The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2018 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 27 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2018, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.
When I pick up a bottle of milk from the grocery store, I understand the process that allowed it to get in my hands. The milk came from a cow, probably a Holstein, which is one of the most common breeds of dairy cattle. The milk was then stored in a milk vat and kept at a cool temperature and continuously stirred to keep its different parts from separating. It was then put on a transport truck and taken to a plant to be pasteurized separated into whole milk, 2% milk, and low fat milk. If it was becoming chocolate milk this is where that would happen. The milk would then be bottled and shipped to stores to be sold to the consumer.
I understand this process as it’s my area of study, Animal Science. My major encompasses studying how to get animal products to the consumer and making it safe for consumption. However, the average consumer does not know where their food comes from. All most people generally know is that milk comes from cows. However, “around 16.4 million adults believe that brown cows make brown milk and one in-eight people have never seen a cow before." This information is a key indicator on how detached we are becoming to the subject of where our food comes from and agriculture in general.
Being aware of where food starts and how it ends up on a plate is termed farm-to-fork. Generally, people don’t think about it because they assume the process is simple. However, production is more detailed than it seems. For example, a dairy cow produces milk, but to make milk, a cow has to eat. To eat, crops have to be planted and grown. For crops to grow, they need to be watered and fertilized. Fertilizer has to be made, and water acquired and so on and so on. It is a very detailed process with every animal having a nutrient requirement and every plant having a different growth requirement to reach the plate of the consumer. Some plants have to be pollinated by bees and some do better in the fall than in the spring. All of this is not something someone typically thinks about as they pick out their food walking through a grocery store. We often tend to pick the nicest looking meat or fresh fruit, without considering the immense amount of work that was put into that one product.
With the onset of urban farming, we are able to give adults, and the next generation, the opportunity to experience agriculture. This is crucial to inspiring consumers to be engaged in their food choices. Urban farming has the potential to give individuals the opportunity to explore rooftop gardens, backyard chickens, and aquaponics systems. In additions, it gives people the tools and knowledge to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in their backyards, see a chick hatch and hold it in their hands, watch a hen lay an egg, and see fish cultivated in repurposed warehouses. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested and aware of where their food comes from. They will no longer remain sitting on the sidelines, but instead will also be voting, deciding, and advocating for agricultural topics.
The work will only continue to get more urgent because by the year 2050, 9.7 billion people are estimated to be on this planet. The top producers of the world’s food are China, the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, France, Mexico, Japan, Germany, and Turkey. Despite their capacity to feed millions, one third of all food produced by humans gets lost or is wasted. Agriculturalist are constantly trying to find a way to make sure we are in a food secure world. However, as much as we try, 795 million people are already going hungry. Informed consumers have the potential to help with this problem as well as advocated for agriculture and food security. As consumers we expect to eat foods that look a certain way or we have eyes too big for our stomachs, both habits which lead to food being wasted. I myself am a perpetrator in this, but as a part of agriculture and an informed consumer, I will do my part work towards helping reducing food waste by reducing my own. I am working in agriculture to work towards a food secure future and to inform consumers why they should be agriculture advocates as well. Next time you walk into a grocery store, stop and think of the work put into that simple bottle of milk.