Mindfulness, finance theory and food security

This week we had quite an active debate on the discussion boards for both the food security lesson by Dr. Sarah Gurr and the weekly feedback video. Professor Tim Lenton answered some of the same questions we tackled on his blog to add another perspective to the debate and suggested I give these three questions a try since I am a Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture student.

How would you incentivise a move away from high meat consumption towards a more sustainable vegetarian diet?

I would encourage schools to teach new generations about where food comes from, all of it, including meat. Chicken nuggets do not grow on trees and this education is the foundation for being mindful about where food comes from. The meat industry thrives on creating a gap between product and process, on detaching the consumer from what it really took to deliver those sausages and fish fingers because often, consumers are repelled by the reality behind mass produced meat.

Through mindfulness that gap can be closed and it can steer consumers away from fast food meat and increase demand for animal protein produced under improved standards. A culture of quality over quantity where meat is eaten sparingly because consumers understand the real costs of animal protein and rely mainly on plant based proteins.

Whenever you sit down to eat, ask yourself where your food comes from and what is the full story behind your plate. If after being mindful you have positive feelings towards your meal, then please by all means dig in and enjoy. Otherwise, consider exploring plant based protein options. Featured in the picture is Connie Vergara Williams who was kind enough to let me step into her farm and explore sustainable farming practices at her organic farm Finca Cuatro Vientos in Sopó, Colombia (September 2014).

How can we go about moving away from monocultures and the risks associated with pathogens wiping out entire crops?

As an industrial engineer whenever I read the word ‘risk’, the following graph comes to mind:

Finance theory 101 – risk vs. return or in this case, risk vs. yield.

The Green Revolution is the upper right end of the graph, a high risk, high return approach where we chose to concentrate our efforts on high yielding monocultures:

High risk, high yield. The U.S and their seemingly endless Midwestern corn fields.

The lower left part of the graph is low risk, low return, polycultures where lots of plants are grown but the total yield is low:

Low risk, low yield. This lovely family farm in Colombia grows different plants in the same bed. It’s not commercially oriented but the yields are enough so that the family that lives here gets to eat fresh vegetables every day. Special thanks to Connie Vergara Williams, featured in the picture, for allowing me to learn firsthand about the sustainable farming practices she employs at Finca Cuatro Vientos in Sopó, Colombia (September 2014).

Most of the world lives in densely populated cities and this rural-to-urban trend is projected to increase so family farms and even urban agriculture are not enough to meet the nutrient requirements of our future population. However, these farming practices do play an important role in our future food security as part of a  bigger diversification strategy. What do I mean with diversification? Keep reading.

Is there a place for GM crops in the future?

How then do we reduce risk and keep monocultures? Diversification.

We are in the left top corner: little variety, high risk. If we want to reduce risk, we need to move towards the right part of the curve. GM is a tool to reintroduce genetic variability in our monocultures and reduce the total risk of our global food supply.

By increasing the amount of varieties we grow, we can reduce risk. I left this question for the end because it builds from the previous answer. Assuming that GM crops are safe for human consumption based on the lack of evidence suggesting that genetically modified crops have adverse effects on human health, GM is a tool to reintroduce the variability that will help us diversify our food supply and reduce risk.

I had lots of fun writing this post and I hope you had fun reading it too. See you next week to talk about mitigation and adaptation.

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