Field of Science

Food for thought #bad11

Food is taken for granted by way too many people in our society. People neither know nor apparently care what their food is or where it comes from, a symptom of plenty. For the human race in general let the Phactor tell you what food is: endosperm. Probably not a word you are familiar with, but there you have it. The vast majority of human calories for the entire human population consist of endoperm, a starchy tissue that forms inside of seeds as the result of a 2nd fertilization. In particular endosperm forms the bulk of cereal grains, those one-seeded fruits of the grass family so central to human nutrition for these past 10,000 years. In the form of rice, wheat, and maize grains, endosperm feeds people. That's what stands between us and starvation, and the single biggest challenge over the next few decages will be to figure out how to grow enough endosperm to feed 8 billion people, without destroying the Earth and its biodiversity along with it. People who blightly predict such a population can be accomodated do not include the environmental cost into their accounting. The predictions of increased food production do not take into account any problems from climate change. Frankly as a botanist, it scares me. Getting enough food will allow people, and governments, to make all kinds of rationalizations for doing lots of things because who can argue for conservation, or neighborly relations, when people are hungry? And most likely the problems will surface first and most acutely in Africa. Back 40 years ago when a student, population was a serious topic, but it disappeared from discussion for a number of reasons mostly because it invariably raised discusion of birth control and family planning, a political non-starter of an issue. So it is most interesting for population and food to once again be a topic of public discussion, about time, but no different than before, just more cronic, and just as difficult to deal with. And this is what all comes to mind when someone asks this blogger to think about food. Too bad the Phactor cannot be more optimistic, but we live in an age when policy makers find it convenient to ignore simple scientific truths and difficult to enact long-term policies. One thing to be certain about, botanists will try to increase our food supplies, and they will indeed do so, but the real worry comes from the lack of leadership and political infastructure around the globe.

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