Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread with 17 Percent Rye Flour and Wheat Germ
This is my everyday bread, these days: a sourdough bread, made in the Tartine style, using some rye flour. People talk about "comfort food." This is mine.
That's my segue to talk about food security.
What Food Security Means
When a community talks about food security these days -- in this post-911 world -- images of bioterrorism arise. How safe is our food -- from its origin, during its transport, at the point of processing, and in the delivery of its nutritional payload in our GI tract? At any stage along the way, food can be tampered with. We have to trust those people who handle our food, to be secure in the knowledge that our food is not going to harm us.
Malevolent tampering wasn't always the concern. During most of the history of humans on earth, food security meant finding enough to eat. Agriculture mostly fixed that problem, but it brought with it other troubles. It allowed our population to grow, but it changed the face of the earth, as we took out forests and swamps, and planted our food.
Then there was a time when food security meant little more than food safety. We discovered that food had to be grown correctly, stored correctly, transformed correctly, to avoid things like plant diseases, bacterial contamination and other hidden but natural processes that might threaten our human frame.
And then we discovered that our best intentions didn't always give us the security we needed: we grew plants with insecticides, pesticides, herbicides to make yields higher, and pasteurization and irradiation to cut down on the natural threats, only to discover that our food had new safety concerns: our interference in the natural order of things led to unnatural health problems. Cancers, heart disease, pancreatic and kidney failures increased in our population. We didn't always know if we were gaining or losing ground, when we tried to achieve food security using these tools.
But there is yet another meaning to "food security." Just as countries strive to be self sufficient in energy, they also strive to be self sufficient in feeding themselves. To be self sufficient in food is to be secure indeed. But is it possible? How much land does one actually need, to grow one's own food? Well, it depends on where you are.
Here in Canada, we depend largely upon the benevolence of those in warmer climates to send us fresh fruit and vegetables in the winter months. We have a great many resources in Canada, we have plenty of land and water that is the envy of many other countries: but we are not self-sufficient in many things, our cold northerly climate prevents it. "Eat local," we are told -- and we can, and we do, in the summer and fall, when food from our gardens and fields is plentiful. But in the winter months, we are bound to our fruit cellars, our canned goods, or our imported fruits and vegetables for our sustenance. We are dependent on a vast network of transportation to provide food for our far-flung population. The farther north you go in Canada, the more expensive this network becomes, and the cost gets added to the cost of the food. It thus becomes very expensive to live in the far north.
Ah. My comfort bread. Thumb-suckin' good. This bread sustains me. I am secure in the knowledge that it is the best bread I can make at this time.
My hope is that one day I can also be secure in the supply of the grains that go into making it, growing my own, using organic seed and methods.
Then I need only beware of those who might sow tares.
Notes to Myself
- I've just stumbled upon Marion Nestle's book "Safe Food: the politics of food safety." There is so much I have yet to learn about the decisions that have been made for us to keep our food safe, and to provide "food security". This book provide some answers -- highly recommended.