On my way into a hotel on a bitterly cold afternoon, a man asked for change so he could buy something to eat. He was in his mid-20s, clean shaven and warmly dressed. He wasn’t aggressive like some panhandlers, but I shook my head no. I’ve felt conflicted ever since.
We’re told that giving to panhandlers just encourages the practice, but maybe he was truly hungry and down on his luck.
To ensure that the money wasn’t used for booze or drugs, maybe I should have gone with him to the nearest Tim Horton’s and bought him something to eat.
While advised to deny panhandlers, we’re all encouraged to donate to food banks, especially at this time of year. One could argue that food banks are a symptom of larger societal failings, but no one should be deprived of food, especially in a land of plenty.
Unfortunately, society seems hell bent on making food more expensive and less available domestically and internationally by not focusing on the right issues.
“No added hormones or steroids,” boasts the A&W ads.
The restaurant chain’s burgers are still relatively cheap, but it is spending extra money to source and promote beef that isn’t any safer or more nutritious.
The anti-GMO crowd wants mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. “May contain GMOs” on most of the processed food products in our grocery stores would not provide any useful information, but it would carry a significant cost.
If you took all the money being spent on the GM labelling fight, that alone would feed a lot of people.
Developing and registering new GM traits has become exceedingly expensive and time-consuming. Only the big companies can play the game. For all the talk of feeding a hungry world, an inordinate level of resources is devoted to feeding the regulatory bureaucracy.
Some consumers have turned to organic food, either for perceived food safety issues, ethical reasons or both.
If affluent consumers want to pay extra for products labelled organic, that’s their prerogative, but the extra money they’re spending could prevent a great deal of hunger.
There are many good reasons to support local food production, but in some quarters this manifests itself as an anti-trade sentiment. We enjoy a year round supply of food from all around the world. We export food around the globe. Trade expands food availability and drops the cost, yet it is vilified.
Some markets at home and abroad want to add sustainability indexes to purchasing decisions.
Farm organizations are working hard to establish their own sustain-ability measurements before the European Union, Wal-Mart and Unilever decide for us. Either way, expect more paperwork and cost in the years ahead.
While we fret about imaginary problems, many real issues in the food supply don’t receive enough attention. Nutritionists agree that we consume too much salt, too many trans fats and far too many calories. These are proven killers.
In fact, obesity is a North American epidemic.
There are groups dedicated to banning GM food, while high-calorie, high-caffeine energy drinks are peddled to young people from every convenience store. The public follows the latest diet craze, often taking their advice from quacks and celebrities.
There’s an old adage that wheat is 13 percent protein and 87 percent politics. Increasingly, that seems to apply to the entire food supply with the 13 being fact and the 87 representing misconceptions and philosophy.
And we all too often ignore the people who are hungry.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]