Food for Thought
It's important to learn where your food comes from, how it gets here and how much
is in town
Originally published in the Juneau Empire on April 20th, 2011
Let’s start with a few questions.
Who likes to eat food, each and every day? Did you notice bare produce shelves a few weeks ago? Have you heard about the killing
frosts which devastated this season’s fruit and vegetable production in Mexico and
the Southern U.S.? How does the food we buy get here? How reliable is the production of our food? How much is here, now in your town?
Unless you just happened to walk into Fred Meyer or Costco and saw the empty shelves
a few weeks ago with signs stating various causes, ranging from “local weather” to
“conditions in our producers region”, you might not have even noticed.
As someone who did notice and does like to eat every day, I decided to pursue these
questions because I want to be sure that I, my family and friends and everyone, in
all of our communities (you!) always have enough to eat. What I want for all of us
is to be “food secure.”
When studying our food system, I like to trace backwards how food gets into my mouth,
truly a journey with many steps simplified as; heat to cook it, a car to get it home,
the retailer to store it and sell it (and money to buy it!), many shippers and distributors
along the route to the store (by land and either air or sea), processors (think Hagen-Daz)
and finally, all the way back to the producers (growers). There are many ways to increase
our own food supply through gardening, gathering, fishing and hunting, but even our
local harvest greatly relies on fuel energy (petroleum) which goes through just as
elaborate a supply chain as our food.
Good news: Our food system works. That is why each of us ate today. The problem is
that our food system is vulnerable, every step of the way. Since Alaska imports more
than 95 percent of our food, our supply can be severely threatened by extreme weather
or man-caused events both far and near. We are completely dependent on others to bring
us our food or the fuel we’ll use to get it. And we know the system isn't always reliable
— planes don’t always fly and boats don’t always come in.
There is no formula for determining what type, size and combination of events will
cause disruptions, but if anyone thinks we are poised for a bailout whenever we are
in need, I ask you to think back to Hurricane Katrina and see that — even in the best
of weather and physically accessible conditions — emergency relief was very slow and
too late for many.
I personally work with every group I have been able to contact on the subject of emergency
food preparedness in Alaska and find few are even looking at the topic.
The real good news is that we can do many things to improve our food security and
strengthen our food system. For an immediate emergency (evacuation), prepare ”to go”
bags (at home and in vehicle). For short- to mid-term shortages (days to weeks), prepare
and store personal food supplies including special dietary needs for infants and elders.
This requires planning, money for the food/supplies, space, management/rotation and
means to prepare the stored foods. Longer-term preparation means more extensive storage
amounts and methods. Community level planning is important too. We need to plan and
employ food storage and distribution systems for those in need during catastrophic
emergencies. We can also reduce our vulnerability to food chain emergencies with increased
local food cultivation and regular consumption and (electricity-free) storage of local,
sustainably harvested natural resources such as fish, deer, seaweed, etc.
Each of these solutions helps to strengthen our food system and simultaneously support
a more robust local economy with more dollars and resources circulating within our
communities. We each need to identify food security as a real priority and take action.
Call the Cooperative Extension Service, 907-523-3280, if you want help or if you want
to help others with Food Security issues on behalf of yourself, your families or your