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Food Security question for Toby Hemenway

 
                            
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Toby,
I went to your lecture on Foodsheds and Footprints: Connecting Cities, Suburbs and Farms for True Food Security in Raleigh, NC.  Your lecture gave a lot of food for thought partially because  there were some possibly opposing ideas: 
If 84% of energy used is in growing and only 4% in transportation, then the emphasis on local food production must be for other reasons than to save energy.  Much of your presentation showcased growing vegetables locally.  But then you pointed out to survive, we must have calories which many vegetables are low in. Growing grains in small local lots was mentioned with a nice example.  But when you spoke at Duke, it seems to me you cast grains as a major player in excessive population growth.

Perhaps, there should be some recognition that all vegetables are not created equal--equally nutritious that is.  Sweet potatoes, cowpeas (such as black eye)  and dried beans, peanuts, and collards, all standard southern vegetables, could provide most of our nutritional needs in regard to protein, calories and fat.  And they are easy to grow in our climate. 
 
Toby Hemenway
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You have a keen mind to assemble all that data. The long term strategy for living sustainably would be to move toward horticulture and away from agriculture, especially large monocultures of grains. But in the short run, we're dependent on grains, and I think we'll always be growing some. But they don't polyculture that well. Many starchy and leguminous crops do polyculture very well, and can provide a substantial amount of calories, unlike greens, the brassicas, and other common veggies.

In noting that the classic southern veggies are often high in calories, you point toward something: it's much easier to get a varied high-calorie vegetarian diet in warmer climates without grains; lots more tubers and beans will grow for a longer season.

As far as local is concerned, I equate local (hopefully correctly) with smaller farms and small producers. These tend to pay more attention to soil quality, habitat, resource use, and a bunch of other things that can reduce the on-farm footprint. So even if shipping food isn't a big energy user compared to growing it, local farms have a better shot at shrinking their energy use. I hope.

Thanks for putting together than info in such a thought-provoking way!
 
Brenda Groth
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ok then are there any specific higher calorie/nutrition vegetables or fruits for the Northern climates in North America. I live in Michigan and was wondering what your take would be on this particular area. I do plant a varied property as much as possible and do have "baby" nut trees planted but they aren't bearing yet, so what would your suggestions be for the most nutritious "plantings" for a Mid Michigan property?
 
                            
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Toby,
Thank you for clarifying.  I had forgotten the interesting distinction between a horticultural society and an agricultural one.  It would be interesting to see some data on energy consumption for small farm production of grains versus mega farm production.

Until we have an established supply of local foods that meets all of our nutritional needs, shipping the concentrated high calorie grains and fats and growing the bulky, perishable fresh veggies and fruits locally seems to be a good option.

For other readers, it may be useful to point out that we currently have an excess of "cheap" calories available.  But as oil becomes scarce, we may need to supply our caloric needs locally.

I appreciate all of your work and have long been a fan of Gaia's Garden.  Greta
 
Emerson White
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Grains only allow populations booms, they don't cause them, unless you are angling for a Malthusian adjustment (everyone dies from starvation or disease) then grain is going to be part of a stable populations diet. People already want to have lots of babies, and ethically social pressures are the only way to reduce that urge.
 
Trevor Newman
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Nuts are excellent sources of protein(pecans,hickories,walnuts,etc.) and carbohydrates(chestnuts, hazels,acorns,etc.). These are all viable substitutes for our grain based diet;they grow on trees and produce more and more as they age...Chestnut pasta sure does sound delecious!?

There is an old publication(1950) on the subject titled 'Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture' written by J. Russel Smith(1874-1966). It is a great read and still applicable today, although some of the data and statistics may have slightly changed.

The future of staple crops is not in annual grasses.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I hear that chestnut flour is pretty good. That could make a decent grain substitute.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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George Mateljan has developed a rating system for the most nutritious foods  - www.whfoods.com

Lots of good info here, you don't have to buy the book to get what's in it.
 
                          
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TrevorNewman wrote:
Nuts are excellent sources of protein(pecans,hickories,walnuts,etc.) and carbohydrates(chestnuts, hazels,acorns,etc.). These are all viable substitutes for our grain based diet;they grow on trees and produce more and more as they age...


Acorns were a staple for a number of Indian cultures, but the knowledge for efficient gathering and processing seems to have been lost. There's a great deal of ignorance and misinformation out there. Nothing I've tried over the years has been practical. Samuel Thayer's latest book, Nature's Garden, discusses methods that I'm eager to try this fall, though.
 
                                      
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To my mind, I think it would be more instructive to compare the cost of prepared food shipped in from large distances to that made locally from local cereals.  Here in Missouri, for example, we have examples of crackers and other prepared foodstuffs made from grain grown in Argentina and Russia, even though we live right next store to the bread basket states.  The carbon footprint of that food is enormous and should be articulated in a more practical manner.

Indigenous Peoples have proven for time immemorial that high calorie diets are not necessarily essential.  Diets rich in nutrient diversity are essential, however.  Our choice of cereals over other staple sources dictates our choice of Agriculture over Food Culture.  My ancestors thrived on diets that were diverse and that did not rely heavily on cereals.  When in season, the cereals were eaten, but the food provided by the plant and animal diversity, which as long as there was peace they took pains to maintain, provided what we are discovering is a much more sane approach to food security. 

The small holder simply does not grow much cereal - can't.  The sane alternative both physically and mentally, is to create diversity with food variety that is harvested from the last all the way to the first frost.  Frankly, if you factor the $$$ involved in the highly processed for the sake of convenience, modern cereal diet, I doubt that your figures would stand up.
 
Emerson White
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There are some places where trees do not grow, or should not grow, the great plains are one of them. Almost all of our ancestors relied of cereal grains, largely because of the increased food security and production that they represented over collecting wild plants and game.

Tree's are fantastic, and I really really like them, but there utility is limited. The big problem is disease. It would take 100 years to sow the united states with chestnuts (which don't necessarily store as well as we would like) and weevils would take advantage, but wouldn't be a huge problem with good culture practices. The problem comes when a new strain of blight evolves and wipes out all (or heck a quarter) of the chestnuts. If that kind of thing strikes corn we can spread a resistant strain over the problem area within 3 years, because you get at least 300:1 turnover in corn, nothing compared to a nut tree, but a nut tree takes years and years to grow. Even if no corn could be found to dodge the disease we could switch to soy or wheat or rye or oats. Additionally cereal grains work very well in a rotational manner with grazing animals, that is why the great plains are so productive.

There is both physiological need for calories and a drive, we have obviously surpassed the need with the drive as a society but diversity is not sustaining unless you have a diverse number of sources of sustaining calories.
 
                          
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Cloudpiler wrote: ... Indigenous Peoples have proven for time immemorial that high calorie diets are not necessarily essential...


On the contrary, especially in northern latitudes, an active outdoor lifestyle requires a remarkable number of calories. Human survival has been a struggle for calories until very recently. A consistent theme with primitive peoples - or modern people "living wild" - is a craving for calorie-dense food, the epitome of which is fat. I spent some time in Zimbabwe, and that's what the Shona and Matabele want like some people want heroin: Fat.

Opcn wrote:
... Almost all of our ancestors relied of serial grains...


Cereal grains are a fairly recent development in our evolution. I'm not sure at what point we should consider our hominid forebears "human", but we've only been cultivating grains for a few thousand years.

For millennia before that, the human diet was: Almost anything.


"When I gaze across an Ozark valley ... I see more food than I can even fathom... The world looks different when you eat acorns." Samuel Thayer
 
Emerson White
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Ah, yes, I misspoke. Almost all of us have ancestors who ate cereal grains, thats largely because the people who mastered cereal grains were much better at becoming ancestors (read not starving to death), cereal grains and the potato.
 
Matt Ferrall
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Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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They might have avoided death but a look at the history of soils and civilization will show a quick gain from grain production only to take two steps back in soil fertility.It dosnt matter if you live on exploitation.Just move on.Back to the question at hand:after researching food plants for 10years,I have to agree that its only in zone 8 and up that the carbohydrate rich perennial options open up.Of course there are the inulin rich crops for the north:camas,j-chokes.
 
Emerson White
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I respectfully disagree, Europe and the Americas both increased there yields (even before the leap forewards following the advent of chemical farming. There are peoples who have sustained themselves for thousands of years on cereal grains, in my book anything that can handle huge population booms and thousands of years should probably be considered sustainable. Traditionally farms get more and more productive each year, as soil quality improved, farmers selling the productivity of there farms off bit by bit is a new thing.
 
Robert Ray
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There is archaeological evidence of einkorn being cultivated in Turkey 11,000 years ago. The Scientific American Journal has an article that shows grain harvesting in Africa 100,000 years ago so I really don't think that grains will ever be completely eliminated from a diet.  I surmise that perennial grains would be far less damaging, labor intensive and require less use of fossil fuels than annuals.
 
 
Matt Ferrall
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One pretty decent book on the subject is Against the Grain by Richard Manning in which a case is made that grains actually decrese food security.If we compare the soil quality in North America to Europe 500yrs ago evidence suggests a much higher quality in NA.People lived in both yet Europes was depleted.
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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Oblio13 wrote:
On the contrary, especially in northern latitudes, an active outdoor lifestyle requires a remarkable number of calories. Human survival has been a struggle for calories until very recently. A consistent theme with primitive peoples - or modern people "living wild" - is a craving for calorie-dense food, the epitome of which is fat. I spent some time in Zimbabwe, and that's what the Shona and Matabele want like some people want heroin: Fat.

Interesting conversation everyone;  Oblio, how did this craving for fat manifest itself?  Do they have to import the fat they need?
 
Emerson White
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Mt.goat wrote:
One pretty decent book on the subject is Against the Grain by Richard Manning in which a case is made that grains actually decrese food security.If we compare the soil quality in North America to Europe 500yrs ago evidence suggests a much higher quality in NA.People lived in both yet Europes was depleted.


Was this as compared to 100 years ago or today? if it was 100 years ago I'd be shocked, because they did things like crop rotation, and fallowing land (two things we have gotten tremendously better at by the way) and generally being nicer to it. If it is compared to recently I'm not surprised that the "clean field" is an nutrient free zone. Actually just a few weeks ago I wrote one of my senators (Begich) suggesting that he appropriate some money in the next appropriate bill to research field remineralization on a large scale using volcanic ash, there is plenty of that to go around, and it improves soil structure.
 
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