Monday, April 7, 2014

My Munchable Soapbox: A Climate-Changed World

Temperatures go up, but how much depends on how we live now (left: low emissions; right: high emissions).
As of late I may have been neglecting this blog, but on the bright side, climate change has recently been in the limelight! The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its long awaited 5th assessment report (AR5) - well, actually, only the summary for policy makers. Now before you run away because I used scary acronyms, just let me note a few key points. This assessment has an emphasis on adapting to change, and for the first time as far as I know, explicitly acknowledges that ways of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) can also help us adapt to climate change! It's a pretty sobering picture, to say the least, and has particularly important implications for agriculture and food security.
Food and agriculture in 2050...a cautious tale and a need to act now!
So, some key points:
1. Climate change is having and will continue to have more negative than positive impacts on crops.
2. Human and ecological systems are vulnerable to climate extremes, and many sectors (including agriculture) are not prepared to face these changes.
3. Especially for the segment of society living in poverty, climate change impacts add an additional layer of complexity to many challenges already hindering making a living.
4. Warming trends, drought, flooding, and extreme/unpredictable rainfall pose a great risk for food insecurity and food system breakdown.
5. What we do now to adapt to and mitigate climate change affects the risks we will face in the future.

What does this mean for poverty and hunger?
Risks associated with climate change vary between geographies - some places crops are already experiencing considerable stress - but across the board, the poor and marginalised populations and communities bear the greatest portion of burden. It's not just the growing of food that is concern, but that access will become more difficult as variability goes up and prices destabilize. Food makes up one of the largest expenses for people in poverty, and even farmers are at serious risk of food shortage and hunger. However unfair it is, tropical regions are also expected to be more affected by climate catastrophes, and also coincides with areas dominated by small-scale farming and low incomes.

Live Below the Line is only three weeks away! I'm raising funds for the Rainforest Foundation, which is specifically focusing on these afformentioned tropical communities. Check out my page to learn more about the challenge and the organisation. 

Frugal Foodie and a recipe on later in the week...I promise! Both infographic images come from a new infonote launched the research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Frugal Foodie on a British Pound: A Little Extravagance
How depressing. We are already a few days into spring, but the weather has taken a turn reminiscent of winter. When the cold and rain refuse to go away, it is often better to embrace the dreariness whole-heartedly. In my book that means winter squash. Consumed for probably close to 10,000 years (at least in the new world), the winter squash's ability to store well made it a dependable source of sustenance, beta carotene, and (dare I say it) a small slice of happiness. But the banality of winter veg, even those as beautiful as pumpkins, becomes trying towards the end. To avoid lingering winter blues, I decided to branch out and indulge just a bit.

Enter the Black Futsu. This Japanese squash - Curcibita moschata - is known for its dark, almost black, green skin that progresses to chalky tan as it matures. Now this is not your honey-sweet delicata or the dense and comforting buttercup. But rather, the rough-skinned vegetable has a high moisture bright orange flesh, that quickly softens to tenderness, and hints at kinship to the butternut (which is actually the same species...). And though it is considered an "heirloom" variety, the actual date of naisance appears tragically difficult to pinpoint.

That's all well and good, but trying out a new variety of winter squash doesn't seem like much of an indulgence! But pumpkins have this amazing way of reaching a level of richness. Steeped in a mix of warm and exotic curry spices with decadent coconut milk, a little bit of extravagance goes a long way (no, seriously, don't add too much coconut milk!). Perhaps my starving student status has set my standards pretty low, but this might just be where frugality meets luxury.

Curry Me Pumpkin
1 small onion, diced
1 cup dry butter beans, soaked overnight
1/2 cup red lentils (not black or green...)
2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 cups cubed pumpkin (I used half a black futsu, but a butternut or red kuri would work nicely as well)
2 cups spinach (can use kale, but cut back 1/2 cup)
1-2 tbs curry powder
1 tbs tomato paste
Salt to taste
1/2 cup raw cashews (optional)

1. Heat a little oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Sautée up the onion until slightly translucent.
2. Add water and bring to a boil before starting the beans. Cook covered for about 25 minutes. Toss in pumpkin after ten or so.
3. Then slip in the red lentils, curry powder, coconut milk, salt, and tomato paste. Let simmer another ten minutes, after which the spinach can be added.
4. Turn off burner and keep covered for another ten minutes while the spinach wilts and the lentils finish disintegrate and thicken the curry (add cashews at this time if desired).
5. Serve warm over rice or quinoa. 

More pumpkin and curry desires? SOUP! Posting to Wellness Weekends (after a long hiatus)...

And don't forget, this is the lead-up to Live Below the Line at the end of next month! Consider donating to the Rainforest Foundation, helping to maintain the rights, traditional knowledge, and food security of indigenous peoples.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Cultural Landscape

Greetings from the Canarian island of Tenerife! As part of my graduate programme, my class has migrated down to this Spanish Atlantic volcanic isle off the coast of North Africa to learn about conservation and management in this island context. Since that has been tiring to say the least, I'm keeping this short and sweet. One of the topics we've discussed while busing around from park to park is the change in landscape character over the past sixty years. During that time, the main industry has shifted from agriculture employing 73% of the population (now only 3%) to cheap European tourist packages dominating.

Among many other consequences of this transition, has been the abandonment an development of agricultural land. Taking a look at a traditional cross-section of the island, you would see costal fishing, inland terraced agriculture on the rich volcanic soils, and then goat herding in the steep upland hillsides. Today, the goats remain to some extent, but most traditional agriculture is gone, while some banana and other export crops remain.

While this rapid erosion of traditional systems and landscape character seems rather depressing, I was also intrigued to learn that many of the cultivars grown in what remains of small scale farms are local endemic varieties. Potato types may be found nowhere else in the world. Vineyards are popping up and defining distinct Canarian wines. With a little infusion of interest and a spark of demand, perhaps farming on this island full of a rich diversity of ecosystems will rejuvenate its long agricultural tradition. For now, I just have these mediocre photos!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Munchable Soapbox: We All Eat the Same...

It's nice to believe we are all unique, in some way, right? Well, we're not. Or rather, what people around the globe eat is not, and is becoming less so as agricultural production systems homogenize. According to new research by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), "it's official". Diets are converging around a select few foods, because agricultural production around the world is shifting to the same particular set of crops. 
The galaxy of diets converging. Is this how systems die?

While I don't find this particularly surprising, there is one element that piqued my interest. From the perspective of someone who studies biodiversity, this seems to be a case of comparing alpha (within system) and beta (between systems) diversity. Plain speak? Apparently, individual countries now have more pages in their menus. The dominance of one food staple is becoming less common. Cool, so I can live in the US and eat my mango, too! But, if we examine how the range of crops produced varies from country to country, it's evident that the composition of what we are consuming is trending toward similarity. And these follow the base of Standard Western Diets (or Standard American Diet - SAD - because it has a better acronym) and primarily consist of ingredients for processing (e.g. oils, wheat, rice, etc.). I mean, this makes sense; these are also the crops for which money has gone into varietal improvements, technology development, and industrialisation.

The paper does point out a couple of drawbacks with the loss of global diversity. For one, SAD is quite depressing, as it is linked with many diseases of afluency - namely obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Many of these ailments are receiving recognition as global concerns. On the more agronomic side of things, decreased overall diversity is worrisome for the potential future implications. Having agrobiodiversity and a suite of plant genetic resources from which to pull traits and adapt to shifts in condition is considered pretty central to adaptation discussions. And we are undermining our very ability to cope with very likely climatic and other biotic changes. Time Magazine, of course, pulls out the banana example as to why this homogenization is a problem, and the dangers from pests and diseases wiping out our ability to feed a planet-ful of people.

I will leave you on that note to chew on for a bit. Really interesting study. Will the results be compelling enough to spur change? I'm sold!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Frugal Foodie on a British Pound: Living Below Eating Cabbage

Dear Readers,

My how time flies. It seems like just yesterday I was writing a very similar blog post, setting up my second year participating in the Live Below the Line challenge. But a year has passed, and it is time again to stand in solidarity with those fighting for equity in our food system and those who suffer due to the lack thereof. For those of you who are new, what is this "challenge" of which I speak? Basically, the idea is that from April 28th to May 2nd, participants commit to subsisting on £1.00 per day (note, the change in will be interesting to see how my approach for the week changes overseas). 

While a more difficult undertaking than it may seem at first, this really only serves as a taste of what many people around the world experience day in and day out. As I've mentioned in previous years, it is difficult to re-create such a context. If ever hungry, there are countless ways I can obtain food; and if ever I were in any dire straights, there are a number of safety nets to ensure the chances of me plunging into utter poverty are pretty darn low. On top of the privilege of a good education and many of the freedoms that affords, I (or any one in a similar position) could comfortably go through life without contemplating a broader global context. Living below the line, while not an accurate representation of living in poverty, does provide considerable opportunity to engage with this broader context more explicitly - think about the person halfway across the world making a pittance to manufacture the goods we buy at ten times the cost; the farmer whose livelihood depend on the 23p he may get per kg of coffee bean (when we pay £2 for a short black!); or a family kicked off their land with no path of recourse. 

Anywho, I will be posting on relevant topics regularly leading up to the week, and updates during. Keep visiting! Comments are welcome. You can also follow @YumMusings on twitter! Please consider supporting the cause and helping me raise awareness and funds. Any sum donated will go to the Rainforest Foundation, an organization with the mandate to protect the rights to land and resources of indigenous people in Latin American tropical forests. The foundation works to improve both the communities' livelihoods, as well as the health of the ecosystems. Woohoo.

Oh Right, A Cabbage Recipe!
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 small carrot, finely julienned
1 medium pear, cubed
1/3 savoy cabbage, shredded
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1-2 tbs sesame seeds
Salt to taste
Oiled skillet  (grapeseed or mild sesame)

1. Heat oil over medium-high, adding in onion to sautee. Cook until starting to turn translucent, then add carrots and cover pan. Keep covered for another 3-4 minutes, then give a stir and throw in the sesame seeds and pears. Re-cover and cook another five minutes.
2. Lower to medium heat. Add in shredded cabbage and ginger; give it a stir and cover. Continue to stir every couple of minutes until the pear is really soft, the cabbage is tender, and the onions are hardly perceptable. Salt to taste and remove from the heat. Serve as a side or with a protein (I had mung beans...)

For more, check out all related Munchable Musings from past Live Belows! And you don't have to trust my words ... just listen to Hugh Jackman (sold)!