There is no denying the fact that the human population is growing. Data is readily available to substantiate this claim a hundred different ways. If you want to dig into it, here is an article by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina:
They offer all the data you can handle, broken out into many great visuals. For me, this one is the most stunning:
We took thousands of years to reach 1 billion, then 124 years to reach 2 billion, then 33 years to reach 3 billion. Since then, we’ve been adding a billion people every 12 to 15 years. Based on UN estimates, we’ll be at 11 billion people by 2088. All of those people need to eat and today, we do not have the capacity to feed these numbers. Roser and Ortiz-Ospina predict that with a larger talent pool to draw from, we’ll see rapid technological advancement and solutions to many of today’s problems. That may be true, but only if the population accepts the solutions when they come to us. Economics drives innovation and if consumers shun these solutions, they will not reach a meaningful scale. Nowhere are people more protective and skeptical than with their food. If we are not able to drive sustainable eating habits to the consumer level, our global food supply will suffer. As the population grows, we have to work to reduce our global impact while scaling up food production to meet the new demand. End users have to be educated so that their purchases support these efforts. As a consumer, you can help shape the future of food production, and it should start right away. Here are some things you can do right now:
Work to eliminate food waste
According to the USDA, Americans waste 30-40% of all food produced each year, $161 Billion worth in 2010. This includes produce and eggs that are damaged in transit, food thrown away daily in restaurants, food spoilage, expired packaged goods that are thrown away, and dozens of other ways that food is lost. They have set a goal to reduce this by 50% by 2020. You can do several things to help.
· Buy food from local farms – If you buy food that is locally sourced without changing hands or travelling long distances, physical damage is reduced. Produce is lost due to mold and age. By shortening the supply chain, this is made less severe.
· Regularly clean your pantry and donate aging packaged goods – Many organizations are working to feed the less fortunate. They can certainly use your donations and this is better than the alternative of keeping unwanted items until they spoil
· Plan your meals – If you know what you are going to eat before you shop, you are less likely to buy food that goes bad before you cook it. Only buy what you need and cook smaller meals with less leftovers.
· Recycle your food waste into compost so it doesn’t end up in the landfill – Some cities do this for you, but if they don’t, it is not difficult to set up a compost bin in your yard.
· Get a Food Saver and freeze food before it spoils. This can be a real money saver, especially if you buy your meats in bulk, but make sure you rotate your stock of foods and don’t forget about items in your freezer.
Eat more fish, just make sure they are the right ones
There are many types of fish that are overfished, and we need to make sure we react to warnings about these. Strained fish populations will rebound if we back off and allow them to. At the same time, there are plenty of great fish out there that we are not eating enough. If consumers consider this when they purchase fish, they can drive the industry in a positive direction. Some fishermen are doing great things for fisheries right now, and we need to reward them for this. You can do these things to help:
· There are several organizations out there that are helping consumers have the information they need to make responsible decisions. Use them. – Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a great resource for finding out which fish you should eat or not eat. They consider the abundance of the fish, the ability to reproduce when they become depleted, environmental issues affecting the target species, and the side effects of efforts to catch or farm the target species. Marine Stewardship Council is another organization devoted to certifying good fisheries and fishermen. Look for MSC labels on canned tuna and many whole fish. Aquaculture Stewardship Council does the same thing for farmed fish.
· Eat more fish in general – Fish production whether it be farming or catching has a lower impact on the planet than farming terrestrial animals. It is also infinitely more scalable. As the human population continues to grow, urbanization will eliminate much of our current farmland. Contrary to what seems logical, we will eliminate land from food production to make room for housing. Cows and pigs take up a lot of room and eat a lot of feed. We cannot increase large mammal production for food that much. Even vegetable production is not very scalable. Yields of vegetables have improved by the use of technology, but that technology in some cases is genetic modification, something many consumers dislike. It also comes in the form of using more chemicals, which often make their way to waterways, killing fish; things consumers also don’t like. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, fish now accounts for more than 17% of global protein intake and the expectation is that fish will need to play a much bigger role in the future. The oceans, more than any other food source, can be scaled to feed the growing population.
· Embrace aquaculture – Capture fisheries can only scale so much before the population of fish deteriorates. We have seen it time and time again as we overfish a particular species to collapse and then have to wait generations for it to rebound. Farmed fish are the food of the future. We use a relatively small percentage of viable ocean for fish production. This usage grows every year and technology is rapidly improving environmental impact and the quality of these fish as food. In most cases, responsibly farmed fish in the US, Europe, and New Zealand are nutritionally identical or superior to wild fish. Other nations are still behind the curve, but they are improving. Despite a growing body of data supporting the benefits of farmed fish, you can’t mention aquaculture in any public forum without a few people immediately responding with negative comments. Yes, there are some bad actors in aquaculture, and as a consumer, you should understand what you are buying, but this information is easy to get. Many farmed fish are among the most healthful and least environmentally impactful foods available. Refer to the organizations listed about to help you separate the good from the bad.
We are living in the most advanced age we’ve ever known, and there are pressures from all angles to reduce your carbon footprint, to recycle, to eat sustainably etc. All of these pressures come from the vision of a future with billions more people, and a need for serious change if we want the Earth to be able to continue to sustain us. My intention in the article is not to alarm, but to inform and encourage us all to make responsible decisions regarding our food so that there will be food for our grandchildren and beyond.