Tomato lovers, stop rejoicing. Because you will not find the perfect supermarket tomato in any supermarket. Not now, and perhaps not ever. It’s not because the Garden Gem is a genetically modified organism—it was bred the same way tomatoes have been bred for thousands of years. It’s not because some multinational owns the patent and won’t release it in the U.S. (which, unfortunately, is the case with a superb British potato called the Mayan Gold). It’s because Big Tomato doesn’t care about flavor. Tomato farmers don’t care. Tomato packers don’t care. And supermarkets don’t care.
The following article is from a slightly unusual source – the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. A slightly technical view, but well worth the read, specially if you are interested in FoodTech.
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
I came across an invite for a webinar (see link below) organised by the Robotics Business Review in my social media stream. Although I share an interest in electronics and robotics, I find myself thoroughly disagreeing with the sentiment of this article (event invite).
‘Barely 2 percent of the U.S. population is on the farm; growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley are hard-pressed to find field workers to hire, and in places like Japan the average age of farmers is 70 years old. The future outlook for more people to fill the gap by taking up farming is slim to none.’
This comment to me seems from a perspective of a robotics person with no knowledge of small scale farming and related food trends. There is a slowly growing “back to the land” movement and I personally know of many more people toying with the idea and some already doing it.
Technology (including robotics) has a potential of being an excellent help, but I do not share the technocratic “Big-Ag” vision. Countless examples have exposed the myth of “efficiency” in Big Ag. There is undoubtedly ‘efficiency’ when viewed the most narrow vision in labor input / production cost, but in a more holistic view there are plenty of Big Ag costs (as well as Small Ag benefits) not counted.
Similar to our media’s obsession with body image which is causing disorders in our population, there is also an obsession with ‘food image’ that has been build over the years largely by advertising.
This has contributed to a lot of waste of perfectly fine food in the traditional industrial supply chain. Some producers have no other options than compost or feed such ‘misfits’ to animals.
I recently came across a project in Germany called ‘Culinary Misfits’ (see link below) that has made a point of changing these perceptions and do something about this issue. These guys have created a shop for selling food that has been rejected by mainstream food distribution systems. Which helps both producers and some organisations helping to feed more disadvantaged sectors of the community. They are also running courses and there are some lovely images generated via Social Media.
According to Australian Productivity Commission bakers of ‘artisan products’ and ‘ international style breads … with healthy additives like whole grains’ as well as small wine makers of organic & boutique wines are a ‘small but notable’ drag on Australia’s productivity.
How dare you people for wanting (by European standards) half decent bread ! Go back to the white chewing gum like substance with every preservative known to man coming out of factories manned by underpaid serfs [and I can attest to this when I moved down under in the early 90’s].
Wrong priority anyone ??? Takes ones breath away that these clowns, so far removed from reality, having an influence on government policy. But then again, their colleagues in energy policy are probably coming from the same school of thought.
Source: Australian Financial Review Tue 29th April 2014 (unfortunately blocked by pay-wall)
Given my suspicion of ill-informed technophobia, it was salient to read Philip Lymbery’s Farmageddon. This catalogue of devastation will convince anyone who doubts that industrial farming is causing ecological meltdown. Whether it’s a question of the wellbeing of individual farm animals, the biodiversity in rainforests or the harm caused to peoples such as the Toba tribe – displaced to the grim suburbs of Lima by the onward march into their traditional forests of GM soy plantations that feed European livestock – fixing the food system has to be a priority.
With every meal we eat, we choose whether or not to contribute to these problems. The businesses we buy our food from are our servants; they want to keep us happy. It follows that they will change only if we show them we are unhappy with, or, even better, enraged by, the current system.
“But no matter how great life on the factory farm may be these days (for the owners, that is), the agricultural bubble of the last decade is headed for an irreversible dip over the coming years, experts say.
“You’d almost have to view that as ‘This is the best of times,’ ” Bob Young, the top economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told a group of Montana farmers in Billings recently. “I’d also tell you that whatever goes up like that, sooner or later, more than likely, one has to expect, one has to think about, getting ready for it to go the other way.””
I came across this very worthwhile project deserving widespread support: Open source seeds.
Open source seeds might come with documentation and a paper licence agreement that grants growers certain rights, may encourage them to share physical seeds, and may even provide certain constraints on how they can share the progeny of seeds developed from the resultant plants.
I have been following the work of Dr. Vandana Shiva for a number of years and this project certainly deserves peoples support as a counter-current to the trend of patenting plant seeds (http://www.no-patents-on-seeds.org/).