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Loren Trimble

Line Development Breeder (Maize), Monsanto Company

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Food Quantity vs. Food Quality

Dan Barber shares some elegant stories about food production and ecosystem services. In these two talks he highlights the importance of food production that is sustainable and emphasizes a chef's desire for the highest quality food anywhere.

The debate that I am proposing does not disregard the importance of high quality food; rather it is to identify the importance of increasing the quantity of all foods.

Several studies have identified that food processing, government policy, transportation, and food waste are all factors that increase hunger and decrease the availability of food throughout the planet. Some would even argue that increasing food production is unnecessary if we could just better distribute the food we are already capable of producing.

The ecosystem is a complex entity, many of the services provided by organic and sustainable farm practices are not capable of 'scaling-up' to produce enough food for the growing world population. As it is now, 1 billion people are either malnourished or undernourished and the number is increasing every day. These people are not interested in foie gras, they are interested getting just one more calorie to satisfy their hunger. Sure food quality is important, but how much does that foie gras cost? It may be as much as an entire month’s salary for some of the poor people on our planet.

Perhaps the agricultural industry of today is not perfect, but at least its target is feeding billions of hungry people (not a few rich people). Without the efforts of the agricultural industry, billions more people would go hungry every day.

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  • May 16 2012: Food quality vs food quantity; I will be happy to live in a world that produces so much food such that no child in India,Africa or any part of the 3rd world suffers hunger.
    I also hope that the citizens of the developed world live healthy lifestyles and eat foods of great nutritional value.
    There are societies where debates about genetically modified foods or the content of vegetarian diet are not neccessarily helpful. Of what value is such an arguement to a starving child in some refugee camp in Africa?
    Its like debating which is better for a bare-footed boy: Prada shoes or Nikes.
    The world should strive for quality food production and increased food production.
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    May 14 2012: Yes I do garden but I have a significantly larger garden. I am able to freeze enough food to sustain my family of 3 for the winter between what I grow and what I purchase from local orchards. Yes I realize not everyone can do this, but even if a majority of the population could grow a garden that would sustain them for a few months or purchase foods on a 100% local scale from farmers, it would be a huge step in bettering food quality and would help with the issue of food quantity.
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      May 15 2012: I agree that home gardening increases food availability and the quality is often better. I also wish that more people had an interest in growing their food.
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    May 14 2012: The average family in Canada spends about $55 per week on fresh produce, if they consume how much vegetables and fruit you are supposed to in a day ( 6-8 servings) 55x52=2860 almost $3000. Yes it would have to be large but it would easily be plausible anywhere but vary large cities in which case yes supermarkets are the best way to obtain food. As for the seasonal problem one can easily freeze or can enough produce to last through a winter. As for the waste, the compost made from previous years makes excellent natural fertilizers for the following years.
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      May 14 2012: Do you garden? I think your plausibility is subject to question:

      I have gardened for several years, I have a 25x25 plot and grow intensively a great variety of food. It takes several hours a week to maintain and to enable the plants to maximize their productivity. We freeze and can quite a large amount of produce. Altogether, this garden (quite large by most hobby gardening standards- and bigger than most urban backyards) feeds me and my wife for about 4 months of produce. I'm not saying your idea is impossible, its just not realistic. Besides, I love to garden and it is a hobby- consider how productive the garden of a person who hates to be outside, hates getting dirty, and hates bugs is going to be.
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    May 12 2012: The problem of food shortage and food quality could simply be stopped if everyone was able to plant a garden that provided enough food that would sustain a family. The cost of maintaining a garden is incredibly less compared to what we spend at supermarkets. You can save up to 3 thousand dollars a year if you grow enough food. Plus nothing would be wasted and the food would be better then anything you could buy at a suppermarket! Every family would only be growing what they would consume. The food problem around the world would be solved!
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      May 14 2012: Could you reference where those numbers came from? If you are proposing a garden that would provide enought food for a family, that garden would be quite large. Also, gardens are seasonal, produce is not available year round. Third, there is waste in gardening- just by turning it into compost doesn't mean it is not waste first.
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    May 11 2012: both are important and it all depends upon the consumption rate!!! and i think quality is the top priority rather quantity!!
    if food is more qualified then consumption increases and if the quality is poor then consumption does decrease!!
    but it may differ with people who are poor !! since the food with good quality expects more funds than food with moderate quality!!
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    May 11 2012: We should make a new regulations in all-you-can-eat restaurants. people who pick the food shouldn't go back to the buffet table before they empty the previous dishes. it will definitely prevent food wasting :D
  • May 11 2012: O.K. we are talking about food. Maybe this is comething that should be thought of more by
    all people not jus hungry ones. someday we may all have the chance to be hungry.
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    May 11 2012: People are not only just eat to survice but also want to enjoy the food. When we are rich, the food will be quality but if not, it will be quantity. This old news is not for a specific country in this world but rather for all of developed and developing countries.
    A big boring bowl of rice and a small sweet KFC, which one would be the best choice ? For kids: In developing countries, they prefer the first choice cause they need to fullfill their stomach for a hard day on the field and the second choice would be the best one for kids after finishing the game in Disney Land in developed countries where food is not a big problem with them.
    We, as human still have a lot of work to do, to decrease the range among the poor and the rich countries.
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    May 10 2012: Quality. Whats Mcdonalds compared to homemade cooking.
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    May 9 2012: First of all an important topic , as human beings we need food to survive .So we need to look for innovative crops that can balance the supply to demand . Since I am not a biologist, thats all I can say and tackle malnutrition related people problems.
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    May 9 2012: Both quality and quantity are important in the long run. However, what needs to be checked is control of world population so that in the name of needed quantity, the quality does not deteriorate further.
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      May 10 2012: I am glad you mentioned the importance of population size to this debate. If we had fewer people, then there would also likely be fewer hungry people. I agree.
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    May 9 2012: I love those talks!. How are we going to feed the world? Ha! Not with cheeseburgers, OK?

    Can we start with the bottom billion as long as we are going to "feed the world"? They just need access, not better crop yields. In the USA we could almost accomplish an end to world hunger just by halting our over-eating.

    Veta la Palma fish farm in Spain (also on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzoY7lMQAVM) should be Xeroxed at high speed and dispersed world-wide. And even scaled up.

    Permaculture is another. What if we stopped dumping pesticide on everything? What if we use "Cradle to Cradle" concepts (like waste equals food) to design every farm?

    Urban Farm Guys are a wonderful bunch of guys (inner city Kansas City) that are not only feeding hungry kids but teaching them sustainable techniques and calling it SCHOOL.

    Vertical gardens and rooftop gardens in cities don't impress me as much as the screen door apartment garden that provides a salad a week. I know, it's not much, but all these ideas are heading in the right direction.

    Barefoot college in India.

    Borneo's orangutan preserve (Willie Smits, go!).

    The Man Who Stopped the Desert. (Film documentary of permaculture in action) see trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dzah_5y65AU

    There's more, there's more...
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      May 10 2012: Cheeseburgers- no. But grain and animals that are fed grain- yes, that is how nearly everyone on the planet survives.

      Everyone needs access, ok, agreed. How do you propose that occurs, surely you would need a product that can be mass produced and has high storage and shipping attributes enabling access around the world... like grain!

      In regard to ‘ending world hunger by halting our over-eating’: this of course relies on 2 things; 1 we continue to produces as much food as we currently are (possible) and 2 that the world population ceases to increase any further (we know that won’t happen). So I do not think that it is a plausible solution, besides consider the feasibility of this idea and you should recognize that it is not likely.

      Veta la Palma ‘should be Xeroxed at high speed and dispersed world-wide’: This is fiscally, logistically, and environmentally impossible. As in Dan Barber’s talk, you must first create an ecological disaster by draining millions of acres of wetlands, then re-construct them in a paddock format and then if you’re lucky after 30 years the ‘natural flow’ will restore the farm to productivity. In addition, the wetlands around the world are already protected and heavily threatened so creating these farms new does not seem possible. I agree that Veta la Palma’s farm is incredible and a beautiful example, but recreating it in other locations around the world would face so many challenges it would be unrepeatable. There will likely only be one Veta la Palma on this planet.
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      May 10 2012: All of the other ideas you mentioned are good examples of producing food where it has not traditionally been produced before. However, they are all forms of supplementing the current food supply and even if you added all of them together in their maximized efficiency you would not be able to produce enough food.

      Besides, you may not have realized it but your actually arguing for increased food production not better food quality as you started your comment. This increased food production comes from non-traditional farm settings and there is no mention of good food quality in vertical farms or otherwise.
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    May 8 2012: It is very much important to have healthy food because if we eat food that is not hygenic for our health the that type of food is also harmful for us so, i think if you r eating any food item dont judge food with the quantity but value the food with their quality because in todays world food items become more adulterate so please choose your bread and butter by their quality not by quantity
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      May 10 2012: I would like to make the distinction that I am not referring to an individual person’s access to an abundance of food; rather I am referring to food production for the entire world. Contrast that to the quality of food available to the rich vs. quality of food available to the poor. The caloric intake of each group is quite different.