Taking A Big Bite Out Of The Earth

HortNZ Hears Consumers Are ‘Taking A Big Bite Out Of The Earth’


5 days ago 

Every meal we eat costs the planet 10 kgs of soil, 800 litres of fresh water and 1.3 litres of diesel fuel.

“That’s what it takes to feed the typical person for just one meal – and when you multiply it by 7.3 billion people each eating around a thousand meals a year, our modern food system is devouring a vast amount of resources unsustainably,” science writer Julian Cribb told the Horticulture New Zealand Conference this week in Rotorua.

He says New Zealand’s innovative and efficient growers and food producers are well placed to be at the forefront of providing the creativity required to feed the planet in the future.

“Eating is our largest personal impact on the planet – but few people appreciate how big it is,” Julian says.

Julian is the author of “The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and how we can avoid it” (UCP 2010).

“The world currently loses around 75 billion tonnes of topsoil a year. Despite progress in countries like New Zealand, global soil degradation is getting worse, not better. At such rates, scientists are warning we may run short of good farming soils within 50-70 years.”

Julian says the picture is similar for water, with more than 4000 cubic kilometres of groundwater being extracted – most of it unsustainably – every year. Places like north China, the Indo-Gangetic region, the Middle East and midwest and western USA face critical water shortages by the 2030s. Places like California and Brazil already face them.

Meanwhile huge cities, coal mines and gas companies are grabbing the farmers’ remaining water – making the task of feeding the world so much harder.

“Most governments and consumers fail to recognise that scarcities of water, land, oil, nutrients, technology, fish and finance are now acting in sync – and being amplified by climate shocks.

“Equally important is the fact that three out of every four people in well-off societies now die from a diet-related disease.

“This pandemic of preventable disease now consumes three quarters of our exploding healthcare budgets.

“So there are two major reasons to radically change the world diet – health and sustainability.

“Local horticultural producers will be leaders in this change,” Julian says.

“There are huge opportunities for new foods, new crops, new production systems and novel diets which are healthier and more sustainable as well as delicious.

“Currently humanity consumes just a few hundred different plants: the modern diet is largely based on just five grains and five animals.

“Yet there are 27,600 edible plants on Earth, mostly vegetables and most of them unknown to the majority of people.

“We have not yet begun to explore the agricultural, health and culinary potential of our home planet – and now is the perfect time to do so.

“I predict that over the coming two decades, this will lead to a major boom in local food production both in the cultivation of thousands of novel crops, in the development of new production systems such as aquaponics, protected cropping, biocultures, algae culture and green cities, and in the design of new foods and diets.”

“It is already clear from social media we are witnessing the start of a global revolt by consumers against the industrialised food system that is making them sick, and destroying farming communities and landscapes.

“Together these forces are changing the nature of food for all time – in favour of lighter, healthier more sustainable diets dominated by vegetables and fruits of astonishing diversity.

“Following the age of music and the age of computing, the world is now entering the Age of Food.

“Never has world cuisine been so spectacularly diverse – or so far short of its true potential.

“Food is one of the most creative acts which humans perform, and New Zealand’s growers – always highly innovative – will be at the forefront in that creativity.

“This isn’t just a matter of fashion. In a world of ten billion people, how intelligently we design our food will define the future of our civilization, now and for all time, for good or ill.”

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