Food’s Future Seen In Urgent Present Perspective

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Cristiana Couceiro

When this particular chef develops a thought into action, we are at least curious. When he shares a short essay on how the future of food might work, such as A Blueprint for the Future of Food, we take note. The following is from Turning Points, exploring how key moments from this year might signal something important coming in the year ahead.

Turning Point: France becomes the first country to outlaw food waste.

Not long ago, just before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight, I overheard a woman tell her friend that she had packed her own water bottle because she disliked wasting all the plastic bottles given out on planes. A few minutes later she was on the phone with another friend, explaining that she was on her way to Europe for the weekend to shop and relax.

Which got me thinking about food waste.

Food waste protesters like to rail against supermarkets for discarding “ugly” fruits and misshapen vegetables. (I should know because I’m one of them.) We question dairy’s too-soon expiration dates, and preach about the food left uneaten on our dinner plates. Such outrages have been highlighted in documentaries, journalistic exposés and late-night talk shows. They’ve sparked supermarket initiatives, food recovery programs and legislation around the world. Denmark opened its first surplus-food grocery store in early 2016, and a grass-roots movement recently pushed France to become the first nation to outlaw supermarket food waste.

These campaigns come from a good place, and they produce real results, but you could say they’re a little like saving plastic bottles while burning seven hours of jet fuel: well-meaning actions that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t amount to a hill of beans.

We’d be better off eating more beans. Instead, Americans eat — actually we plant and harvest — about 90 million acres of corn. Iowa alone plants over half of its cropland in field corn. We don’t eat much of it. It’s used for plastics or sweeteners, or it ends up filling our gas tanks or feeding livestock (which means we do eat some of it, but only by eating meat). Wouldn’t it make more sense to cook with all that corn instead?

I tried. The problem, of course, is that field corn is just not delicious; it’s starchy and flavorless, not at all like the sweet corn Americans chain-saw through every summer. We aren’t really meant to be cooking with this stuff, which means we shouldn’t be planting it in the first place. In fact, you might say the same for many of the world’s crops: 36 percent of the planet’s crop calories are devoted to feeding livestock, according to a 2013 study.

What if we used those acres to plant beans, or any of the countless leguminous crops that help keep the soil healthy and fertile? And what if the next crop we planted was buckwheat or barley, for weed suppression, and then a Brassica like cabbage or cauliflower to break up disease cycles? More what ifs: What if we followed the Brassicas with a nonedible cover crop like clover, which would keep the soil nicely blanketed and replenish it with nutrients like carbon? What if, instead of bringing mountains of field corn to our cows, we brought our cows to the field and grazed them on the clover? (As one farmer told me, “Clover is like rocket fuel for ruminants.”) And what if we adapted these rotations region to region (and country to country), substituting in crops that best suited specific microclimates?

The result would not be less food, just less corn — or any of the world’s monoculture feed crops. (And less meat, which isn’t a bad thing at all.) In the process we would utilize those acres much more efficiently, feeding more people. Not to mention — or rather, to mention, and to celebrate, too — we would eat infinitely more delicious dinners…

Read the whole item here.

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