The challenges that are threatening presently both life
on the planet and humanity are linked, and they are at all levels. It
is therefore important to address them systemically, rather than trying
to solve each of them regardless of the existence of others.
For, these problems are depending on each other, are entangled into each
other. And solving one of them alone consist in drawing the yarns from
ball of knots tightening them.
To illustrate this, Daniel Cauchy gives us the example
of food "miracles" recommended (by some “experts) for
their illusory benefits. He calls them test-tube food, because this food
is analyzed by removing it from its context, namely : the rest of our
diet, other factors affecting our health, and also the nature in general,
the food chain, but also the cultivation method, origin and transport,
the men who produced them, etc.
Some scientists in their laboratory show that the mango, for example,
is a miracle fruit because it contains such and such micro-nutrients that
help maintain health balance for humans.
This doesn't make sense, for different reasons. First, the idea of promoting
to eat systematically a non-local food, which was never part of the diet
of a given population. Second, if we really had to apply this at large
scale, only for Belgium, it would require to produce, in a distant country,
10 million mango weekly or monthly. Which country in the World would be
chosen to serve us this way? And how many airports should be built to
import millions of tons of fruit, just for the people of a chosen country?
If basically the idea is intended to be constructive and meant to improve
the health of all, when we contextualize it in a more comprehensive and
more realistic way, we take the measure of the non-sense of the proposal.
The food consumption model works like the society in
general: it is in crisis. And it is not a temporary little crisis. The
question is then : What will still be affordable to eat in a few years?
If we look at the historical evolution, those last two centuries, the
farming model in our region, this is what we see :
In the 19th century: the farmer uses mechanical tools and a horse for
his work. His labor, the land, the sun and water, bring the whole food
production that can be translated into calories. There are no other ingredient
or artificial technique used, except secondarily. The farm produces energy,
in terms of food calories.
After the 40-45 war: agriculture and livestock farming is more mechanized
with the use of oil. This time, for 8 food calories produced, a fossil
calorie was necessary.
Currently in industrial agriculture: we use an average of 10 fossil calories
to produce a single food calorie.
But that disproportion goes further. Taking into account
the fossil energy used in transport, refrigeration, cooking, and other
manipulations that are currently used before the food reaches our plate,
we get an average of 40 fossil calories used to produce a single food
Even better (worse rather) : in the case of meat, 76 fossil calories will
be needed to produce one calorie of “industrial” beef.
And yet we are talking here only about food production.
Let's talk now of the loss of agricultural land that
occurs in parallel.
Currently soil depletion is going 18 times faster than
its ability to regenerate. In other words, for example, a year of beet
crop will requires between 10 and 100 years for the soil to recover its
fertility. Yet beets is cultivated on the same soil, from one year to
another. In fact, this is made possible by the massive use of fertilizers.
And those are produced, once again, from petroleum.
Agricultural land subject to this type of operation,
is losing 6 to 18 tons of soil per ton of feed produced.
The stones from the soil naturally tend to be covered
with it. Yet farmers are now having to annually collect stones on their
land, due to the fact that successive crops leads to important soil loss.
Another aspect of the problem, less known to the public:
China is currently growing massively its soil, and to do so, they draw
groundwater. This includes, for an important part, fossil water (which
are not refilled, as in our country, via the streaming of rainwater),
the Chinese government knows that intensive agriculture will soon be impossible.
To compensate this, China is purchasing thousands of acres of farmland
around the world.
We are indirectly in the same situation. In Belgium,
60% of our vegetables are imported. We are also dependent on import at
60% for all our products.
Regarding water consumption, the Belgian uses an average
of 106 liters of water a day in his daily life.
When taking into account the indirect consumption, which means the water
used in industry, public services etc., the daily average consumption
of water for a Belgian person is around 1000 liters.
And if we want to be quite complete, taking into account the various imported
products, including food, every Belgian indirectly consumes 5000 liters
of water per day.
The "production" of a kilo of beef, for example,
requires between 20,000 and 250,000 liters of water (figures vary between
sources) and 10 kg of grain.
It is not, of course, water from the watering place, but also water necessitated
for the production of grain that feed the animal. And depending on the
place of production of the grain, a phenomenal waste may occur. In southern
France, for example, when only 3% of it is absorbed by plants.
What then about quantities used for the fields of beans
planted in warm regions of Kenya or Egypt. Moreover, they are transported
by plane, throughout the winter.
There is water shortage almost everywhere, according
to specialists half of the population of the earth live in areas where
ground water is running out, and however, consciences do not awake, because
each looks only his own square meter ground.
In Greece, in Palestine and in Egypt, for example, ground
water are so exploited that they are becoming salty, because slowly, the
sea water leaks into it. And therefore, the fields irrigated by this salted
water, are getting desert. Vicious circle. More than half of the World
population lives in countries where ground water are running dry.
If one looks at the human side, at a global level, the
situation is equally dire. In 2007, there were 854 million people suffering
of famine. Currently (spring 2009), they were 976 million. We can add
to that about a billion people badly nourished. This means that they have
enough to eat on the quantity level but the quality is lacking: they lack
certain nutrients, and this results in a poor health for the majority,
the disease for many, and death in the short term for some.
To this can be added about one billion people living in absolute poverty,
ie less than two dollars a day. And it goes on getting worse.
Our food style is really absurd. Here's what we can tell
"The budget for food has declined dramatically in our prosperous
regions and is about less than 15% of the average household income (2008
data - Belgium)." (1)
"78% of agricultural land is used to feed some tens of millions of
the richer people ..." (2)
"At the global scale, livestock accounts for 60% of grain production."
(2) "The intellectual elite in developed countries
considers as perfectly normal to worry about overpopulation in the World,
but always forget one fact: the real overpopulation is that of livestock."
- Jeremy Rifkin, economist.
There is an average of 280gr/day/person meat on the Belgian plate.
"Vandana Shiva estimates acreage for this indirect use in the 'South'
to 7 x the agricultural area of Europe." (1)
"Our (food)plate has made a journey of 2500 km on average!"
Further .... "The difference in cost per worker
between the small farmers in the South and the modern farm business is
now from 1 to 1000!" (1)
"The result of a marvelous progress is in fact the result of a massive
"The game of liberalism is a zero-sum game: what some win others
Ultimately, nearly half of humanity is in food crisis.
This mainly concerns the populations of the south, until recently known
as "developing countries." But the phenomenon is spreading and
is beginning to affect people financially and culturally disadvantaged
in western countries. Cheap food is not lacking, but its quality may seriously
harm the health. In the favored sections of the population, people buy
fresh, unprepared food. Conversely, the food on offer in the hard discounts
can be compared to the nuggets, for example: the quantity of meat is low,
mostly added with breading and fat, ingredients which are much cheaper.
But this type of food leads in the long term, to obesity, type II diabetes,
cardiovascular diseases, and others. The weight difference between favored
social classes or not, varies from 10 to 15 kg. The difference in longevity
is also an established fact. People live less long in the most disadvantaged
social sections. (3)
Another catastrophic indicator is the current phenomenon of the disappearance
of bees, billions of them. By region, a decrease in their number from
60 to 90% has been measured. In states like California, thousands of hives
have been imported to make possible the pollination of fruit trees (among
The reasons of the disappearance of these populations
are multiple, it is extremely difficult to stop the phenomenon. And "75%
of the crops that feed humanity and 35% of food production depend on pollinators!"
Einstein said, "If the bee disappeared from the
face of the earth, man would only have four years to live, no more pollination,
no more plants, no more animals, no more humans."
In his Articles in (1)(4),
Daniel Cauchy also mentions the current loss of biodiversity.
"FAO estimates that Europe has already lost 90% of its varieties
of vegetables, remember that the thousands of varieties of apples and
French pears are reduced to a dozen, and it is the same for cereals."
Our eating habits are also responsible for the disappearance of farmers.
Globally, 50 million of them disappear every year. France lost in 50 years
92% of its farmers.
And finally, all this is related to global warming of the planet: "Remember
that agriculture is responsible for 25 to 30% (according to the authors)
emissions of greenhouse gases, the loss of 1% organic matter in the soil
releases 20 tons of CO2 per hectare." (4)
So we are indeed in a social and environmental deadlock.
A possible alternative to change this trend is the return
to local products, leaving the role of consumer, that is to say getting
involved personally, financially, and actively in a trusting relationship
with a vegetable producer, to ensure the sustainability of its business,
and this through the creation of local cooperatives.
For, when we continue to buy local, organic, etc.. in
supermarkets, in health food shops or on markets, we persist in a "consumer"
attitude , where the producer doesn't have any guarantee to survive in
the long term.
In Belgium, the share of organic production in agriculture
is only 3% (against 18% in Italy for example).
It should be noted that in Wallonia (approximately 3.5 million inhabitants),
there are only 40 organic growers. If we realize that each one can provide
about 200 households in vegetable, it is far from being able to feed the
entire population. In addition, 76% of agricultural land is used to feed
It is then not possible to advise local and organic food
for all, through traditional channels, it is essential to create new alternatives
Most environmental organizations and institutions are yet advising the
contrary, and it is simply incoherent.
It is not credible. It's necessary that citizens show solidarity, create
cooperatives, and help the organic farmer by working at harvest period
when the farmer and his staff cannot ensure it on their own. In this context,
the cooperative formula implies that each member participates in the risks
The double speak is also part of the education of our
children, when we preach proper and balanced nutrition and we criticize
the candy, sweets, fried foods, while the child's environment calls him
continuously to consume such products through vending machines, supermarket
shelves, advertisements, everywhere around him.
Teach one hour dietetics per year in schools, while putting children to
a continuous pressure to eat unhealthy, is a schizophrenic speech.
On what criteria can we choose food that ends up on our
1 / Local
The distance of production can vary from the one to the other : 50 - 100
- 250 km (30 – 60 -150 miles). It is also necessary to differentiate
between transport made by plane, train, truck or boat. The ship consumes
and pollutes between 100 and 300 times less than the plane. The truck
consumes and pollutes between one and eight times less than the plane.
(5 *)(6 *)
When food is produced in the cooperative to which one belongs, these questions
no longer arise.
2 / Fresh
This implies : seasonal.
Food (in an industrial chain) is frozen by -40 °C (-40°F), then
temperature is increased to -18 °C (-0,4°F). For an average of
6 months storage, a frozen food calorie requires an average of 12 fossil
3 / Farmer
The aim is to upgrade the traditional production (local, organic), compared
to industrial one.
4 / Organic
This means much more than the prohibition of the use of pesticides and
chemical fertilizers. It is important that the soil remains alive, not
only for the crop but for the preservation of the soil itself.
For example, a soil from a chemically grown grain field, during a period
of rain, will absorb 1 mm of water an hour, the rest of the water will
run off the surface to other places.
In comparison, forest soil can absorb up to 150 mm of water an hour.
The more the soil is impoverished, the bigger are erosion, risks of landslide
Rich soil, is among others related to the presence of
worms living into it, and working in the formation of humus and soil aeration
via their galleries. For the same area of soil, if it is organic, 3 tons
of worms can be found, and if it is industrial farm soil, it contains
only a few hundred kg. But the galleries dug in the ground also allow
water to be absorbed.
Some argue that organic farming does not produce enough.
This is only partially true. In cold temperate areas (as in Belgium) organic
farming reaches 80% of industrial culture profitability. In warm zone
(eg tropical) profitability is equal or greater than that of industrial
agriculture, as the humus mineralization is faster with warm weather.
It is therefore possible to feed the humanity through organic farming.
There are even highly productive farming models, when
combining on the same soil, plants, trees, shrubs and tubers, using for
each culture type a specific space, a different level, such as for example
palm, coffee tree, bean plants, and potatoes.
Yields are sometimes up to four times higher than the monocultures.
5 / Vegetarian diet or very substantial reduction
in intake of meat
The area required for the vegetarian or for meat-eating is very different.
For example, an American diet (US) rich in meat requires an hectare of
land for one person (10,000 m2). An Indonesian or Thai diet, poor in animal
products, requires only 7 acres (700 m2).
These figures vary by source.
For example, each Canadian uses indirectly 950 kg of grain per year, even
if he actually eats directly only 180 kg per year.
Indeed, 7 to 10 kg of grain are required to produce one kilogram of meat
(beef). So more we eat meat, more area is needed to live.
In Belgium each inhabitant eats an average of 280 grams of meat per day
and 600 grams of animal products in total.
Or WHO recommends eating about 400 grams of meat per week, or 80 grams
maximum per day.
6 / Natural
This applies to products which have undergone the least changes possible:
non-irradiated, uncooked or precooked, unprocessed, unpackaged.
7 / Ethics
To all these points, which concern the preservation of the environment
or the capacity to feed everyone, or the health of people consuming food,
it is important to add an ethical factor to take into account acceptable
living conditions for those who produce them.
If our food model correspond to the 7 criteria listed
above, it is still necessary to establish a balanced diet.
Up to now we have spoken about food, its production,
its transport before it reaches our plates.
But what kind of diet are we supposed to adopt, considering the seven
criteria (local - cost - farming - organic - vegetarian - natural - ethic)?
If we ignore all these new theories (mostly born in laboratories), that
are not very consistent, and sometimes contradict each other; each one
has to adapt his diet to what works best. But to fit truly to a healthy
environment, a traditional diet, from the time when everything was produced
locally and on a human scale, is the most conceivable, the most suitable.
What was the traditional diet in Belgium before the arrival
of all these foreign ingredients, these precooked products, this orgy
of meat, sweets and fried food?
a) The most important ingredient is cereals.
Cereals include all the grains composed mainly of carbohydrates and 10-15%
of protein. They are not only composed of grasses (wheat, rye, etc.) but
also of other plants such as buckwheat, millet, quinoa, corn. We can eat
them in form of grain, flour, flakes or bread.
b) The second ingredient can be eaten as a supplement
to cereals. It's the vegetable proteins, mainly the different kinds of
beans and peas which there are thousands of varieties, including beans,
peas, lentils, soybeans, alfalfa, lupine, ... .
It is important to combine them with cereals, because the proteins from
cereals are complementary to the ones from the beans etc., and together,
they are better assimilated, and are thus equivalent to a protein intake
of the meat.
The combination of cereal with milk products is equivalent.
c) The association must be supplemented by a lot of seasonal
vegetables (fiber, vitamins, minerals) - cooked, raw or lacto-fermented
(such as sauerkraut, for example). In this way, we can avoid deep freezing.
The lacto-fermentation makes possible to preserve vegetables for several
months, while keeping the vitamins.
d) To these ingredients we can add more variety of foods
(there are thousands): including mushrooms, berries, animal products (which
are seasonal - we have forgotten that lately - such as eggs for example),
oils and oleaginous seeds.
(4) From the article in French «
Alimentation biologique » written by Daniel Cauchy
(5 *) Excerpt from a little article
(in French) in Agenda + February 2006 p.32:
"Currently, one ton transported for one km consumes
1000g of oil by air, 400g per van, 380g per truck,80g by river barge ,
11g by freight train, and 3g by motorized boat."
(6 *) CRIOC gives the following figures for the
transport of food (CO2 emissions per ton per km):
- Boat: 15 to 30 g / ton km;
- Train: 30 g / ton km;
- Car: from 168 to 186 g / ton km;
- Truck: 210-1430 g / ton km;
- Air: 570-1580 g / ton km.
This text has been written originally in French and has been translated
by the author (who is French speaking). The translation quality is therefore
not guaranteed. Don't hesitate to report any error. See more details