Image: foa.org

 

The chart on the left shows us that toward the end of 2010 food prices were nearly as high as the record time of mid 2008.  Now in January 2011 we have reached a new record.

 

The chart on the right shows us price changes in different commodities over the last 2 years.

 

What are we to make of this?  Well, the Federated Farmers of New Zealand are cheering, claiming that it will boost the profits for NZ farmers.  And that is perfect case in point for my previous blog.  The fact that rising food prices is seen as an opportunity to inflate profits shows us how programmed we are to seek economic benefit before addressing ecological crisis.

 

These rising food prices will likely bring an increase to the 1 billion odd people currently malnourished due to in-affordability of food.  1 billion people!  That is close to 15% of our entire population and it is set to rise?  Can you imagine if 15% of your body was malnourished because a handful of cells were discriminating the distribution of nutrients based on economic agendas?  While the whole ecology of humanity is being compromised, we have food businessmen celebrating.

 

But once again, we can so easily fall into the trap of pointing fingers can't we?  The truth is it comes back to you and me.  Whilst ever we are supporting the system that is causing these problems, then the best thing we can do is work our way towards the exit door of our industrial food model.

 

It's not an easy thing to do. We can't just leap out the doors without first uniting with others and preparing an alternate food strategy.  That would be like diving straight off the Titanic into the freezing ocean below.  We need to think, talk, plan and steadily substitute industrial food with local and small scale food 'life boats' bit by bit.

 

Whether we like it or not, we are going to see a total transition of our food systems in our lifetimes and likely quite soon.  The industrial, command and control oligopoly of food empires are doing the Titanic dive as we speak and most of us are on board.  So while the present comfort of being in the great dining hall may seem preferable to being in a cold crowded life boat, I know where I would rather be.

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Comment by Richard Grevers on January 12, 2011 at 7:22am

Regarding the price of fish, Guilio - yes, it makes sense. To some extent it looks like a relocalised food model in action. If Tarakihi was $19 a kilo nationwide, I'd be worried, because that means it is being managed centrally - caught in a factory-fishing operation, processed centrally and distributed. But a big price disparity suggests either:

  1.  Tarakihi is bountiful off Canterbury, and local fishermen are catching it and supplying their local market. But, there isn't 5 times the amount of Tarakihi available to Auckland fishermen, so the demand for a limited supply drives the price up.
  2. The "base fish" which is relatively cheap and readily available varies from region to region. I grew up in Christchurch, and yes, we bought Tarakihi (although fish shops tended to spell it Terakihi in those days). Now I live in Taranaki and Warehou is the base fish. I don't know what is the base fish in Auckland.
  3. Once we live in large cities, it often isn't possible for a local fishing fleet to sustainably supply the population with wet fish. Take Sydney, where fish'n'chips is so expensive it is treated as a luxury rather than basic takeaways - expect to pay 2-3x the cost of pizza, for example). So is the Auckland Tarakihi caught off Canterbury, with the cost of refrigerated freight inflating the price?

What worries me is whether $10/kg for any fish is appropriate - can the fishermen and processors make a living at that rate. Or is the market oversupplied, pushing the price down?

 

We have been tricked into expecting to eat any food anywhere and at any time of the year, when reality says that availability is local and many foods are seasonal.  There is a theory that many food allergies are a result of year round availability. A food that has potential to cause problems doesn't if we eat it extensively for a three month season then abstain from it for the rest of the year, as our body gets a rest from it. So right now we would be best to enjoy the berries and stonefruit, and ignore the imported pears and citrus. If we all did that, the supermarkets would stop stocking them.

Comment by WBN on January 11, 2011 at 5:08pm
Yes, with the current environmental challenges worldwide we are going to see some major food upheavals soon that will change our way of thinking and consuming no doubt...
Comment by Pete Russell on January 11, 2011 at 3:34pm
Good point about the lifeboat analogy Earl.  Flexible bridges make much more sense.
Comment by Earl Mardle on January 10, 2011 at 11:28am

Pete, this is the key line to me.

"We can't just leap out the doors without first uniting with others and preparing an alternate food strategy."

Our biggest problem among the transitioners (as distinct from the formal TT movement which DOES have a strategy), is that a strategy doesn't just include a list of desirable, or even necessary outcomes, (such as you mention in the previous post) nor even a shift to preferable practises, it needs to have at least an idea of the process and the actors by which the shift will be enabled.

The traditional alternative has been a descent into chaos, violence, starvation and mass death etc which, we must remember, is ALWAYS a possibility.

What we are trying to do is find a way to avoid that method for making the transition and right now we don't have one. Growing our own, preferring local over imported, transferring priorities to savings, tools, basic skills and healthy diets and exercise away from flat screen TV, urban assault vehicles, mindless entertainment etc, minimising waste, electricity and water use, catching and producing our own etc etc etc are all absolutely critical components of the strategy.

But if they are not joined up both horizontally among our neighbours and vertically in our economies and political structures, they will fail. It is plain that we are not going to get leadership from those upon whom we have depended through generations, so we must find it elsewhere.

Pete, you are doing that here, James is also doing it in TT, others are trying to do it in other places, but still we need the broader picture, we need the joining up and we need to be able to tell the story, coherently, quickly (at first while we are still stuck with the sound-bite mentality) and effectively to everyone we meet and certainly anyone who asks.

There's a lot of fear out here folks. Over NY I was telling my MIL that we have now reached the point where we only eat those spuds that we have grown. If we have failed to grow enough or to get the succession planting right etc, we don't eat spuds. Her response that, since we could afford to buy some, we are being "ridiculous".

But then she lived through the last depression and any language that suggests a return to those days is very frightening. She at least understands the point, for anyone born since 1950, it is either an intellectual exercise or completely meaningless to act in that way. When it becomes an unavoidable reality they will learn very quickly, or become numb and paralysed and starve or they will riot; I have no idea which.

Maybe the cost of food will be the driver, although if people can simply substitute cheaper items that will be the first recourse for many, especially those who have no connection between the actual production of food and its appearance on their plates. We also have to remember that, while anyone can start producing immediately, to start making a meaningful contribution to their consumption will take a couple of years at least and require a total shift of their awareness and resource use.

Lead time could be a literal killer for many.

One small quibble with your imagery Pete. I absolutely do not want to be on a lifeboat. A lifeboat is a temporary refuge in which we survive while rescue arrives or in which we can navigate back to normality. There is no rescue coming, there is no "normality" to go back to.

I prefer to think of what we are doing as building a bridge from an old and increasingly dysfunctional, normality to a very different one. If we get it right, when that new and different reality becomes the only one in which we can survive, we will be ready to step off the bridge into it. My main concern is that we will not have a long enough bridge to cross the gap or that the one we have built goes to the wrong place.

Flexible bridges, that's what we need.

Comment by James Samuel on January 7, 2011 at 9:53pm
As always I appreciate your consistently avoiding the trap of finger pointing, and instead keep bringing it "back to you and me". 
Comment by Giulio Sturla on January 7, 2011 at 6:18pm

Tarakihi in Auckland $28 kl

Tarakihi in Lyttelton $10 kl

it make sense?

Comment by Rachel Owen on January 7, 2011 at 3:30pm
You know there's something wrong when milk and petrol are the same price per litre !

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