On Monday, April 22nd, the Levitt Center, in association with the Arthur Coleman Tuggle Fund and Slow Food, had the privilege of hosting Tony Weis, Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario and author of The Global Food Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming, to give a lecture on "The Meat of the Global Food Crisis." Weis, in an all-encompassing lecture covering the global food crisis, drew heavily from not only his first book, but also his future book, The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock.
He began by detailing the start of the global food crisis that occurred in 2007 with rising food prices, food riots in roughly thirty countries, and the terrible poverty that 850,000,000 malnourished human beings suffered from. The "Get Big or Get Out" style of agriculture that characterizes our modern time, combined with an increasingly urban dimension to food insecurity, has created a dependence on world food markets that allows for cheap industrial surpluses, with narrowing biophysical diversity, to block out small farmers while building up agricultural giants.
Weis noted that the rise of monocultures in agriculture has led to declining soil quality, pest infestations, "superweed" propagation, "thirstier" seeds, drier soil, and more. Weis also stated that the increased transport and processing of food is a major problem that has led some critics such as Brett Clark and Richard York to characterize modern agriculture as "the art of turning oil into food." While there is enough food to feed the planet one and a half times over, Weis claimed that the heavy grain feeding of livestock poses a serious problem to proper food utilization and distribution. He revealed that thirty percent of the world's arable land is used to feed livestock in a process that wastes both protein and usable nutrition in that livestock's metabolism. It is exactly these types of problems and more, as Weis notes, that leave massive "footprints" on land, atmosphere, water, public health, inter-species relations, and the degradation of work.
While the global food crisis presents a dismal, present situation, Weis explained that he has hope. Soaring organic demand, rising concern about climate change, community resistance to large-scale farming, and much more give Weis hope that things can change. Day by day, we are already seeing the creation of more farmworker unions, Slow Food groups, animal welfare movements, and community gardens that mobilize oppositionists to action. The ultimate challenge, as Weis notes, is to embrace our hope while taking initiative to "widen and connect." While the tunnel is dark, there is still light at the end.