A looming food crisis

POINT OF VIEW - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

When we hear about food crises in Africa or India, we dismiss the thought because these two populous places are way too far from us. And when we talk about food waste and how everyone out there is hungry, we joke about sending our extra food to places where they are hungrier. Well, I am sorry to say the crisis is now very real, even for us in our rich country.

Talk about food waste. Due to inefficient delivery systems, 50 percent or more of the vegetables are wasted before they get to our baskets, supermarkets or your plate. We need better cold chain systems, refrigerated vans and cold storage facilities. Could it be that if farmers had these facilities, we could bring prices down simply because we are not wasting half of what we produce and wait 45-60 days for (in the case of vegetables)?

Fertilizers. Farmers who use petro-chemicals will be hard put because the prices of agro chemicals that their hybrid seeds require have gone through the roof because of oil prices. Local seeds do not require these fertilizers and can grow organically themselves. So farmers will now be scratching their heads as oil prices drive the retail price of fertilizers up. Maybe they will make a hard choice: stop farming or switch to organic fertilizers which may not give their hybrid seeds as much yield. These commercial seeds are meant to be part of a system: seed, fertilizer and pesticide work in harmony.

Wheat or rice? Ukraine and Russia, and now India, have halted exports of wheat. This means higher prices for “hard to get” flour supplies for maybe two years, some experts say. This means we have to look for local “flour” like cassava flour, camote flour and even mango flour. We, as a tropical country, are meant to grow rice, not wheat. Wheat is made for temperate climates. This is why Southeast Asian food is largely made up of rice noodles, rice cakes and other food made from rice, not wheat. I will be planting adlai, a grain that grows almost anywhere and can be a source of carbohydrates with lower glycemic index, and may be better than rice.

Unli rice and unli anything. It’s time to change the culture of “eat all you can” rice or anything that is “eat all you can.” Rice is carbohydrates and pure sugar that can cause even your cholesterol to shoot up. For as long as there are these unlimited buffets or unlimited rice offerings, our people are tempted to eat more than they actually need. Unlimited meats are also a bad habit to start. Besides, think about what kind of meat a proprietor can serve with a food cost that is unknown – cheaper cuts of meat, of course. Why short change yourself. If you must eat meat, eat the better kind, better quality, even infrequently.

The P20 rice. Are we really waiting for rice to go down in price to P20 per kilo? There are only three ways to see this happen. One is to lessen our intake of rice to half. Then it is within our power to just spend P20 rather than P40. Simple math. Cut your rice intake in half.

The second way is to wait for subsidized rice prices but to raise farmgate prices to the farmer with government paying part of it. The third and dismal way is to import from Vietnam and kill the local farmer. It’s your choice. I would take the first way.

Coffee is also at risk. Vietnam, the closest source of imported coffee, has been affected by changing climate patterns, too. This means higher prices for instant or soluble coffee in the near future. If you are still drinking instant, you may want to try brewing your own cup of coffee. The cost is less than instant albeit needing a little more preparation at home or in the office. A good cup of brewed coffee can cost P4 to P6 per cup, if you do it yourself. And since we grow coffee, it is the drink of choice. Check the projects of our Coffee Board (www.philcoffeeboard.com).

Chickens and fish. I grew up having a chicken coop in our backyard and chickens roaming around the garden. We had fresh eggs every day and a hearty chicken soup on Sundays. Our fish supply came from nearby Malabon or Navotas, which is why we know how to eat any kind of fish, from complicated bony tamban to simple bangus and hasahasa. Teach your children how to eat fish, as that can be had from our long coastline and not just from fish farms. For as long as we just eat the right amount of fish, it will repopulate enough for our population.

Eat less processed food, more fresh. Processed food costs more, and this is why the quality of the food may be compromised to give room for processing and canning, for example. So eating fresh is best. Fresh vegetables from the market, fresh fish and other provisions that need no processing, except cooking.

In Shanghai, back in 2005, many of our employees had no refrigerators. So it was ordinary for them to go to market everyday. Our assistant also frowned on “doggie bags” when we ate out – she said it was “dead food” as they are not used to reheating food, which is another habit we must break. We eat out, wrap what’s left for the doggie bag so as not to be wasteful, or to be conscious of value for the money we paid for. Even our Italian friend sneers at “doggie bags,” especially when you do not have a dog.

So let us all wake up and face this food crisis squarely. Either we just choose to pay more for food or we do something about it within our control – and survive it. Eat less and stay healthier. Each pound of weight needs only 15 calories. But we overeat – rice, unlimited iced tea, instant noodles and imported flour through our pan de sal habit.

We must start making our own solutions to the crisis today.


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