Thinking About Our Food Chain

Thinking About Our Food Chain


   We live in a global village that is becoming more interdependent each day. From the products we buy to the news and entertainment we see; the world seemingly has gotten smaller.

   I never cease to be amazed at jet travel. How a huge clunk of over one million parts can takeoff, transfer and land hundreds of people safely through thousands of flights each day. Automobiles and computers have international content and complex operating systems and shape societies in unique ways.

   But to me, the most amazing place in my country is the supermarket. In the history of mankind, no culture has ever seen and consumed such bounty and wonder from its food chain. As we think about our food chain, what can we derive from the aisles and aisles of fresh, frozen and packaged foods and beverages? Consider the world wide flavor of our supply chain: coffees from Columbia, Costa Rica, Kenya; asparagus from Peru; fresh lettuce from California; rice from Arkansas; chocolate from the beans of Ivory Coast; cheese from Denmark; tomatoes from Mexico; olive oil from Italy; cod from Iceland; catfish from Vietnam; wheat bread from Canada…the list is endless.

   The food had to be planted, tended, harvested, transported, processed, packaged, brokered, shipped and shipped again, inventoried, stocked, sold and then consumed at our table. The water, the fertilizers, the pesticides, the diesel fuel, the electricity and the human hands that go into each meal we consume is immense. The social impacts of our food chain both sustain families and whole communities; but the growers, harvesters, and handlers of the chain are some of the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

   In the summer and fall of my life that complex model of the food chain simplifies a bit. My own father was the master gardener. It would not be unusual to sit down to a five item meal and all but one item would be grown 50 yards from the kitchen table. The beans, squash, okra, corn, tomatoes, peppers and onions would all be fresh from the soil of the yard. We would can and freeze some of these foods and enjoy them year round.

   Eating fresh and eating local is critical to the future. We will always be interdependent on our world food chain to a large degree, but by reshaping our views, habits and behavior about what we eat and where it comes from can make us healthier, wealthier and wiser. As weather patterns change, water becomes scarcer and the cost of fuel and energy rise; the expense and availability of food within the supply chain will necessitate changed behaviors in us all.

   We add millions of mouths to feed to the population each year. As more nations become affluent, they will eat higher on the food chart – more meat, more dairy and more processed foods and beverages. Managing our food supply and making it affordable to the world will become one mankind’s biggest challenges. Today, over one billion people on our planet have real food insecurity each day. Another billion are vulnerable to any slight change in the supply or price of basic foods like rice, beans or cooking oil.

   Think of how you can build a more sustainable and healthy part of the food chain within your family. Become part of your local food bank. Make a commitment to grow something in your yard or in a bucket on your patio. Join a community garden. Freeze local produce and plan your meals in sustainable ways.

   Thinking about our food chain can change our lives and change the lives of countless others for the better. Agriculture is still the heartbeat of our world. We can do without a jet or car, but not food. Food chains are the chains that bind the world together.