dinsdag 18 november 2014

Geography Awareness week: Food of the Future

During Geography Awareness Week (organised by National Geographic), they raise awareness about a geographical topic. This year the theme is  "FOOD of the FUTURE".

Honestly, I do not like to talk with people about what they eat every day, but that does not mean I do not care about food.
In fact, I think every day -in shops, on farms, at my home- about the impact of food.
I think it's important to be in dialogue with yourself and others if what we eat is good for our health, social justice and the environment... and not just "so what did you eat today? Is it delicious?".

I am more aware how important it is to be in control of what you eat. Companies and their engineers are not going to solve the hunger in the world, the social injustice and the environmental crisis; they will only give solutions for problems, but they will not let disappear the roots of these problems.
In fact, I am really scared for many companies, certainly the ones who control seeds, the source of our food, which is the source of our life. Many farmers in whole the world are in huge debts because they do not have access to plants which can procreate, but always have to buy again these genetically modified seeds. Thousands of farmers committed suicide because of their debts, read: their dependence from these companies.

They are not the only persons who are controlled by these companies.
Many companies control the prices of food, and all people who buy their food from the market, are affected by this price. When we talk about food of the future, we should also talk about access, because maybe in some very near future, most of us will not have access to food, because they will not have the money anymore (more jobs will disappear, because of the rationalisation of the economical activities) and they do not know how to grow food.

I get to more and more admiration for skilful, self-sufficient and autonomous people who can make their own food and other important basic products. I think these people do more good to the world than most companies, and I think we can learn more from them than from business leaders and politicians; because these people can teach us how to be free of all this control of food, free of this control of our life.

Some people perceive people who garden as a sign of poverty. I see it is as a sign that you are not a slave, a passive consumer of this society, but are more free than people who are dependent from super market prices. Poverty does not mean you do have money. It means that you do not have a choice, that you are not free.

Apart from the negative perception about self-sufficiency, there are -unfortunately-  also companies and governments who try to have control over anybody, so there are a lot of limiting regulations. So... that's why it is important to lobby for seeds that are not genetically modified for example. That is why I like activists like Vandana Shiva, a leading ecofeminist and one of my big examples. I believe her, because apart from an activist and philosopher, she is also a scientist.

And I believe that many geographers also should talk more about the future of food, because we know the earth the best -the social and environmental aspects, and think how food should be accessible for everyone. Geographers study the problems and the relationship between humans and nature, so in fact, food, which is the most important link between human and nature, is geography.

vrijdag 7 november 2014

What's the role of geography in the debate about ecological crisis? - part 1

Since this year I follow a course “ecological philosophy and politics” given by professors, phd and doctors in philosophy, politics…  Last weekend was an introduction weekend. In 6 hours a professor gave a whole lecture about the “history of ecological crisis and ecological consciousness”. He started in the end of the 18th century, with the work and theory from Malthus. He gave a whole list of books in chronological order. Philosophers, politicians, biologists, geologists… they all wrote about the crisis. The professor made a difference in 3 different kinds of crisis:
  • nature crisis: crisis about the end of all the wild nature (the degradation of rain forests, the pollution of rivers…)
  • environmental crisis:  crisis about the destruction of the environment in which we, humans, live (the global warming
  • culture crisis: crisis about our society, people who write about this, write about the bad consequences of capitalism, consumption society…
In the 19th century most books were about the nature crisis. Thoreau, Darwin, Marsh , the foundation of first national park in the world (Yellowstone NP , the political discussions between John Muir an the preservationists and Pinchot and the conservationists in USA…
In the beginning of the 20th century we saw more critics about the culture, especially in Germany. You found back some avant garde hippie culture . Authors like Klages, Spengler… write in a very impressive dramatic retorica about how the people “poison the earth”. Unfortunately, it was also the period of the “brown” politics of the nazi’s who used a lot of  ”green” elements in their campaign.  Since 1945 we’ve the first nuclear explosions which creates a fear which people did not feel before.  This fear for the invisible, for the destructing… made people more aware what we do with our environment. After Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” about the bad consequences of the use of pesticides in 1962 (a lot of them were banned after this book) the fear was even bigger. It was not just preserving the beauty, but also saving the earth, and more important our health.
And then the professor said: “and here we’ve a book by… it’s surprising for me to see them here… because they never did so much research about ecology, the ecological crisis… while you would think they are the perfect science to study it.  But here it is… a book published by geographers about the ecological problems.” He showed the book “Man’s Role in changing the face of earth” published in 1956. The professor  said that this book is very describing and coming with facts. He added that -in fact- the most interesting books about ecological crisis come from geographers in the last years.
So, during the break, I asked him frankly about the role of geography in this whole discours about ecological crisis. He did not know, because he did not know so much about geography, but also did not know why geographers are not so concerned about ecological crisis as other scientists, engineers… and are not so present in the whole discussion about ecological crisis -if it exists or not, and so yes, what can we do about it?
I recognised a lot of books in his whole history class, like Maltus, the rapport of the Club of Rome in 1972, Jared Diamond… which were all named in my base course of geography in my first bachelor year. We also learn -in our study- to think about all the systems and the interconnection, and avoid problems instead of fixing problems. But still … we avoid the word ecology.
So… now I ask the question to many geography students of EGEA: should geographers make opinions in the whole debate of ecological crisis and ecological consciousness?

source: http://imgur.com/pXpflqE
This picture is shared in a first reaction. 
One of the next blogs will be a compilation of the reaction of geography students in whole Europe. 
Please share your opinion in comments. 

donderdag 30 oktober 2014

Mac Bug - or the globalisation of Insects and Worms as Food

Last summer, when I was in Valencia, a friend showed me an article called "Will We All Be Eating Insects in 50 Years", which explains the benefits for our health and nature if we would eat more and more insects instead of meat. Even the United Nations is doing research to promote this food in the West. In countries in Africa, Asia and Latin-America, insects belong to the diet of many people. So... why not in the West? The idea to change the world by promoting insects as food in Europe started to grow, because it fits my values of health, economics and care. Some weeks later I talked with a friend from Switzerland who studies agriculture about this. He told me you cannot sell insects in Switzerland, but his friends are designing "boxes which allow you to cultivate your own insects" to bypass the law. My brother and I talked also some days ago about having an insect farm, and two days ago my brother came home and asked me I am ready for a culinar experiment. I thought that he was going to make pancakes with bacon or something, but then he showed me a package of “Nuggets made with Buffallo Worms.” .

Insect Nuggets
Immediately I said yes. I was surprised that you could buy this in a supermarket in Vorselaar, which is Almost in the Middle of Nowhere in Flanders, so I asked my friend Google since when you can buy insect food in Belgium.

I read that it's legal in Belgium. Sometimes I really love my country for it's open mind :)

Entomophagy, or the eating of bugs, is widely regarded as one of the most promising solutions to increasing environmental pressure, worldwide food insecurity and the rising cost of animal protein. Edible insects, which require minimal space to breed and produce no greenhouse gases, are 40 to 70% protein. (Corn, in comparison, is only 10%.)While the EU is yet to come out with a clear position on eating insects, Belgium has taken the lead and legalised its own list of 10, making it the first European country where the consumption of insects is officially allowed.
 (source: Flanderstoday.eu)

In fact, I did not miss out. The products of Damhert, a Belgian company that like the animal Damhert (English: Fallow Deer) selects his food consciously, put these products in the end of October in the market -which is now. In the last 30 years they produced gluten free, sugar free, vegetarian... products and now they want to take the lead in insect based foods.

Benefits of insect food
So why should I eat insects? I made a selection of interesting video's:

If you have more time, watch this video from BBC about the entomophagy in Thailand and Cambodja: You learn there that poverty forces young kids to catch and eat tarantula's (and it's even healthy), or see the BBC-crew attacked by red ants, before they eat the eggs.

Hashtag #Insectfood
I took an instagram picture from the package and shared it with explanation on my facebook, not to show off, but to see the reactions, while waiting for my brother preparing this for dinner. 

Besides the many likes, I've got interesting remarks from (Facebook) friends of whole Europe.
Let share some of them and add some intercultural theme.

* The student restaurant in Brussels is serving this on thursdays two weeks ago they also served worm-burgers, njamie !  (Belgian friend)
* They are great. We tried it already (Belgian friend 2).
* Well, that is a very open-minded thinking... I guess (Romanian friend)
* The worm burgers are great too btw (Belgian friend 2 again)
* o_o you live and learn... (Finnish friend)
* The "go green" label is doubtful, however, enjoy your meal! (German friend)
* Was it worms or insects?(German friend)

I googled worms and insects are not the same, but they are both invertebrates which are animals that does not have a vertebral column. I learnt something new today.

And then remarks that makes us think about food even more... 

A girl from Poland was more critical: 
 Don't want to ruin your appetite but what exactly can be tasty about the highly processed fast food that is just heated up in a microwave or deep-oil-fried?

I answered with: 
I really like your remark . To get reactions, especially critically, I posted this picture. Food is one of our biggest needs, and a lot of people do not think critically about it. We do not think if it's healthy for us, or what's their ecological footprint (I've to admit I still buy food coming from other sides of the world and it makes me ashamed, because I am conscious about all the damage this globalisation of goods does to the environment)... and I've to admit that this is not the best food I ever had, and I agree that it would be more healthy, better for the environment (and I can give more benefits) if we would eat fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs... from our own garden, local organic farm.... but I like these kind of "inventions" like "worm nuggets" which makes the step easier and more accessible for a lot of people to try this. Probably the way how it's processed can be improved, but it's good to show people "look we can eat different", "look we can live in a different world" 

Another guy from Germany remarked: 
I've been a vegetarian for several years now and I'm aware that it is certainly also not the best way in terms of sustainability and ecological footprint, in particular when it comes to meat replacement products, much like the one you've tried here, but based on soy (protein).While I salute your approach of thinking outside the box to raise awareness, I don't think I'm personally ready for this particular innovation just yet. Gladly though, I don't need to think too much about it as I've just classified worms and insects as "animals", therefore I simply can't eat them anyway. 
If I am made aware of it, I'd always prefer to buy locally grown organic products, but I also still shop too often just for convenience. One problem is that we as consumers expect every product to be available at any time, the only notable part-exceptions that come to my mind now would be strawberries and asparagus.

The Polish girl reacted:
actually Wendy, I disagree. Showing people such a food motivates them to experiment with things they don't know. If they like it, or at least don't hate it, they make a step further, namely rather buy food from the other part of the world than get seasonal food from the local producer. Insecta Nuggets seems rather a promotion of exotic food to me- I can't see a big label 'local product' and the first place of origin that comes to peoples' minds when they see insects/worms being a meal is most likely somewhere in Asia, well definitely not Belgium

I have to remark that Damhert tries to promote "healthy" food, and not really exotic food. They make products that also can be produced here. 

Anti-imperialism-movement of the Insects

As a Belgian friend remarked, to who my brother showed the package the next day, "in fact it would be easy if we eat insects. Just do not clean the spider webs and cultivate the insects from there."
You can cultivate insects everywhere. I do not encourage exporting insects from other countries, but exporting the idea, the mindset... 
My biggest fear for entomophagy is that this will become another globalised business, still having a big ecological impact, because "cheaper insects and worms" will be imported from "cheap labour countries". Still... I hope it would be so cheap to make insects everywhere, it's not necessary to import them. Insects can connect us again with local economies. Hopefully more economies will become more local, because I believe in globalisation or mobility of ideas and people, but not in international trade or mobility of goods. 

Why do we not east insects in the West? 

The Westerners took over almost whole the world and saw themselves better than whole the world for many centuries. They did not eat insects, because they associated it with indigenous people, with "savages", but maybe it's time that we go off our throne and embrace the idea of eating insects, instead of worrying about the increasing meat consumption in other countries. How often don't you read in the news that the meat consumption in China for example grew from 20kg/year/person increased in the last years to 50kg/year/person and that we should educate people from other countries to think more critically about their food habits, their consumption habits, their lifestyle? We are afraid for overpopulation (which is not going to happen if you study the graph of the demographic growth), global warmth, deforestry... but still look to the other side of the world for all problems. It's embedded in our system, our patriarchal system, to think in dualities and give the others the fault
If I have to think in dualities, I would not tell others what to do, but learn from others what we can do. 

And how does it taste?
Well, it is not the best thing I ever tasted, but it was not bad either. I did not think about the fact that I was eating worms, but just food... of the future.