10 Mile Diet

Global and glocal food systems

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This morning while making my now habitual (how quickly habits can change) breakfast of Tricia eggs, onions, tomatos and my 10-feet backyard zukes, I heard a story on Democracy Now about the food riots in Mozambique. Wheat prices soared due to crashing supplies, prices went up and people could no longer cope. Thirteen people died when police apparently ran out of rubber bullets and started using real ones.

I listen to Democracy Now most days. I like knowing the back stories to the NPR news, the political and social injustices that lead to world events. But I don’t take it personally except to the extent I try to live a moral life and do work to make the world a tad better.

Today though I hear this story through the lens of the 10-mile diet. It’s about the vulnerability of the global food system in an era of shrinking resources, economic downturn and climate “events”. Aware of how secure I am making myself be weaning myself from dependency on that system, I dug in to the story of the riots.

Here’s the chain of cause and effect that Raj Patal traced in his interview today with Amy Goodman. Russia’s wheat crop burned (hot dry weather, failing fire fighting infrastructure) and Putin declared that Russia would cease to export wheat. In the Guardian Patal wrote:

Wheat prices have soared on global markets over the summer in large part because Russia, the world’s third largest exporter, has suffered catastrophic fires in its main production areas. These blazes, in turn, find their origin both in poor firefighting infrastructure and Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century. On Thursday, Vladimir Putin extended an export ban in response to a new wave of wildfires in its grain belt, sending further signals to the markets that Russian wheat wouldn’t be available outside the country. With Mozambique importing over 60% of the wheat its people needs, the country has been held hostage by international markets.

Indeed, climate disruptions, poor political choices half way around the world, and a global rather than regional food system (not to speak of 100-mile or 10-mile diets) can remove building block of our diets in a day.

There is no wheat to speak of in my 10-miles. A few home growers are experimenting with rows (not fields) of grain. 20 miles North on Ebey’s Prairie, our Iowa, some growers for local markets and restaurants are growing grains but there’s no large scale production going on anywhere I know of on the island, much less West of the Cascades. The Palouse in Eastern WA is where the real fields are. I could do a regional diet and have wheat and oats, yes, but still no rice.

Doing without grain has been hard when I want crunch, flavor, bulk and sticking in my stomach experiences. It’s hard because of daily habits. Before this diet I had converted to an oatmeal, oat bran, flax, molasses and prunes breakfast because the doc said my cholesterol (over 250) is too high and I don’t want to take statins. Now that strategy is out of reach and I’m eating cholesterol rich milk, eggs and meat. (Part of my deal with Tricia was to measure my vitals before and after the diet, to observe change. I’m curious what will happen, but I can report that my ankles are no longer swollen and my energy is darn perky.)

Given what is happening in Mozambique – and heart-breakingly so many other places in the world) – would not happen here were we all on at least a regional diet. Some local farmers, were we all to commit to 100-mile diets – would become local grain suppliers. And we probably wouldn’t stuff ourselves with grain to solve non food needs (like love and stress).

So my hyper-local eating links me viscerally – literally – the food security in my region and morally to food issues globally. Local eating is not meant to simply pull up the drawbridge and take care of me and mine. It is ultimately political. We are going to have to transform our food systems everywhere in the future, take all of us off unnecessary dependencies that can lead to tragedies and starvation as in Mozambique. We’ll still have our “exotics” – the food we can’t grow and will always want like oil, salt, caffeine, citrus, avocados, chocolate – but these will be produced by local growers elsewhere and our purchases will support them, not mega producers. We’ll still have trade, but not one mega global marketplace run by global corporations.

A bigger but necessary project to avert truly unthinkable food insecurity tragedies will be to return to local people everywhere enough land and resources so they can do some subsistence farming for their families and communities. This is a huge almost unthinkable transformation of our food policies (which are global warming and energy policies), but what else can we morally do?

My 10-mile diet – which could seem almost a stunt of the privileged – led me right into this line of thinking as I ate my frittata. Ultimately any fast – like lent – leads you to the core of your life and to humility in understanding your weave into the larger life.


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