FoodPolitik: Food Day and ‘first world problems’

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company
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Is your 4G smartphone only operating at 3G speed? Is your high-definition screen only 720p? Is your hot tub not quite hot enough? Is it a really long walk to your farmers market?

Take heart — we’ve all been there. Life’s tough with all of these First World problems around us. Thankfully, most Americans don’t have any Third World problems.

Based on the never-ending complaints seen on sites like Facebook and Twitter, Americans apparently come in first place for taking our prosperity for granted. Nothing is immune, including our food.

Without sounding too much like a parent trying to convince a child to eat his veggies, we can’t lose sight of the fact that millions of children around the world are faced with blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency, yet here we debate whether food is “natural” or “organic” enough.

This dichotomy is no more apparent than in late October’s “Food Day” celebration versus World Food Day one week earlier.

World Food Day is hosted by the United Nations and occurred on October 16. Its purpose is to raise awareness about the causes of upswings in food prices, which pushed 70 million people into poverty in 2010-2011. (Americans spend about 10 percent of their income on food. In other countries, food prices have caused riots due to recent spikes.)

Food Day, hosted by the “food police” group Center for Science in the Public Interest and joined by scores of other activist organizations, occurred on October 24. Food Day is based on the premise that we’re not eating “real” food.

The overall tenants of Food Day are that we need “sustainable” farming, meaning that the government should promote “local” food and even subsidize organic farming.

Supposedly, this is more eco-friendly. But it could harm the planet — and humanity.

Buying “local” can support higher greenhouse gas emissions. While the food travels less, it can be grown by less efficient means. For example, researchers found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped to London is actually four times less emissions-intensive than serving the Brits lamb produced right in the UK.

Think about it this way: Would the environment be better off if every farmer hopped in his low-mile-per-gallon pickup to haul 200 pounds of produce 100 miles to a farmers market?

Additionally, organic farming would require more land to grow the same amount of food due to lower yields. Organic farming shuns yield-raising genetically modified crops, and also prohibits synthetic fertilizer to deliver nitrogen, an essential part of growing food. Respected agronomist Vaclav Smil has calculated that if the U.S. went completely organic, we’d need landmass equivalent to the lower 48 states just to grow our food. That’s hardly “sustainable.”

The bottom line isn’t pretty: The late Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, calculated that doing things the organic way couldn’t provide food to feed more than 4 billion people. (Are there 3 billion volunteers for starvation?)

If World Food Day teaches us anything, it’s that the activist pipe-dream proposals of Food Day simply aren’t sustainable.

The UN notes that 80 million new mouths come into the world every year. The population will reach 9 billion by 2050. The focus should be on producing more food at a reasonable price — something Food Day activists can’t offer.

Consider that many Food Day groups spend countless hours making breathless claims that biotechnology use in crops poses all kinds of hidden health risks. This zealotry shouldn’t be underestimated. Greenpeace, for example, recently sabotaged a crop experiment in Australia because it holds these tenants dear.

Yet biotechnology holds the promise to solve Third World problems by increasing the amount of food grown (there’s only so much cropland, after all) and by providing key nutrients. Golden rice, for example, is fortified with Vitamin A and could help those 250 million children who are deficient and consequently at risk for becoming blind.

Our First World food problems usually involved having too many leftovers or take-out that’s a little too cold by the time it hits the table. Instead of listening to those who want to create more, we should hear more of those who offer real-world solutions.