Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

One of the first events that set in motion the birth of this blog was the Tedx Terry Talks conference way back in October (nerd-central to the maxxx).  I was so excited about being able to cross of something from my list of “UBC things I have one year left to do” that I forgot to come up with an actual idea.  Well, application to talk turnover was about 2 weeks, so with that in mind, I was pretty sure it would go horribly, and I was ready to bury it in the back of my head afterwards.   It went up today, and actually, it doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would.  I also realized that I’m getting used to seeing myself on camera.

It’s essentially the story of how environmentalism is a first world luxury.

And Shiggy’s.  I had to follow his unfortunately and was the walking non-tradiction. 😦

Now I’m awesome though.


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One of the major themes of the natural world is that not everything we know is reversible.  Culturally, there are ways to get negate a prior decision on some of the less important things in life: returning those shoes you bought last week, cancelling your magazine subscription, getting a divorce . . . . but  the same thing doesn’t always apply in the other world.

In physics, the Thermo law #2 says that everything will just keep getting more scrambled and hotter.  This would be good if everything was egg and sausage batter, but for the universe I think it means everything will become one massive, uniform heat death.  In biology, it’s tough to back on an evolution.  What that means is that once a limb is evolved, it is way harder to get rid of it.  We end up with these adaptations that build upon other imperfect adaptations.  It’s evolutionary baggage.


It also explains why things like the human eye are such piles of vestigial awfulness. I mean, the picture goes in, gets flipped upside down, gets flipped back, half the image is lost in the process, etc.  It’s terrible.

I recently realized that beyond nature, more than I recently expected of our society is based on the same type of baggage.   Think about the basic example of agricultural subsidies and marketing boards.  It was designed to solve a problem, created a bigger one, and now it is impossible to go back.  Too many people with too much influence would object, so additional measures are put in place in order to try and advance the situation.  More than we recognize of what goes on around us is a reaction to something, rather than a creation of any value.

Imagine if political terms were not four years.  Picture a hypothetical reset button.  Can you imagine what things would look like, if every ten years, one hundred years, we could hit that button and shed ourselves of our vestigial baggage?

Can you imagine what would happen to us if we could hit our own personal reset button?

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My project supervisor, Peter Nemetz is good buddies with an agricultural economist from Harvard (actually, so is Rick, it’s kind of like some kind of awesome nerdy economics reunion). Dr. Timmer gave a lecture on Saturday on the future of local and global food security. He mentioned the point I have said earlier, which relates to the actual efficiency of a local food movement.

Remember my rant against the One Hundred Mile Diet?  Well, last year I got superambitious about taking it down through some grand-scale research that never actually came int fruition (but it will!!! Next term . . .) And it started with a few slides and some readings that Nemetz sent me.  There is talk in some marketing circles about labeling produce with “food miles” which would tell you the exact distance of food from farm to your plate, the idea being that if you are the environmentally pretentious conscious type you can choose lower food mile edibles and spare the environment some greenhouse gas.  Well, Timmer is about the third economist I know to call this idea *factually misguided*.  That’s what some people use to describe Scientology.

The resources food requires involves an entire life cycle approach that includes the amount of resources it takes to plant, grow, process and then transport the food.  The cycle doesn’t just start at transportation.  There’s a study from Lincoln University that’s been around for a while and highlights the issue; food grown in certain climates for local markets could take more resources to grow than food that is grown further away.  The 100 Mile Diet book itself acknowledged this study, but I don’t recall it providing a convincing retort.

The only way to reduce total emissions from food would be to choose local foods, and choose seasonal foods, foods that do not take resources to be grown on local lands.  For people living in cold weather climates (my Ontario classmates) that means a lot of turnips for a very long time.  What the 100 Mile Diet has done has spawned a generation of people who insist on buying local produce, but also insist on being able to eat tomatoes all year round.  These would be tomatoes that need to be grown in electricity guzzling greenhouses, rather than outside in the sunny California climate.  In a sense, you can’t have your tomatoes and eat them too.  Well, you can, but this won’t save the planet anytime soon.

On an unrelated note, I am scared for the Koreas.

Further readings

Saunders, C., Barber, A., and G. Taylor.  2006.  Food miles – comparative energy/emissions performance of New Zealand’s agriculture industry.  Lincoln University, Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit research report , no 285.


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Raw Milk in BC

How much of government opposition to raw milk is because of health risks and how much is due to it’s bypassing of the heavily subsidized dairy industry?

CBC News – British Columbia – B.C. farm defies court ruling on raw milk.

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There’s an interesting debate on the role of GMO’s in the future of agriculture wrapping up on the Economist online.


Those who have been opponents of biotechnology in agriculture often forget that technology was what allowed nations in SE Asia to see an explosion of productivity in the Green Revolution. Perhaps wariness of GMO’s is another type of eco-imperialism? Perhaps not. The jury is out.

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When I was in Costa Rica, the first place I went was Zapotal, a *tiny* place high in the mountains with about 500 people.  I lived with a couple, Betty and Chichi, who were organic dairy farmers with roughly half a dozen cows.

So much poop in and out of that shed.

Some of the best days involved milking the cows and coming home with the extra product, which Betty would blend together with some berries from the side of the road, a bit of sugar and some ice, and that would be the mid morning snack.   It never occurred to me that I was drinking something that was inside the cow probably an hour before, and had certainly never been filtered, or pasteurized, or had anything done to it.   It was simply delicious.

Today one of the students in my Food and Resource Economics class is completing her term project on the ban on raw milk sales in Canada, because unpasteurized stuff is allegedly dangerous and contains lethal bacteria.   There’s this secret world in Vancouver, which I learned of through a former dance partner, where instead of buying the stuff, you can technically own a share of a cow and have the raw milk delivered to you.  According to an article in CBC at the beginning of the year, there was a raid on a similar co-op in Ontario, and the process of getting your hands on raw milk in BC makes you feel like you are purchasing heroin, according to classmate.


I think I’m going to start looking more at this and will post a series on the pros and cons of raw milk policies in Canada.  Stay tuned!

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I was looking for an article on the shooting that happened on Halloween weekend and came across this instead:

Fraser Valley crops devastated by wet autumn weather

I read the 100-Mile Diet last year out of curiosity, and there was a passage that romanticized the chemical contamination of a river from which salmon do their spawning business.   The argument went something like – a local diet means you keep track of what’s going on with your land, and therefore you feel a greater connection with your community, and a greater sadness when things like chemical spills make brown river water icy blue and cause fish to jump out of the river because their flesh is literally burning.  Lowered food security moves people towards a greater dependency and therefore emotional connection to their land.

As an economist, I have reservations about the other arguments made by the 100 Mile Diet folks with regards to environmental/resource efficiency, but this passage in particular flies in the face of every argument for food security.  What the authors are forgetting is that while it may give you a greater sense of connection, we live in a place where things like an intense rainy season will not cause mass famine because of the exact food system they are criticizing.  People in Vancouver have options, and so when years with record rainfall do occur, people can conveniently abandon their lofty 100-Mile ideals and look elsewhere for suitable (and further, and cheaper) potatoes, rather than starve out a winter.  When you don’t have the choice of opting out (when you actually do depend on your land for your livelihood), local dieting is no longer just a trendy new hobby to try out.  In certain places in rural Subsaharan Africa where diets are local and productivity desperately depends on unpredictable rainfall, it just plain sucks.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t support local farms.  What does irk me is that I live in a city where your choice to shop local gives you the right to judge others from a pedestal; I visited a farm on Vancouver island where the figure that was quoted for me was something like three days: that’s how long the food can support the local population.  So obviously not everyone can be local, even in a good harvest year.

Moral of the story:  judging others from a place of privilege (ie, a place where your food is secure, such that stories about local rotting potatoes do not cause you to fall into a  mild panic) shouldn’t give you the right to impose your lofty romantic ideals onto others who do not have the luxury of options, or people who have the option to choose food security.

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