Dead zones, acid seas and no fish

2 July 2014: My story in Newsweek magazine on the latest science of the rapidly-changing chemistry of the oceans – largely brought about by mankind. None of it’s good news. Unless you like jellyfish.

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On the Boqueria’s fish stands I count 10 types of bivalves—creatures like clams, oysters and mussels that use calcium carbonate to make their endlessly varied shells. In as little as 20 years they will be very different and, in some parts of the world, entirely gone. Then there are the ranks of huge Asian prawns and tiny shrimps, terra-cotta crabs from Scotland, and lobsters, magnificent admirals in blue fringed with gold. Lucky for them, these creatures make their shells differently (mostly out of a polymer called chitin), so the rapidly acidifying waters of our oceans won’t dissolve them as it will the exteriors of the bivalves. But the acidification—which some scientists believe is the fastest change in the ocean’s chemistry in 300 million years—appears to harm the working of the gills and change the behavior of the crustaceans when they are very young.

Read on in Newsweek here

Hunger, child nutrition and eight ways to feed the world

Wrote three stories for the Observer (links to each one below) this weekend around the G8 discussion on food security and child hunger. Interesting comments, particularly on the piece on the Gates Foundation’s work; boy, do some Guardian Online users hate the corporates. Often with good reason.

But when government has done so badly at tackling hunger among the poorest, we’re not in a position to refuse any ideas. Don’t you think? According to new research, 3.1 million children are dying every year, largely because of malnutrition – in a world with more food than it needs.

Here’s a good Economist note on the problems around using the likes of Nestle to tackle child hunger.

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Eight ways to solve world hunger

Millions of people are starving, despite the world producing more than enough to feed everyone. What can we do about it? Read more 

How lack of food security is failing a starving world

Starvation is a symptom of a larger problem involving land, health, power and ecological damage, say experts. Read more

Bill Gates: UK leading the way in tackling world hunger

Microsoft mogul addresses London rally to praise British efforts on fighting starvation

Read more

How to feed the world (book review)

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Feeding Frenzy – The New Politics of Food, Paul McMahon

New books by Paul McMahon and Jay Rayner. Published in The Observer, 3 June 2013

Food got bigger than DIY about a decade back, but publishing took a while to hoist its tired old frame on to the bandwagon. Now the food books tumble out, unstoppable, in a startling range of sub-genres. There’s the cookbook with jokes. The memoir with recipes. The polemic about food system apocalypse. The cookbook (with gardening tips) for that apocalypse. The part-time vegan diet book with anti-capitalist polemic, recipes and jokes (just reviewed that one, actually). And all of the above, with celebrity attached.

Paul McMahon’s is a straight food apocalypse book, no jokes, one recipe: a four-ingredient plan to feed the planet. McMahon admits that there are an awful lot of books in his genre. Since the food price spikes of 2008, he’s seen many titles “all warning of an impending food collapse”, including The Coming FamineThe End of FoodWorld on the Edge and Climate in Peril. (My shelf is even bleaker: So Shall We ReapEat Your Heart Out and Food Wars– and, full disclosure, I’m writing a little one myself.) But gloomy though his own title is, McMahon wants to put distance between him and the “professional doom-mongers”. He wants to offer some hope and so, with 100% more jokes, does this paper’s restaurant critic, Jay Rayner. Continue reading

Nine things to do today to solve world hunger

As requested… I went to an Action Against Hunger Love Food Give Food event this week to speak on social media and hunger: publicised as “Can bloggers end child hunger?” Which is what you might call a big ask. However… it all came out rather hopeful. Blogging won’t end hunger – but there’s an awful lot we can do. Today. Culled from all the meetings like this I’ve been at recently, here’s nine ideas, and a brief (and skippable) introduction:

There is frustration and horror that this crisis has happened again, so soon. That, despite the bloodshed and the anguish of 2008-2010 crisis nothing has happened to address our broken food economy. But there is hope. Lots of it. For one, no one thinks there isn’t enough food or any prospect of it running out, despite the pressures of changing climates. As ever, we just need to distribute it better. ( In this video, hear economist Raj Patel’s excellent explanation of how a few corporates have gained control of global food distribution.)

Corporations can be brought to order: the answer lies in political engagement. It’s still true, as the Nobel-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen stated 30 years ago, that there has never been a famine in a democracy. The recipe: get involved in the politics and get involved in your food. Eat better, shout louder, be happier!

  1.  Campaign to stop the speculators. Regulation of the commodity markets to stabilise food prices is crucial in the fight against hunger – some analytsts say that the bankers betting on food prices since 2008 has caused more hunger than climate change. Sign up to World Development Movement’s campaign ahead of this October’s crucial meetings of finance ministers. http://www.wdm.org.uk/action/food-speculation-photo-petition
  2. Eat less meat. Raising meat is depleting food resources and water unsustainably: 20% of greenhouse gas is the result of industrial meat production. Try holding Meatless Mondays. If you love your bacon sandwich, buy half as much bacon, but spend twice as much on it. You’ll get a tastier sandwich, and support a farmer who treats his animals more decently. More on the”flexitarian diet.
  3. Supermarkets are part of and a cause of the broken food economy, in UK and abroad. You don’t have to give them up– though it would certainly help. But, once a week, or when you can, get the groceries at an independent shop – especially one that supports local food systems – and give yourself a pat on the back.
  4. In the shops. Question what’s going on. Suspend your trust. Tell managers you don’t like excess packaging, or imports that are dubiously sourced. Bargains like BOGOFs are usually paid for by the ever-squeezed producers and farmers, not the shop. Choose food that’s local and in season.
  5. Reclaim the land. Brown-field sites all over our cities are there to be occupied, restored and planted with crops. http://www.reclaimthefields.org.uk/
  6. Reduce your food waste – in UK we throw away 30% of usable food, and that’s putting up prices across the planet. Tips here at http://www.myzerowaste.com. And support campaigns to keep food waste out of landfill:  like the movement to get spare and discarded food from commercial outlets used as pig feed again.
  7. Resist hi-tech solutions – they won’t feed the planet, most scientists agree, just corporate profits. We can keep GM out of Europe, if we fight.
  8. Get to know the food system. We need to return to an understanding of the land, rebond with the farmers and producers, and see how we can be take part in keeping the world fed. See the Soil Association’s Community Supported Agriculture site for schemes near you that are ready to welcome adults and children.
  9. Publicise and donate to Action Against Hunger’s Love Food Give Food appeal on acute child malnutrition: new methods mean children seriously ill from lack of food can be treated in their own homes. Vastly increasing the numbers who can be reached, while lowering the cost. Do share the link.

Any more? Leave a message here.

  • The nine ideas: gathered from people at events organised by World Development Movement, Action Against Hunger and the Take One Action film festival in Scotland.