Sunday, April 27, 2008

Panic Time

When the Wall Street Journal starts commenting it's time to stockpile food in our U.S. pantries, people sit up and take notice. Food riots in Haiti are one thing, a country that's been in turmoil for years doesn't get our hackles up anymore. Tripling food prices in Niger so people starve (even more) doesn't get more than a glance. They've been starving for generations. Rice skyrockets in the Philippines, well, that's 1/2 way around the world and we're more a potato country anyway.

Now some folks are telling Americans to stockpile like they did in the 60s. I don't even know what to think about that. We personally pay a lot for food, and if we had to we could probably live out of our pantry for about a month, but that's it. Then what? We'd have to buy more food and it would still cost a lot.
But it does reinforce the need for folks to look inward. Buying locally, not globally. Supporting food and farmers that are in your state, not elsewhere in the world. Food that doesn't have to travel very far to reach your table. It also reinforces the need for folks to look for affordable alternatives. For example, some Liberians have taken the step of switching from a rice centered diet to a cheaper spaghetti centered diet. If you'd told Liberians 2 years ago they'd choose noodles when rice was sitting in warehouses, they would have laughed. So much of the world is rice-dependent it will be interesting to see the changes these rising prices push through, especially when they reach the "gourmet" market levels. Will millet become a staple rather than an interesting side dish from Whole Foods? Will quinoa finally take its place at the common table?
It's going to be a painful ride, but hopefully some good will emerge on the other end when things settle. I'm going to pull my rose-colored glasses on and say we're not heading for a global collapse of the food markets, but that this is the opportunity people need to change their habits, to make fewer demands on our damaged world and become part of the potential food crisis solution.
A hard first step for us would be to bypass our consumables shipment we were planning this summer and rely purely on local options.
This is going to be harder than I thought.

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