Shirola: The food crisis is real, we need to act now

Wesley Shirola, Op-Ed Contributor

The sharing of food has always been part of the human story — from the Last Supper to modern society. It’s helped us forge lifelong relationships from the classic “dinner and a movie” date to family meals. It’s allowed us to cope with our problems as we curl up on the couch with a tub of ice cream. It’s even given us a way to conceal our grief and console one another over a hot plate at a funeral reception. Yet the almost primal relationship we humans have with food could soon come to end. And, as is ever so clear, it’s not just our love affair with food that’s at risk, but our very way of life. Sufficient food — the most vital factor in sustaining life — is running out. Yes, the “food crisis” that’s so infrequently talked about and seldom believed is real. And we need to act. Now.

By 2050, Earth’s population is projected to grow by two billion people. And with just enough food to feed the seven billion-plus on the planet right now, conventional farming is just not going to cut it. Moreover, expanding the agricultural business in its current state will do nothing more than harm the planet and its occupants — and I don’t think any of us want that for our children.

To this day, whenever we’ve needed to produce more food, we’ve simply cut down forests or plowed grasslands to make more farms. In fact, we’ve already cleared an area roughly the size of South America to farm, and another the size of Africa to raise livestock. If we continue assuming this “business as usual” approach, very little habitat will be left by 2050. Further, too little food is actually ending up in our stomachs. According to some estimates, only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly — the rest is fed to livestock or turned into biofuels and industrial products.

With world hunger a growing concern, both domestically and abroad, our behavior must change. And that is why I propose something huge: I like to call it the “World Food Policy,” a global plan set forth by leading nations that could transform the current agricultural system. While it may sound hard to implement, and I’ll admit that with the current state of global politics it most certainly would be, it is nowhere near impossible. This policy needs to freeze our agricultural footprint, by implementing techniques to grow more efficiently on the farms we already have. It needs to promote widespread diet change across the global population. And finally, it needs to come up with ways to use our dwindling resources more intentionally, reduce waste and stop the food loss. It’s time to implement the World Food Policy if we’re going to have enough food to sustain Earth’s population in 2050 and beyond.

The proposed framework may not directly concern everyday citizens and the average Northwestern student. If we take action now, however, we can still do our part to prevent the food crisis. With an alarming 12.1 to 20 percent of our Evanston neighbors currently facing food insecurity, and even larger numbers in other Chicago neighborhoods, we certainly need to do our part. We must take simple steps: avoiding overbuying, planting community gardens, donating leftovers, serving smaller portions and encouraging our dining halls, local restaurants and supermarkets to develop waste-reducing measures.

Most importantly, though, we must educate others about the food crisis and the steps we can take to stand against it. We live in a global community, and it’s more important than ever that we work together to grow and share food, seeds and knowledge. To prevent this food crisis, we must implement the World Food Policy and adopt plain living and high thinking. So, let’s come together around the table, forge some new relationships and share a good meal — while acknowledging that the food crisis is real and that simple steps on our part can help combat it.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.