I’ve been trying to think of something to post for days now and all I could think of was rice. (1)
“Argh!” I thought. “I am not going to get into a poli-econ rant about food riots, the short-sightedness of the World Bank, the relative inefficiency of ethanol, the shift in the national diet of China and other shifting societies, the fact that history repeats itself (pass the potatoes!) and rice shortages.”
And no, I do not mean the fact that you are limited to 3 ten-pound bags of rice at Trader Joe’s. I meant real shortages. (2)
And each time I ranted that at myself, I would search doggedly for something light and fluffy, something that required piffle not pontificating. Something amusing, clever, maybe a tad biting—but it a witty way. Even something quick—a sort of fabulous foodie “wham, bam, thank-you ma’am(3)
And all I could think about was famine. And rice. Oh and tomatoes because there’s going to be an issue with tomatoes in late summer when everyone suddenly realizes that the planting levels are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down since the farmers aren’t at all convinced there will be anyone on hand to pick them come harvest time. But all foods have their moment and the tomato will wait for now. (4)
At this moment – rice.
Yes, there are many factors at play in the current shortages. Yes, the shortages involve many foods not just rice – but rice is one of those building block staples (you could easily substitute the words ‘wheat’, ‘salt’, ‘soybeans’, etc.) so the impact is greater than say—a shortage in Clementines. (5)
- It’s not just crop failures due to rising levels of rice blight and fungus.
- It’s not just higher demand from previously smaller markets.
- It’s not just that the price of fuel is skyrocketing faster than a lost helium balloon driving up the cost of transport, of fertilizer and of the umpteen other petroleum based items and operations across the agricultural world.
- It’s not just worsening drought conditions (a daunting and terrifying problem in and of itself) and changing soil conditions (put down to – guess? go on! – you got it! Global warming)
- It’s not just that the acreage formerly dedicated to growing the stuff is now being used for development thanks to crony-driven sales by grasping local governments and the desperate need to put exploding populations somewhere.
- It’s not just that land was left to lie fallow as the world’s large rice exporters became rice importers on the economic advice of a world economic body that should have known better.
- It’s not just bad decisions and bad “quick fixes” being used as stop gap measures as people decide between sending their children to school or feeding them.
- It’s not just speculators. (6)
It’s not “just” any of them.
No, none of these individually or even two or them could cause food riots in 5 out of 7 continents. (7) It’s all of these things coming together, creating a sort of “perfect storm” of disaster. The BBC News seems enamored of the phrase “silent Tsunami” to describe the crisis sweeping across the globe. I hate it—the phrase I mean. Not the BBC News, of which I am by and large a fan.
So given that there are so many things in play here, why does it seem that the only solution being heralded about is reducing the acreage given over to ethanol-destined crops. I’m all for looking more closely at the practicality of that, by the way. Ethanol, as developed and produced in the United States (which seems to be the country everyone clangs on about re Ethanol) is not a terribly efficient fuel. Oh, it’s cheap enough to produce—or at least, to the extent that corn (again, I’m referring to ethanol re the U.S.) is cheaper and easier to get hold of than dwindling fossil fuels. But the question remains, is the resulting fuel (the quantities per acreage, how it performs, etc.) worth it? These concerns have recently been “hand waved” away by the U.S. Congress because they say that eventually it won’t be corn-based. It will be produced by something else (grasses etc.) that won’t compete for agricultural land the way corn does. Well, that’s dandy—for eventually. But what about now?
Let’s look at Brazil. No—let’s not. Suffice to say Brazil seems to have gotten its head around this ethanol thing better than anyone else and if I had a blog called the Fabulous Fuel Fan, I’d go on about it. But we’re food folks here.
My point is that while I think the impact and role of ethanol production in the current food crisis is in dire need to examination and re-dressing, it’s not going to solve the problem if it’s done in isolation. Everything else must be examined as well.
Hmmmm . . . .
I may have gotten this partially out of my system for now. Then again, having “thought out loud” about it in composing this post, I may have just given myself a rough outline for a series of new posts.
Worry not, regular readers. We shall still celebrate the fun and fabulousness of foodie. After all, there will always be a need to celebrate things like National Prime Rib Day (April 27). In fact, we may get two posts today—’cause I love me some Prime Rib.
(1) Note: This is not our usual fare. I wanted to be clever, funny, and witty and something kept getting in the way.
(2) How I loathe the media sometimes. Their desperate need to create drama and crisis where there is none. It’s almost as annoying as their ability to ignore and/or dismiss genuine crisis on the off-chance that an Olsen twin or Paris Hilton may get a hang nail.
(3) As lunatic as that sounds if one a) knows him and b) tries to visualize that.
(4) But keep an eye on it.
(5) Which are, to the best of my knowledge, not in short supply so relax, Mother. Mother loves Clementines.
(6) “Speculating on the price of food?” I hear you cry. Yes, children. People speculate on anything and everything. Metals, oil, even things like say, oh – mortgages. And you see how well that went. According to the National Grain and Feed Association, 60 percent of the wheat market is current owned by an index fund. Enjoy your breakfast.
(7) Bully for Antarctica! No food riots there. Yet.