future of food

All posts tagged future of food

I don’t know when I’m going to get the reading done for this post, but I’m going to get started writing it up anyhow.  Hopefully I’ll get the reading done on June 28 or 29 and get this knocked out by the end of the month. I may also get a start on the July 13 post, which will probably be another San Antonio city park, between now and then, as well.

The day after this goes live, by the way, Alex and I are leaving for our Salt Lake City/Yellowstone trip. Assuming that the flight is uneventful, we’ll be landing pretty early in the day, getting our luggage and our rental car, and heading off to Pando, the most massive single organism in the world.

July 6 – I was sort of close.  I got part of the reading done in very early July but then stalled.  I intended to finish up the second article while waiting for a doctor for some jaw pain I’ve been having lately. I got right in to see the doctor and got right back out again.  It’s now July 6 and I’m just now starting on the writing.

Waste Not, Want Not, by Elizabeth Royte, photographs by Brian Finke

First, the meaning of the term “want” had moved from “the lack of” to “a desire for” by such an extent by my own childhood, that it took me a very long time to figure out that “waste not, want not” didn’t mean “if you don’t waste it, you won’t want it.”

Second, this article returns us to the Future of Food series for the first time since I’m-not-sure-when. It’s been so long that the “future of food” tag doesn’t even show up on my widget.

Now, onward.

A shocking amount of food is wasted in the world. Some of it is food that was purchased in grocery stores or restaurants and went uneaten, but a lot of it is actually disposed of at the site where it is grown. Sometimes it comes out malformed and the buyers, either the shoppers themselves or the buyers who work for the retail industry. Sometimes there is actually something wrong with the produce, such as a fungal infection or an infestation by parasites.

We follow Tristram Stuart as he puts together meals from discarded food. We see him buying crookneck squash that took their name just a little too seriously, for example. These squash become part of a squash tempura, turnip dumpling, and zucchini noodle meal.

In this article, we go on to France, Kenya, Peru, and back to the United States (Las Vegas, this time) to see what Stuart, and others, are doing to use unsalable food.

The Cold Rush, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., photographs by Evgenia Arbugaeva

With the increasing warming of the Arctic region, several countries, including Canada, Norway, and Russia are attempting to harvest the natural resources that are coming closer to (and sometimes actually reaching) the surface. Norway is drilling for oil in the Arctic Circle, and Canada is mining gold and iron. Additionally, some ships (including a cruise ship) are taking advantage of the melting ice to take the proverbial “Northwest Passage”  from Europe to Asia through northern Canada.

It’s not all rosy, though. The Arctic Circle is so remote that workers need to be brought in in groups, the workers then live in those groups for weeks or months, and then they get shipped home. Also, ecological damage is being done. There are no oil pipelines that far north, so the oil has to be dumped into tankers, which leads to the risk of an oil spill. And, of course, mining always leads to damage.

The Azolla Event, which is the proliferation of azolla fern that led our carbon-rich atmosphere to go into an ice age, locked up more carbon than just the carbon in the fern. Some carbon dioxide was dissolved in the water and once the water froze, the carbon that was dissolved in it was trapped. Cold Rush points out that the melting ice is releasing further carbon into the atmosphere.

With this post, I will pretty much run out of National Geographic posts from my old blog.  I am going to attempt to keep posting entire issues, but I may go back to the pattern I originally set up on the old blog, where I generally posted two articles at a time.  If I were to keep posting entire issues, it likely would slow me way down on my reading.  The magazines just seem to go faster when I read two and review two, rather than reading the entire issue.

The “pretty much” is because I do have three National Geographic posts left, but two are from the October 1888 issue, which I am still plugging away at slowly.  National Geographic didn’t start trying to attract a general audience until around 1905, so those first 17 years of issues will be slow going.


A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, by Jonathan Foley, photographs by George Steinmetz and Jim Richardson

Over the next 35 years, from 2015 to 2050, the food needs of the world will likely double.  This is due not only to population increase, but also to the increase in prosperity of formerly impoverished nations.  These developing nations are now demanding more in terms of meat, milk, and eggs, as well as of produce.  As a result, scientists need to come up with new ways to feed these people while not wrecking the environment in the process.  Foley led what he refers to as “a team of scientists” who have studied this very question and they came up with five steps that may help with this.

These five steps are to freeze agriculture’s footprint, to grow more on farms we’ve got, to use resources more efficiently, to shift diets (to less meat-intensive diets, for example), and to reduce waste.

These goals seem to be pretty obvious to me.  Further, while this article gives a few examples of how these goals might be achieved, it then ends with “we already know what we have to do; we just need to figure out how to do it.”  I felt sort of underwhelmed by this conclusion.  I guess I should count it as a good thing that scientists are thinking about this topic at all.

Digging Utah’s Dinosaurs, by Peter Miller, photographs by Cory Richards

In Digging Utah’s Dinosaurs, we meet the Miller brothers, Ian and Dane, who are paleobotanists.  We join the Miller brothers on an expedition at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, where they are searching for signs of the lost continent of Laramidia.

90 million years ago, the area which is now North America was two separate continents, Appalachia to the east and Laramidia to the west.  The Western Interior Seaway lay between them.  The Miller brothers, along with other scientists, are searching for the species of dinosaur who lived in this area and trying to figure out why the dinosaurs of northern Laramidia were so different from those in southern Laramidia. It is possible that there was a physical barrier of some sort, but they have not yet found any evidence of such a barrier.  Instead, the going theory is that the area, much of which is now desert, was a tropical rainforest.  This means that the herbivorous animals would not have had to have gone very far in search of food.  This also means that any carnivorous animals in the area also would not have had to wander very far.  The result would be a less dramatic version of how isolation caused divergence in Australia and Madagascar.  The species would have had different pressures causing different traits to be selected for, resulting in very different species.

Finally, I noticed that the writer, Peter Miller, shares a surname with the Miller brothers.  Miller is a very common name in the United States (the sixth most common, as of the 2000 census), so it is not impossible that this is a coincidence.  However, it is also not impossible that all three Millers are related in some way.  I have been unable to determine which of these it is.

The Ship Breakers, by Peter Gwin, photographs by Mike Hettwer

Oceangoing ships have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years. After that, it becomes so expensive to insure them that their only value is for scrap. Ships are not just made of steel. There are other substances involved, such as asbestos and lead. In most developed countries, the safety measures necessary for such work would eat into the profits from recycling the recyclable bits, such as the steel. As a result, “the bulk of the world’s shipbreaking” takes place in countries with lower safety standards, such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

In The Ship Breakers, Gwin takes us to one of the shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh.  In Bangladesh, the shipbreaking yards recycle around 90% of each ship and, overall, make a profit of three to four million dollars a year.  The yards used to be open to tourists, but a while ago, they closed the yards to visitors.

Gwin and Hettwer show us some of the process of shipbreaking in Bangladesh, in which these elderly ships are taken apart by hand. We also hear from an activist who wants the process of shipbreaking to be done in a cleaner, safer way.  At the moment, the shipbreakers risk their lives daily and allow toxic chemicals to leach into the environment.  Hopefully, someday the shipbreaking yards will find a cleaner, safer way to do their work without putting people out of their jobs.

The Generous Gulf, by Rob Dunn, photographs by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes

When the European colonists arrived in North America, they were overwhelmed by the variety of life, and number of fish, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  This was for two good reasons.  First, their own waters back home had been overfished and second, the Gulf of St. Lawrence had an unusually high number of lifeforms because of its position.  The waters of several rivers collect organic matter which becomes food for smaller lifeforms, which then become food for larger ones until you have cod, and herring, and sturgeon, and even whales and walruses.  The Europeans seemed to think that the supply of fish and other animals was infinite and immediately set about overfishing the Gulf.

There is a new threat to the Gulf as well.  Oil has been found under the Gulf and the oil company executives are making plans to begin drilling.  This runs the risk of leaking into the Gulf and causing ecological damage.  Hopefully the oil companies that are planning this well will be careful with the ecosystem that they are about to venture into.

Love and Loss on the Seine, by Cathy Newman, photographs by William Albert Allard

Love and Loss on the Seine is a series of vignettes of life on the Seine, the river that flows through the heart of Paris.  We meet people who have chosen to live on barges in the river.  We see workers setting up for Paris Plages, a summer festival in which the expressway along the right bank of the river is blocked off and turned into a beach with sand and portable palm trees.  People discuss the color of the Seine with Newman.  We see the history of Les Berges, a sort of River Walk for Paris, where the expressway along the left bank has been closed in favor of parks and restaurants.  We visit a homeless shelter on a barge on the river.  Newman discusses breaking the law on the Seine (no swimming or wading, no protests, no banners and so forth) with a police officer.  We see people fishing on the Seine (a difficult task considering the embankments that have been there since the 1700s).  We see Paris at 3:00 in the morning.  We visit a mental hospital on a barge on the Seine (there is little to no aggression in the patients in this hospital; no one is sure why).

Overall, Love and Loss on the Seine is very quick, easy reading, and helped me see more of a city that I have only visited for one very pleasant day in 2002.

(originally posted in July and August 2015)

Before Stonehenge, by Roff Smith, photographs by Jim Richardson

Before Stonehenge is the cover story, and, like other cover stories, the blurb on the cover doesn’t even begin to, well, cover it. The blurb says, “The First Stonehenge: Britain’s Master Builders” and, well, this article does discuss the Stones of Stenness, which is likely to be the oldest stone circle in Britain. But the article is so much more than just that one monument.

In Before Stonehenge, we see Skara Brae, for example.  Skara Brae is an entire neolithic village on a headland known as the Ness of Brae.  The homes had furniture and built-in storage units that would likely have been a lovely selling point if there were any such thing as a stone-age real estate market.

When you look at Orkney, an archipelago to the north of Scotland, on a map, it seems like it should be cold and inhospitable.  It is roughly parallel with the Gulf of Alaska, after all.  And yet, the average low temperature for Orkney for February (the average coldest month) is 35.1 degrees Fahrenheit/1.7 degrees Celsius.  That’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average low temperature in February in Chicago.  Credit for this mild climate goes to the Gulf Stream.  Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the islands had a bustling agricultural economy that allowed the residents the freedom to express themselves artistically, as well.  So far, more than 650 works of art have been discovered.

And Orkney was not nearly as remote as its location would have you believe.  It was, in the words of Caroline Wickham-Jones of the University of Aberdeen, “an important maritime hub, a place that was on the way to everywhere.”  And the article contains a map that shows the extent of the settlements of Orkney during the Neolithic.  The current estimates are that there were more than 10,000 people living in the Orkney islands during the Neolithic.

Best of all, only around 10% of the Ness has been excavated, which means that there are certainly more treasures to be discovered on the Ness of Brae and, perhaps, all over the Orkney Islands.

Gombe Family Album, by David Quammen, photographs by Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers

On April 3, 2014, Jane Goodall turned 80 years old.  In recognition of the occasion, David Quammen interviewed  Goodall.

Goodall recalls being told that she had done her work  “wrong” in the minds of the establishment in animal behavior.  When Goodall went to Cambridge to get her Ph.D. in ethology, her professors didn’t want to hear about the personalities of the chimpanzees. They wanted her to be able to find patterns in their behaviors.

From here, the conversation moves on to discussions of the personalities, and personal histories, of some of the chimpanzees she got to know at the Gombe Stream Research Center in Tanzania.

The article is illustrated with a photo of Goodall in the 1960s holding hands with a chimpanzee named Figan.  This photo was  taken by Hugo Van Lawick.  There are also beautiful portraits  of some of the chimpanzees she worked with:  Frodo, Samwise, Gaia, Sparrow, Gremlin, Gizmo, and Nasa.

The New Face of Hunger, by Tracie McMillan, photographs by Kitra Cahana, Stephanie Sinclair, and Amy Toensing

The New Face of Hunger, this issue’s installment of the Future of Food series, is based in the United States.  The article focuses on the millions of Americans, most of whom are working full-time, who are facing food insecurity.  You are likely familiar with the term “food insecurity.”  This is the term which, since 2006, has replaced “hunger” in order to reflect the new reality of hunger in the United States.  In past generations, people either had plenty of food or were pretty consistently short on food.  In the current era, however, many people have plenty of calories but are short on nutrition, which can lead these people to become obese.  Additionally, these people cannot aquire  even the high-calorie low-nutrient-dense foods that they have the time and/or money predictably, which leads them to have this new term, rather than calling them “hungry.”

In The New Face of Hunger, we visit food-insecure families in Iowa, Texas, and New York. We talk about the food insecure and food deserts.  Many people live in what is known as a food desert.  A food desert, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, has to meet two criteria:

  1. They qualify as “low-income communities“, based on having: a) a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, OR b) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income; AND
  2. They qualify as “low-access communities“, based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the census tract’s population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of non-metropolitan census tracts).

The article also discusses the role of subsidies in hunger.  The top five most highly subsidized crops between 1995 and 2012, were corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, and rice.  The four of these that are edible are high-energy (which is the fancy way of saying that they have lots of calories) but are not so full of nutrients.  Fruits and vegetables, to the extent that they are subsidized, are subsidized at a much lower rate, which keeps those crops much more expensive (particularly on a per-calorie basis) than crops such as corn and wheat.  On the other hand, however, the subsidies that do exist help to keep the high-calorie foods that are highly subsidized more affordable to low-income people.  Without those subsidies, perhaps rather than food insecure people, we’d have a much higher rate of the truly undernourished poor in the United States.

While noodling around with the Food Access Research Atlas on the USDA website, I found evidence that apparently the USDA does not consider a Walmart Supercenter to be a supermarket, despite the fact that a Supercenter is about 1/3 groceries.  A new Supercenter opened in San Antonio last year and the area right next to it is shown as being a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.  Upon further looking at the map, I think that perhaps that’s just a side effect of the size of the census tract, because I just realized that there is an indisputable “supermarket or large grocery store” just about a mile from that Supercenter, also bordering on that same census tract.  Maybe, since the tract is so large, since the people on the far end are more than a mile from a store, all of them are considered to be in a food desert.

Franz Josef Land: The Meaning of North, by David Quammen, photographs by Cory Richards

In Franz Josef Land: The Meaning of North, Quammen and Richards accompany a scientific expedition to Franz Josef Land, an archipelago in the far north of Russia to determine why the ice is melting, how extensive the melting will be, and what the ecological consequences of the melting will be.  Their group of 40 people include experts and students in a variety of disciplines including but not limited to botany, microbiology, ichthyology, and ornithology.

We meet a number of the people on the expedition including Michael Fay, the botanist, who walked across the forests of Central Africa.  We also meet Enric Sala, whom we will see again in the September, 2014 article on the Southern Line Islands.

One of the things that is emphasized is how heavily armed the guards that accompany the expedition are.  I was wondering if the expedition was facing some kind of danger from humans.  I’m not sure who would be a threat that far north, maybe some kind of insurrectionists would be hanging out there, but it turns out that the guns are to protect them from polar bears.  And the author does have one close call.  Fortunately the situation is resoilved without violence,  There is a  lovely closeup photograph of a polar bear (not taken during that close call but with a remote camera).  The caption states that the remote camera was later chewed up by the polar bear.

And, of course, no conclusions can be made yet about the fate of the ice of Franz Josef Land.  All the scientists can do is collect data, watch trends, and see what conclusions they can draw from those down the line.

The Hidden World of the Great War, by Evan Hadingham, photographs by Jeffrey Gusky

The Hidden World of the Great War is about the reality of the trench warfare of World War I.  The soldiers did not just stand in trenches, they also built extensive tunnels and lived in ancient underground quarries.  These tunnels and quarries were dug into chalk and limestone, both of which are soft enough to carve, and some of the soldiers did just that.  There are, of course, the requisite names carved into the walls, but soldiers also left art behind.  There are portraits and symbols, including a praying soldier and a carving of Marianne, the symbol of the French Revolution.

(originally posted May and June 2015)

This is going to be kind of a downer of an entry.  First, we have an article on how parasites change the behavior of their hosts.  Second, we return to Nepal in April 2014, for the single deadliest day on Mount Everest.  I should have expected this issue to be kind of a downer after the “still life” featuring a dead pelican on pages 28 and 29. Continue Reading