While driving home from the orthodontist's today, I had NPR on (Talk of the Nation, I think it was), in which Paul Roberts, the author of The End of Food, was the guest. Now I have to read this book. He talks about how our present food supply system came about and what's wrong with it and what will have to change.
I'm going by memory here, so if I misquote the poor man, blame me, not him, but here are some of the points that struck me:
- Americans spend more every year in weight loss efforts than we spend in food aid abroad. (Wow!)
- One sixth of our nation's population has too much to eat, one sixth has not enough, and the rest has just about right. This sounds bad to us, but Roberts pointed out that were we to transport someone from Victorian England to present times and tell him this, he would be wondering what the big deal is, as things were so much worse in his day, with the proportion of those going hungry being much much higher.
- E coli was present in beef basically forever, but humans didn't get so dangerously sick from it until the 1980s, when most beef began being raised for market in a feed lot, with a corn-heavy diet. E coli apparently loved the corn diet and mutated to a form that could survive in the human gut and make humans sick. This
is an example of fixing one problem, only to create another, which he says is
rampant in the food distribution system.
- The lack of flavor of modern market beef comes from that same diet. Grass-fed beef is much leaner and more flavorful, though not as tender, and most people don't even know what it tastes like anymore. (I knew that.)
- Our current food distribution system was built on a premise of $10 to $15 a barrel oil prices. Now with oil running at least 10 times that price, the system isn't working anymore.