Iâ€™m a big fan of Michael Pollan. I loved The Omnivoreâ€™s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and his Earth Day article for The New York Times magazine suggesting that we all grow food in our backyards. (I had hoped to plant my own garden this spring but so far have only a basil plant. Maybe next year.) But Pollanâ€™s high concept diet advice (â€œEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.â€) gets us only part of the way to dealing with a big and hugely important global issue â€“ how to feed all the people on the planet without destroying it.
Yes, if we all ate â€œmostly plantsâ€ and less meat, the environment would be a lot better off. (So would our waistlines and arteries.) But we need to grow those plants on less land, using less water, with fewer chemical inputs. To get there, we need to change the way big companies buy food. That, at least, is the view of Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund, one of the smartest thinkers on the issue of agriculture and the environment. Jasonâ€™s ideas are the topic of todayâ€™s Sustainability column. Here’s how the column begins:
Backyard vegetable gardens are fine. So are organics, slow food and locavores – people who eat produce grown nearby. But solutions to the global food crisis will come from big business, genetically engineered crops and large-scale farms.
So, at least, says Jason Clay, one of the world’s leading experts on agriculture and the environment. Clay leads a global effort to reform agriculture at the World Wildlife Fund, working with buyers and producers of farm products including Coca-Cola (KO), McDonald’s (MCD) and DuPont (DD,).
The problem they face has made headlines lately. Demand for farm products – food, fiber and fuel – will keep growing, as the population grows and as hundreds of millions of people move into the middle class and consume more meat and dairy. Global per capita meat consumption has increased by 60 percent in the last 40 years – that’s 60% per person. Meanwhile, the supply of farmland is limited. Agriculture already uses 55% of the habitable land on the planet. According to Clay, farming is the single largest threat to biodiversity; what’s more, if farmers destroy tropical forests in Brazil or Indonesia to raise cattle or produce palm oil, the impacts on climate change will be severe, because forests store lots of carbon.