Can Organics Feed the World?
Can Organics Feed the World?

Can Organics Feed the World?

3 min read
Written by Steffanie Scott

How will we eat well in our resilient communities… in a period of declining oil and climate change?

Ralph Martin

The above question is Ralph Martin’s twist on the more conventional question “Can we feed the world?” At this Roundtable-sponsored September 11 talk at the Kitchener Public Library, University of Guelph’s Chair in Sustainable Food Production Dr. Ralph Martin underscored the need to think about sustaining food production. But not sustaining in the way that our agriculture system currently produces food. Of the 7 billion people on our planet, one billion eat too little and 1.6 billion eat too much. And 40% of food is wasted — much of this within the household and in restaurants and cafeterias.

One provocative statistic Dr Martin presented was that in Canada we need 79 billion calories per day (based on 2300 calories per person x 34.3 million people), but if we over-eat by 20%, that makes 94 billion calories consumed, and if we waste 40% of the food produced (across the food supply chain), that means we ‘need’ to produce 158 billion calories — fully double the 79 billion basic caloric requirement to feed our population!

Thus, rather than simply arguing that we need to perpetuate current dysfunctional practices of our global agricultural and food system, Dr Martin advocates for a different approach. Boosting education for women is proven to decrease population growth. And reducing food waste, eating less meat, eating higher quality of meat (e.g., organic), and eating more beans & lentils, can all mean that we spend the same amount of money per week in our food budget, but we eat better, and have a lighter ecological footprint.

The average household in Canada spends $140/week on food, but if at least 15–20% is wasted, that constitutes $28/week. Dr Martin proposes that we spend this $28/week more effectively on higher quality food, and our health will improve as a result. Currently two-thirds of health care costs are eaten up by chronic disease-related treatments, many of which are linked to poor diets.

Dr Martin reminded us that building more resilient communities requires building and protecting rich top soil, maintaining profitable food businesses, honouring farmers for the work they do, and considering the results of our actions (‘what would an earthworm say?’).

Ralph Martin’s presentation was followed by Jodi Koberinski, Executive Director of The Organic Council of Ontario. Jodi asserted that earthworms will thank us for choosing to eat organic food, and we will create more demand for Canadian farmers to grow organic food. Currently only 0.5% of Ontario farmland is organic. About 85% of organic food purchased in Canada is imported, while 55% of organic acreage in Canada is in hay.

The Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) and its members play a critical role in supporting and encouraging organic agriculture in this province. This is the only such organization working to influence agriculture policy at the provincial level — where regulatory and policy decisions on agriculture are made. OCO is calling on the general public to become “co-farmers” and join in their mission.

For those who missed the talks by these highly qualified and inspiring speakers, Dr Martin’s PPT slides are posted here and a 13-minute audiofile of a related talk on “Metrics of Sustainable Food Systems” that he delivered recently in Guelph is available here: