Eat To Live: Food or fuel in future?

By JULIA WATSON, UPI Food Writer  |  Jan. 24, 2007 at 5:34 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Oxfam, an international famine relief charity, has predicted that global warming could put 30 million more people at risk of starvation.

A Green Party member of the European Parliament has charged that dwindling oil stocks and European Union trade and energy policies could make the United Kingdom vulnerable to food shortages.

In Germany, organic farmers are finding it impossible to keep up with growing demand as consumers seek out food they can trust to be good for them and for the environment.

Times they are a'changing at an astonishing rate in the food business.

"Creeping environmental deterioration already displaces 10 million people a year," Britain's leader of the opposition Conservative Party wrote in the Financial Times Wednesday. "This could rise to 50 million by 2010."

Food supplies are dependent on oil for production, processing and transport. If oil prices rise, so will food prices.

George Bush is looking for investment in alternative energy supplies, like ethanol, which comes from corn. The EU's energy policy calls for the extensive cultivation of crops for conversion into biofuels.

The Soil Association, the United Kingdom's certification group for organic farmers, has just held a conference on the impact of "peak oil" -- the point at which half of global oil production has been consumed.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party representative for South-East England and a member of the European Parliament's Environment and International Trade Committees, said, "Future oil price rises will have a massive impact on food security, and unless we address the problem now, we could face the prospect of food shortages in the UK -- one of Europe's largest food importers -- and the possibility of serious food crises in some developing countries."

Already, land for food is competing with land for biofuels. The decrease in land available to supply the food chain will result in global food shortages, which in turn will force food prices to rise.

The future looks ripe for a fight between the technofood business that believes the way to fight food hunger and our vulnerability to food-borne disease is to grow everything, including meat, in controlled scientific conditions, and concerned consumers who want wholesome, natural food they can trust.

But it may not be so easy in the future to find it. The organic sector has rocketed to such a degree in both the United States and Europe that it is becoming increasingly hard for supermarkets to source supplies locally. So food is flown in, with a corresponding impact upon fuel supplies and the environment.

In Germany, the market for organic products grew by 15 percent in 2005, according to reports from the Central Agricultural Market and Pricing Center, and there isn't enough produced nationally to meet demand.

"The cost of changing over to organic methods and cuts in state support for farms are the main hurdles holding farmers back," said Gerald Wehde, a spokesman for Bioland, Germany's largest organic farming association.

And time is an obstacle. It takes two years of production under organic standards before a field that previously produced conventional products can be certified as organic.

"Organic farming is the best way to maintain an environmentally friendly agriculture policy," said Alexander Gerber, general manager of Germany's Association of Organic Food Producers and Traders. "For this reason there should be concrete incentive for organic practices over conventional farming."

It looks like the next conflict in the controversy over good environmental management is whether we can expect to be well fed or well fueled.

Here's a healthy recipe to keep you well fueled in winter.

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

-- Serves 8

-- 1 pound dried cannellini beans (or white beans)

-- 5 fresh sage leaves

-- 2 bay leaves

-- 6 peppercorns

-- one rind of Parmesan cheese (optional)

-- 2 cloves garlic

-- 3 tablespoons olive oil

-- 6 cups water

-- 3 cloves garlic, minced

-- 6 tablespoons olive oil

-- freshly grated Parmesan

-- ½ teaspoon cayenne flakes

-- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves

-- Salt and pepper

-- 8 ounces short, tubular pasta

-- Soak the beans overnight, drain, rinse and place in a large pan and with the water.

-- Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises, then add the Parmesan rind, sage and bay leaves, whole garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until beans are tender, about 1½ hours.

-- Meanwhile, heat remaining 6 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet, add the minced garlic, stir 1 minute, then stir in the cayenne pepper flakes. Season to taste, then add to cooked beans and stir well.

-- Fish out the rind, whole garlic and bay leaves and quickly blitz till rough in a blender or processor then return to the remaining beans in the pan and cook over low heat until thickened slightly.

-- In a pan of boiling water cook the pasta al dente, then drain and add to soup. Cook for 5 more minutes before serving with a bowl of freshly grated parmesan.

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