Yesterday was Food Day– you missed it? I write a lot about feeding your vehicle, but how about feeding yourself. Without that, what else matters?
Economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern claims the United States is out of ideas. (He’s angling to be the next Francis Fukuyama, then.) Whatever our new ideas are, one of them had better be about food. Some appetizers:
-Entirely New Crops
In the late ’50s and ’60s, the Green Revolution brought new seed strains and other agricultural practices. Protesters had lots to complain about, but for most starvation wasn’t one of them. Time for a new revolution.
Entirely New Crops– We’ve already seen quinoa get marketed and distributed; will the Kernza strain of “wheat” be next? Or something else entirely? Sure, wheat, corn, rice, etc. are tasty, but taste is acquired, while all species have their strengths and weaknesses. New species bring advantages, the first being newness itself, and thus the ability to rotate crops.
As an example, the only crop to yield sugar for thousands of years was sugarcane. Then a sugar beet was discovered; it still had to be bred up from a curiosity to a profitable strain. Sugar was then taken off the list of geopolitical hot potatoes- yes, nations used to fight over sugar resources. Now it’s just one more ingredient. In particular, the sugar beet grows in cold areas, where cane requires tropical weather. Cartels and embargoes are now unthinkable. Who is searching for the next sugar beet? Not enough people, that’s who. Or at least not enough funded, smart people.
Expanded Aquaculture– Right now, we as a species certainly eat fish… maybe too much. But the only seaweed most people see is holding sushi rolls together. Eating some form of seaweed (such as algae) instead of small fish (let alone carnivorous fish) would go a lot further. More people fed, more places, for less money. At a minimum, algal mass can be fodder for farmed fish, or chicken, or pigs, which will support more people than corn-based feeds. Who is searching for “sea crops”? We are already looking for fatty algae, to turn into biodiesel. Turning it into animal supplements or food toppings (like a tzatziki) could make grains into rounded, satisfying meals for less than even eggs or dairy.
Perennial Grains– Okay, there are people on this one. Converting rice or wheat from annual crops to perennials would expand the food supply tremendously. Corn, in particular, wastes much effort growing new stalks every year, while its roots are weak by comparison. Perennial grains would yield more food, for less energy, while also saving topsoil (and thus fertilizer). Everyone wins.
Genetic Engineering– Yes, genetic engineering. I’m not saying full speed ahead with no regulation. Both sugar beets and whatever perennial grain appears are brought to us as new strains; genetic engineering is simply a swifter blade in the armory. A swifter blade requires a steadier hand, no doubt.
Entomophagy– Yes, eating bugs. Insects are high protein, low fat. They’ve been eaten around the world for thousands of years. A firm in Silicon Valley is already testing ground cricket bars, because Silicon Valley is not bound by your narrow minds but by human ingenuity.
Think of entomophagy research as “the next shrimp.” You eat shrimp? Stop whining.
Waste Reduction– Depending on the analysis, we throw away anywhere from one-fifth to possibly one-third of our crops. This includes crops that simply rot in the field for multiple reasons. For every reason, there are multiple means of attack. I am hardly the first to bring this up: in case of a terrorist attack threatening our agricultural system, waste reduction would be Step 1.
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We need food ideas badly. We want our incoming economies to resemble the ’60s, not the ’70s.