Attention foodiots! Stop snapping iPhone pictures of that grain-fed, humanely slaughtered, free-range veal burger and order up some genetically-modified super corn, because your whole cause is a scam and isn't helping anyone but Whole Foods. According to some, at least.
We already know that Whole Foods is run like some organic WalMart sweatshop and they are just trying to capitalize on the healthy living trend that has taken the elitist American coasts by storm. But did you know that the concept of "slow food" has actually been around for a long time? It's true. And it may not be the best option for the rest of the world. Professor Robert Paarlberg writes in Foreign Policy:
Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.
But that's not all. Your organic habit could also lead to mass deforestation, and that's no good for the environment either! The solution? More chemicals.
Less than 1 percent of American cropland is under certified organic production. If the other 99 percent were to switch to organic and had to fertilize crops without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, that would require a lot more composted animal manure. To supply enough organic fertilizer, the U.S. cattle population would have to increase roughly fivefold. And because those animals would have to be raised organically on forage crops, much of the land in the lower 48 states would need to be converted to pasture. Organic field crops also have lower yields per hectare. If Europe tried to feed itself organically, it would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland, equal to all of the remaining forest cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark combined.
So this professor has pissed all over your lifestyle, but what does he suggest will save the world, if not the contents of your eco-friendly shopping bag? Build self-sustaining, locally-operated fertilizer plants in developing countries, and lots of them (slow fertilizer?). And maybe some schools and stuff, too.
What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.