An early spring has generated in us an itch to dig in the dirt. We've cleaned out the garden spaces, started seeds indoors, and are generally ready to see the flowers and vegetables growing. It seems that there's something in our DNA that - despite the availability of fresh and convenience foods everywhere - we want to grow our own. Farmer's markets are also popular, as people embrace the idea of locally grown, with "backyard" being as local as you can get. It's good for us, and good for the environment.
We Americans are lucky. We have access to plentiful, varied, and generally cheap food and clean drinking water. Sometimes it seems we take that for granted. A recent study estimates that the average American throws away 33 lbs of food each month
(nearly 400 lbs / year). It's easy enough to do. All those fresh fruits and veggies look so good there on the shelf, so we load up the bag and bring it home, feeling good about how well we're treating our bodies with this fresh goodness. Something comes up, though, maybe a bad day at work and we order a pizza. Or maybe we pull out that head of cauliflower and realize we're not in the mood for it and toss it back in. Or maybe we bought something without thinking of how we were going to prepare it for dinner, and it keeps getting pushed back. Eventually, it gets gross and ends up being tossed. Let's not forget those leftovers either. They'd make a great lunch, except - whoops - forgot about them, and then they're a science experiment.
It's all so easy to do, and bit by bit it doesn't seem like a lot until the fridge is in danger of becoming a hazmat site and needs a complete cleaning out. We vow to do better, and we do, but we still slip.
The problem of course comes back to what your mother told you while trying to get you to eat those lima beans: "Eat - there are children starving in Korea". The sad reality, is that children are STILL starving
all over the world. Every year 15 MILLION children die from starvation. Of the 925 MILLION hungry people in the world
, only 19 million are from what are considered "developed" countries. The rest are in what we call "3rd world" countries in Asia, Africa, and south of our border.
How is that possible? If we can produce enough food for Americans to waste twice their own body weight every year, how can so many people be starving? Can't we produce more here and distribute it?
The answer - it's complicated. What can realistically be distributed to remote areas is limited to foods that won't spoil - mainly dried grains. We grow a lot of grain here, mainly corn and wheat. Because of the increased use of ethanol as fuel, however, more corn is being diverted for that purpose. It's really a bad use of resources
Even in a crowd of rising food and commodity costs, corn stands out, its price having doubled in less than a year to a record $7.87 per bushel in early June. Booming global demand has overtaken stagnant supply.
But rather than ameliorate the problem, the government has exacerbated it, reducing food supply to a hungry world. Thanks to Washington, 4 of every 10 ears of corn grown in America — the source of 40 percent of the world’s production — are shunted into ethanol, a gasoline substitute that imperceptibly nicks our energy problem. Larded onto that are $11 billion a year of government subsidies to the corn complex.
The price of corn has indeed risen, along with the costs of other food
, and are predicted to rise even more
. Ethanol is being touted as a "cleaner" alternative for gasoline, but is it? Farming requires pesticides, manure and fertilizer, and water - lots of water.
This may or may not be why Americans - along with energy and food - are the worlds most voracious consumer of potable water
. Considering how little fresh drinking water is available on the planet, it seems inconceivable that we would use so much to grow a food crop that we burn in our gas tanks, and other foods that we toss in the trash because we just didn't get around to eating it.
When George W. Bush was president, he said that terrorists hated us for our freedom. It was a stupid comment, of course. But it certainly is understandable that other more concientious countries - and especially dry and starving countries - are disgusted in our casual excess and gluttonous appetite for limited natural resources.
"Waste not, want not", my mother also used to say. Perhaps it's time we listened to our mothers, especially Mother Earth.