but the needs of those around them.
Make 2021 the year in which you put “building resilience” on your resolution list.
Looking for Resources?
Looking for resources to support your resilience? Check out the Rose Hill Farm Shop Pages.