May 26, 2020 by Dymphna

T-Bomb: How to make sure we never run out of food

Truth Bomb Tuesday: There’s been a boom in DIY food. That’s awesome, but it might not be enough in a real crisis.

One of the amazing things about this crisis is the way people have gone back to the old self-sufficiency practices of the past.

Back in the day, it wasn’t called a resiliency strategy. It just called having a veggie garden and some chooks.

But these things are making a massive come back.

There was a while there that you couldn’t get garden beds or seedlings at Bunning’s for love of money.

Chook breeders had huge waiting lists.

And for ages I couldn’t find a single packet of flour at any of the grocery stores where I live.

People are baking again. People are keeping chooks again. People are growing veggies again.

It’s going to be really interesting to see how long this lasts.

Partly I think we might see enthusiasm start to wane when life goes back to ‘normal’ (if it ever does!).

Baking bread and growing vegetables takes time. Keeping chooks is a bit of a hassle, as lovely as they are.

There’s a reason why these things got squeezed out of our busy lives.

But I think there’s been a permanent shift too. People realise that the things they need to survive are almost entirely dependent on the complex and long-range supply-chains that make up the modern economy.

And there’s an awareness now that those supply-chains aren’t invincible. They can be disrupted. They can break down.

I think many people will be looking to have more of a self-sufficiency buffer built into their lives from here on.

And a lot of people are feeling the echoes of the current period with the “Victory Gardens” of World War II.

It was part of an Allied ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign:

And the current boom in DIY food is making some people think that food self-sufficiency would be pretty easy to achieve if there really was a disruption to our food chains.

(It’s worth noting that Australia is pretty self-sufficient already when it comes to food. We’d need to see something pretty hefty – petrol shortages or a war – to really disrupt our food network. Yep. Australia’s awesome.)

But the modern economic is massively different to the economy that existed in World War II.

(Yep, that’s why you read these blogs. For revelations and insights like that.)

But seriously, it’s a very different beast.

And feeding the population isn’t just about growing enough food.

It’s also about getting the food to the people.

And that’s the key difference. Back in WWII we had much more localised, region-specific food networks.

You had local family farms, small dairies, packhouses, processing units, abattoirs, butchers and retail outlets.

And this is the infrastructure you’d need to feed a population on localised, small-scale, citizen-run farms.

These days, all of that infrastructure has disappeared.

It’s been replaced with a highly centralised commodity-based supermarket sourcing system. There’s a smaller number of specialised, large scale farming operations, with the food being processed and packed in one vast operation, through centralised warehouses supporting ‘just-in-time’ delivery.

That is, the infrastructure is set up to handle large-scale and centralised. Not local and distributed.

And so, it’s not going to be enough to raise an army of citizen farmers. Food self-sufficiency would also require a pretty radical repurposing of our distribution networks.

And this has become one of the big questions to come out of this crisis. We’re not just talking about food, but everything in our economy relies on vast, centralised, just-in-time supply chains – even essentials like medicine.

It’s a good conversation to be having: Does a reliance on this kind of business model leave us vulnerable?

This is a difficult question to engage with.

But in the mean time, growing veg and baking bread is a great thing to do.

It’s good that we remember what it takes.

Before all that precious knowledge is forgotten forever.