Food Security in the West

“It might seem alarmist, even tasteless, to mention food security in the West when we appear to be enjoying the greatest era of abundance in history. Food security is something we tend to associate with the developing world, and considering how many people worldwide face starvation every day, worrying about our own food supply seems almost obscene… On the face of it, the modern food industry seems to have solved the problem of food supply. Far from waiting anxiously at the quayside to see whether our ship will come in, there is now so much food swilling about in Western cities that most of us are more likely to die of obesity than hunger.”

“What could possibly go wrong? The short answer is: just about everything… Supermarkets supply us with 80 per cent of our food in Britain… Contrary to appearances, we live as much on a knife-edge now as did the inhabitants of ancient Rome or Ancien Régime Paris. Cities in the past did their best to keep stocks of grain in reserve in case of sudden attack; yet the efficiencies of modern food distribution mean that we keep very little in reserve. Much of the food you and I will be eating next week hasn’t even arrived in the country yet. Our food is delivered ‘just in time’ from all over the world: hardly the sort of system to withstand a sudden crisis.”

Quoted from: Hungry City: How Food Shapes our Lives. Carolyn Steel, 2013. Image: Packaged food aisles in an Oregonian hypermarket. Lyzadanger/Dilliff (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Garum: Fermented Fish Sauce for the Ancient Roman Masses

garum roman fish sauce

Fish fermentation allowed the ancient Romans to store their fish surplus for long periods, in a time when there were no freezers and fishing was bound to fish migratory patterns. [Read more…]

Preserving Food by Fermentation

kimchi“Extracting nutrition via the bacteria and yeasts that live on the surfaces of food sources has traditionally enabled people all over the world to make use of seasonal abundance for leaner times. In a climate-constrained future, when the use of fossil fuels (and thus refrigeration) will need to be greatly reduced, fermentation could play a key role in preserving both our food and our cultural diversity.

Before refrigeration came into our houses and global supply chains, most of our winter stores were salted, pickled, and dried. Many of the strong compelling flavors found in European delicatessens come via fermentation: cheese, salami, gherkins, vinegar, olives. Likewise the mainstays of Oriental cuisine—soy, miso, and tempeh—and the whole of the world’s drinks cabinet, including everyday luxuries such as coffee and chocolate.

If you were wary of venturing into this unknown territory alone, you could not hope for a more enthralling guide than Sandor Ellix Katz: “My advice is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. You can do it yourself.” There is no recorded case, he assures us, of poisoning from fermented vegetables.”

Read more: Fermenting Change. Thanks to Aaron Vansintjan. More low-tech food preservation.

Water Johads: A Low-Tech Alternative to Mega-Dams in India

water johad india

When the British colonized India, they imposed their own system of water management, which included the building of large-scale dams, sewers, and irrigation channels. This high-tech approach continues today, as the World Bank is urging India to build enormous dam projects to fight drought and depleted aquifers. The Indian government has followed its advice. Its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, called dams the “Temples of modern India”. Since then, India has built over 5,000 dams and large reservoirs. [1]

However, before the British arrived, people on the subcontinent used traditional low-cost, low-tech engineering to collect rainwater for thousands of years. This involved the placement of thousands of small structures throughout rural areas which, in one way or another, catch excess rainwater from the monsoon months and allow it to slowly percolate into the groundwater during the dry season. To maintain and manage these structures, community-based management schemes were necessary. However, these were actively discouraged during British rule and following independence. As a result, in the 20th century many of these small reservoirs fell into disrepair.

[Read more…]

A Dining Table for the Neighbourhood

the landscape table

The Landscape Table is a platform for cultivating, processing, cooking and sharing the food at the centre of the FARMPARCK in Brussels, Belgium. Thanks to the edible and medicinal plants inserted into the table itself, the installation invites the public to meet and eat in direct contact with a landscape that is a bounty for the senses – sight, smell, touch and, above all, taste. The essence of this project is to involve the visitor in the landscape, farming, nature and cooking through shared moments.

FARMPARCK puts to the test a new model for a public space combining the characteristics of a park and farmland, where food is grown, cooked and eaten by the neighbours. There is a vegetable garden, an animal farm, a kitchen, and a compost toilet which is to transform the park’s organic waste into “terra-preta”  (black earth, a rich and fertile soil) for the park and the surrounding area. FARMPARCK, which happens in a multicultural neighbourhood, meets both social and ecological needs. It was set up as a prototype from May to September 2014, but continues to be active today. Picture: Eric Dil.

Animals as the Answer to Recycling Food waste

Mountains of food scraps end up in landfills every day. While northern countries glorify attempts to facilitate this trash-to-treasure process using state-of-the-art technologies, Bobbili, a town in Northeast India, adopts a tech-free solution – a park using animals for solid waste management.

animals recycling food waste

Livestock at waste management park in Bobbili, India

[Read more…]