Monday, April 11, 2011

Food Versus Fuel

There seems to be a lot of hype right now about the use of biofuels in the automotive industry and the implications the growing biofuel industry has on the global food supply, specifically in developing countries where citizens already struggle to feed themselves. Corn has been the primary crop targeted for use as fuel in the form of ethanol. As the industry grows each year, a higher percentage of the world's corn, cassava, sugar and palm oil is being diverted from the food chain to use for biofuels. We seem to be in the midst of a cold war for biofuel technology, with developed countries passing more and more laws allowing the use of non-fossil fuels in order to keep their cars, businesses and industries running.

Essentially, biofuels are any fuel that is derived from a renewable biological mass, aka from plants, animals or microorganisms. These fuels can potentially take the place of petroleum. There is much debate about whether the use of biofuels is actually advantageous or not. On one hand, they provide an opportunity to reduce dependence on foreign oil and provide fuel that won't contribute to climate-warming emissions. On the other hand, since the majority of biofuels are distilled from crops like corn and sugar cane, the industry drives up food prices.

The increase in biofuel production in Europe and the US has been said to be responsible for the steep increase in global food prices in the last few years. Ambitious goals for biofuel use in combination with less than
stellar harvests of key crops may likely be contributing to increasing food prices, hunger and political instability. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, food prices rose 15% from October to January, a change that could mean an additional 44 million people in low and middle income countries dip under the poverty line. How do we justify using a significant portion of food crops to fuel our vehicles when there are millions of hungry people who could benefit from them?

Global food security is way to complex a problem to simply blame the rise in biofuel production for hunger. There are many factors that contribute to this issue such as failed crops, floods, droughts, unfavourable weather conditions, pest infestations and the cost of transportation of foodstuffs. Agricultural export policies must also be considered. But with countries such as the US, China, India, Indonesia and the European Union having all established biofuel targets in the last few years, there is no doubt that the increased demand of edible goods for uses other than actual consumption by people has a huge impact on the food system. What we don't know, however, is how much of an impact it's having.

There are valid arguments for both sides of the debate, and it's clear that a consensus will not be reached on the issue in the near future. I originally thought that we should feed our people before our cars, but I'm beginning to realize that the issue isn't about how much food is being grown, rather it's about how this food is distributed. The problem with issues like this is the more you read and research, the further you get from developing a definite opinion. Unfortunately, for the time being, all we can do is wait to see what happens. We don't know what impact the growing biofuel industry is going to have on world hunger or the environment and the prediction of these impacts vary significantly. For the time being, I'm definitely going to keep my eyes and ears open for new research on the matter. My hopes is that we don't realize that the industry has irreversible detrimental consequences after it's to late!

Question of the day: What has to happen before we give up on biofuels and decide that the industry is far to detrimental to global food supplies to continue? What's your stance on food versus fuel?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Caffeine Confessions

I'm not sure what exactly it is about caffeine that makes people spill their guts, but I'm convinced it significantly contributes to the overwhelming amount of personal disclosure that takes place in coffee shops. Maybe I am the only person who has experienced this, but it seems as though I happen to get caught in awkwardly personal conversations with completely random people on a fairly regular basis when I'm by myself at a coffee shop reading or studying or blogging. Regardless of how committed I am to whatever I am working on, people just start talking to me. I'm not the only one, I have had the luxury of watching this same phenomenon happen to others while I shrug deeper into my book and avoid being seen and getting sucked into the conversation as well.

Today while studying for my Quantity Food
Production exam that was this evening, the women beside me noticed my text books and struck up a conversation. She asked what I was studying, and when I responded with Foods and Nutrition she began to tell me all about her Crohn's Disease and the subsequent development of primary sclerosing cholangitis. I should probably start getting used to this. It's what I absolutely love about dietetics, it applies to everyone! But it also means that everyone wants to ask me questions and expect me to have all the answers.

Somehow our discussion lead to her diagnosis of a rare complication of Crohn's that causes terminal liver disease and her diagnosis; she was given between 6 months and 2 years to live about 5 years ago. She told me her whole life story. Her divorce, her strained relationship with her son, being ignored by doctors because her condition is so rare that no one believed her symptoms, that she hopes one day her grandkids will wonder who has been sending them cards in the mail for every holiday since she hasn't met them, how lonely she is because she sabotages every relationship she develops and has lost all her friends because she could die any day and how frustrating it is to have supposed to die a few years ago but is still free from further degeneration of her liver. These are not things you normally disclose to a complete stranger in a busy coffee shop. I realize she was a bit of an exception because she really opened up and spilled her guts, but she is not the first, and likely won't be the last person to sit down beside a complete stranger with a newspaper and latte, and get up to leave after a one hour conversation about anything and everything without having even skimmed more than the front page headlines.

In other news, we got confirmation that our funding proposal for Kenya got approved today! The proposal was for funding for the next four years! Tuck and I will be going back this year for 3 weeks to help out the two new students who are coming with us, but there will also be new students going every year for the next four years. It's so exciting that our projects will continue and that UPEI Foods and Nutrition students will be able to continue to impact the communities I have grown to love. As of right now the tentative departure date is May 9th, which means in the next month (to the day) I will be moving from PEI to Toronto, graduating AND leaving for Kenya! It's going to be a whirlwind of a month but I could not be more excited!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I'm a Twit

I mentioned a few posts ago that I recently joined the twitterverse and am now a twit that tweets quite frequently. I had to admit, I never really had any interest or intentions of joining twitter, and I still am not positive what exactly lead me to join. I've narrowed it down to a) Procrastination b) Curiosity or c) Because a blog told me so. I'm thinking that perhaps it was a combination of all three? Who knows, but either way I am actually surprised at how much I am LOVING twitter!

I don't have very many people I know on twitter and not very many people follow me yet so I am much more open to tweeting random things without feeling judged. I think I have this sense that no one is actually paying attention to my tweets. It's almost as if I'm standing in a super crowded, noisy room yelling my thoughts at the top of my lungs but no one can hear me...almost like in It's a Wonderful Life when George realizes that he's not technically alive anymore so no one can hear or see him. It's annoying when people change their Facebook status every 5 minutes, but it's perfectly acceptable to tweet that often.

There are so many cool people and organizations and companies who use twitter and post links to articles and blogs and pictures and research papers. I am being exposed to soo many cool papers and things to read and am learning so many super cool and interesting things through twitter. I love that I can pick and choose who I follow and follow people or organizations that relate directly to my own interests. Most of the people/organizations I follow are food or environment related, specifically related to food politics, sustainable agriculture, health, fitness and of course some random celebrities (gotta know what my boy Justin Bieber is up to!)

I read a lot of blogs. Again I'm not sure why, but it's just what I do. I can follow my favorite bloggers and they tweet when they post a new blog post so that I don't have to keep a list of links to all the blogs in my stickies. I realize there is probably a much more efficient way to keep track of my blogs than as a list of links on an electronic sticky note but that's just how I roll, and being updated via twitter instead is a way better system.

I have already read a ton of interesting things that I would love to blog about. As soon as exams are over I'll actually have time to comment on the super awesome things I'm learning! So stay tuned for some interesting topics in the near future!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Beer, Boxes and Bows

Classes for the year are over! I officially will no longer be an undergrad in class ever again! I just have 5 more exams to get through and then I will be a University Graduate! It's actually insane!

I can't believe that it has been four years since I first came to UPEI. I got to UPEI half way through frosh week after everyone else had moved in because I was at a pre-world championships dragon boat training camp outside of Kingston. My grandparents and their friends met me at the airport with all my stuff loaded into a van and moved me into residence. I had never actually seen the campus before I moved there so I'm sure I was wide eyed and nervous pulling up to residence. I do not recommend moving across the country without ever having even seen the campus before, but luckily for me, it worked out. The guy working at the front desk who took my picture for my student ID card eventually ended up being my roommate in second year, and I remember meeting my neighbour in the elevator, who I am still really great friends with despite the fact that he now lives on the opposite side of the country (I found out today I get to see him at Convocation in May and am beyond super stoked!!) I don't really remember when I met all my friends here, or when I started hanging out with the people who are now my inner circle, but at some point between the group assignments, the parties, and the stress of it all, we became tight.

We celebrated Friday night by having a little get-together at our place.
Most of the nutrition girls came out (4th years aka graduating girls pictured above, but more 3rd year nutrition peeps also come out, and in the year below us there are actually guys!), along with the swim team, work friends and friends of friends of each of the three of us who live in the house. It was a great way to end the semester of classes and blow of some steam before settling into the books for the next two weeks of studying. Tuck surprised me by bringing her very last bottle of Tusker with her for us to share! Tusker is a Kenyan brewed beer that we drank while we were there.

Saturday we went to Jess's Mom's house for another fabulous dinner! And this time the fun was supercharged because it also included crafts! Jess hates crafts, but I happen to LOVE them!
We had lasagna, spinach salad, homemade bread (it was even still warm!), guacamole with tortilla chips and apple cake for dessert. A little bit of a random meal but that's exactly why potlucks are best! After dinner Jess's mom taught us how to make boxes out of card stock and bows out of ribbon. It took about an hour of measuring, gluing, cutting and double-sided taping to produce our lovely boxes and bows. It made me feel like I was in elementary school again which was the most perfect post-big meal, pre-exam stress way to spend the night. The fabulous company I was in didn't hurt either. (Can you tell by the picture how genuinely Jess LOVES crafts? That smile says it all..)

In other exciting news, I FINALLY got news about internship placements today! I have been super stressed out about the fact that I didn't have a single placement set up for this summer and because I don't even know if we have funding to go back to Kenya yet! (We'll know in the next week..fingers are crossed) So before today I was moving home without actually knowing how long I would be there, where or what I'd be doing all summer or if I should be planning on travelling across the world again. I found out today that I have ALL my placements about 95% confirmed! I'll be doing my 10 weeks of foodservice placements at a long term care facility right downtown Toronto, where I will also be doing about 4 weeks of my clinical rotations at the same establishment. The remaining 6 weeks of my clinical rotation will be at a hospital in Richmond Hill. Richmond Hill will be a bit of a commute but it's only 6 weeks, and I can still live at home until I find a real job and am forced to be an actual grown up. I should be all finished internship mid-November, just in time to graduate from the internship program with my awesome fellow 4th year interns! Now that all this is figured out I am finally actually excited for Summer! My first of 5 exams in 7 days is tomorrow, so my blog may be a little but on the quiet side for the next few days...unless of course I use it as a means to procrastinate...which is very possible.

In yoga today we did 15 minutes of meditation at the end and were told to focus on one of two places...our hearts if we were emotional or our brains if we were more academically minded (there are actual yoga terms for these which are not heart and brain...they might be two different shakra's but I don't remember) and I focused on my brain in hopes that it might make me smarter for exams. Somehow I think trying to manipulate yoga to make me do better in school defeats the purpose and might actually have plagued me with bad selfish karma but meditating for marks sounded like a better option than actually studying at that point in my day! Anyways, wish me luck!