Can algae resolve poverty and hunger in America?
by Dr. Mark Edwards
n America, the richest nation on the planet, one in five children live in food insecure households. Over 17 million households, nearly one in seven, are food insecure. Food insecure household are up 30% since 2007, the highest number ever recorded in the U.S. Over 80 million Americans receive food support from the government or NGOs because they are hungry and cannot afford food.
Unfortunately, these sad statistics will go higher in due to the widespread agricultural losses from a summer of severe drought and heat. Over half the counties in the U.S. in 2012 were declared disaster areas by President Barack Obama due to soaring temperatures that destroyed crops.
Many of the rural poor depend on their small farms for food and income to buy food. When weather ruins their crops, they have nothing to eat and nothing to sell.
The economic and social cost of hunger in America is so tragic, why is hunger not front-page news?
The cost of hunger
In Ending Hunger Now, former Senator, Presidential candidate and United Nations ambassador on hunger, George McGovern said that the cost of hunger is unacceptable.
Today’s malnourished pregnant and nursing mothers are producing tomorrow’s barriers to personal, social and economic development – malnourished, brain dulled, listless children. Those fortunate enough to survive will go through an uncertain life, permanently diminished and unable to be productive, happy human beings.
Senator McGovern is absolutely right about the unacceptable cost of poverty. America’s hunger bill costs our nation over $168 billion a year from the combination of lost economic productivity, drag on public education, avoidable health care and the cost of charity to keep families fed.
Added to this $168 billion are the $94 billion a year in the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs and the other key federal food assistance programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (new name for food stamps), $78 million.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, $7 million.
- National School Lunch Program, $14 million.
Even if spending over $250 billion a year to support America’s poor and hungry made economic sense, it undermines family life and deprives many of our children the opportunity to participate in the American Dream. Many of our 20% food insecure children will not advance in school, will create huge healthcare costs and will not be strong enough for military service.
Ending childhood hunger should be America’s number one strategic priority. Unlike climate change, there is no ambiguity that childhood hunger is human caused and is increasing with catastrophic consequences.
Health consequences of hunger
Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times:
The most heartbreaking thing about starving children is their equanimity. They don’t cry. They don’t smile. They don’t move. They don’t show a flicker of fear, pain or interest. Tiny, wizened zombies, they shut down all nonessential operations to employ every last calorie to stay alive.
Many children suffer from hidden hunger because they do not get sufficient micronutrients — iron, zinc, vitamin A, iodine. Micronutrients give produce their color, taste, texture and aroma. Micronutrient deficiencies zap the color and vitality from children’s lives.
A study released by the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) shows hungry children compared with children with enough food, suffer from two to four times as many health problems. Maladies included unwanted weight loss, fatigue, headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate and frequent colds. The relationship between hunger and health problems was unaffected by income. Hunger has a strong effect on children’s health no matter what the income level of their families.
According to the FRAC report, hungry children are more likely to be ill and absent from school. Imagine the drag on education when classmates are hungry, obese, irritable and unable to focus on assignments. Constant fatigue ruins family life and diminishes the child’s ability to learn.
Inadequate nutrition causes stunting in children. The Surgeon General’s 1990 goal of eliminating growth retardation of infants and children caused by inadequate diets was not met because significant numbers of low-income children continued to suffer retarded growth. Slow growth also affects the vital organs including the brain, eyes, heart and circulatory system.
Iron-deficiency anemia occurs from insufficient iron. The body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. As a result, iron deficiency anemia leaves a person tired and short of breath. Iron-deficiency anemia leads to developmental and behavioral disturbances that diminish children’s ability to learn to read or do mathematics. Anemia remains a significant health problem among low-income children and women. The Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2012, about 14% of infants 1 to 2 years old suffer from anemia. Over 9% of women 12 to 49 suffer from anemia, which leads to more illness and additional and longer hospital stays.
Vitamin A deficiency leads to abnormal bone development, disorders of the reproductive system and dry eyes. Lack of Vitamin A causes loss of color vision, then night vision and finally blindness. Blindness is typically followed by death. People get Vitamin A from leafy vegetables, fruits and carrots. Carotenes are provitamins because they can be converted to active vitamin A. Carotenes possess antioxidant properties, which protect against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals damage cells, and may play a role in major organ diseases including heart, cancer cardiovascular, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
According to the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, inadequate child nutrition imposes detrimental effects on the cognitive development of children and results in lost knowledge, brainpower and productivity for the nation.
Hunger and malnutrition exacerbate chronic and acute diseases and speed the onset of degenerative diseases among the elderly. This not only leads to an unnecessary decrease in the quality of life for many older people, but also increases the cost of health care. National data for people over 65 show that a majority are not consuming even two-thirds of the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Obstacles to good nutrition
Why are children and the elderly not getting good nutrition? The root causes are access, hidden hunger, (nutrient deficiencies) and food prices. Many people live in food deserts where good food is simply not available locally. Food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet. The USDA provides a handy food desert locator.
Many industrial foods suffer from hidden hunger, which results in foods with empty calories. Hidden hunger refers to crops that need more of one or more nutrients, yet shows no visible deficiency symptoms. The nutrient content is above the deficiency symptom zone needed for passable appearance but below the zone for optimal crop health.
Farmers are paid by yield, not nutritional availability or density. Consequently, many industrial foods are nutrient deficient because farmers hold back fertilizers to save money. For many farmers, fertilizers represent 40% of the cost of their crop. The result is empty calories, produce that delivers few nutrients per bite. Processing food with extra sugar and fat make food attractive to children but amplifies empty calories.
Hidden hunger in foods transfers hidden hunger to people. While produce with hidden hunger may not show visible effects, hidden hunger in people often results in both visible, (stunting) and behavioral problems (inability to concentrate) associated with nutrient deficiencies.
Food costs prohibit many from obtaining good nutrition. Food costs rise with the cost or fossil resources, especially fuel and fertilizers. Food prices increase when climate change causes diminished yields or crop failures. Transportation costs also escalate the cost of food because the average American foodstuff travels an estimated 1,500 miles before being consumed.
People need access to lower cost fresh local foods that are packed with nutrients. Peace microfarms can address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition. Peace microfarms use abundance methods that assure sustainable food production for many generations. Growers produce freedom foods that give consumers choice for healthier foods. The Green Algae Strategy to resolve hunger and malnutrition includes new solutions for each root cause.
A Green Algae Strategy to Resolve Hunger and Malnutrition
|Access||Industrial foods are produced far from consumers, which creates food deserts and eliminates the opportunity for buying fresh local produce, except when farmers’ markets are available.Peace microfarms enable microfarmers to grow superior foods within cities, towns and rural areas. Freedom foods are climate independent, which means growers can produce local to consumers, all year round.Microfarms allow impoverished families to grow much of their own food.|
|Hidden hunger, nutrient deficiencies||Growers produce freedom foods that give consumers choice for healthier foods that fight diseases. Freedom foods offer 200 to 500% higher nutralence – nutrient availability and density – than industrial foods. Carrots are the highest source of beta-carotene among terrestrial foods crops. Each gram of algae contains 10 times more beta-carotene than a gram of carrot.One tablespoon of algae a day stops hidden hunger and nutrient deficiencies such as iron, zinc, vitamin A and iodine in children and adults.|
|Food cost||Peace microfarms use abundance methods, which frees growers from the continually rising cost of fuels and agricultural chemicals. The recovery and recycling of nutrients from waste streams saves growers much of the fertilizer cost. Green energy saves costs from fuel and electricity. Abundance methods also save on pesticides and agricultural chemicals. Algae offer natural biodiversity, which saves growers from the rising cost of genetically engineered seeds.Local food production cuts the cost of processing, preserving, packaging, storage, transportation and handling, which can reduce the cost of food 50% or more.|
President John F. Kennedy said: We have the ability, we have the means, and we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth. We need only the will.
Algae provide the means to eliminate hunger. Our small team at AlgaeFuture.org has the will. Who will join us?