Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
"Yes. It’s true. In the meantime, I’d also like to live. Except, nobody wants to let me live--they all want to remind me of how I’m going to die, or how I’m going to cause my children to die. I was packing my kid’s lunch the other day, and tossed in a Twinkie with a smile and stroke of endearment, when I happened to glance at my kid's class newsletter on the table. It informed me that if I feed my child Twinkies, I might as well be feeding him rocket fuel."
I can't agree with everything mentioned in this article, but the overall message something that I do think is worth discussing. Our society can be swayed by fear and a few statistics to wildly overreact to a situation (Ebola, Y2K, etc.). So many movies tap into the our societal fears that an over dependence on technology or chemical alterations will destroy humanity (like Terminator, the Matrix, the Net, etc.). The anti-GMO movement successfully taps into that cultural zeitgeist, and some like 'the Food Babe' stir up fear to the chagrin of many scientists.
"Food. It’s something we all think about, talk about, and need. Food has been one major topic of interest at National Geographic because it connects all of us to our environment. The recent global population projections for the year 2100 just went up from 9 billion to 11 billion, making the issues of food production and distribution all the more important. For the last 3 years I’ve stored podcasts, articles, videos, and other resources on my personal site on a wide range of geographic issues, including food resources. I thought that sharing 10 of my personal favorite resources on the geography of food would be helpful to understand our changing global food systems."
This 12 question quiz is a great way to introduce students to spatial patterns of agricultural products in the United States. Sometimes just knowing regional stereotypes can be helpful, but being able to make an educated guess about where an agricultural product is comes from requires a basic understanding of economic and climate patterns. This quiz is a good way to test that knowledge and introduce them to these spatial patterns.
There really are two different Americas: the heartland, and the coasts....
These maps together show that most of the grain from the American breadbasket does not directly on the table but into the feed trough. I imagined before I saw this data that the percentage of animal feed in the Midwest would be higher than the rest of the United States, but I would not have guessed that it was that high.
Scallops pulled out of the waters off the western coast of France are taken on an incredible journey that sees them shipped off to China to be cleaned, before being sent all the way back to France to be cooked up. Producers say its worth the cost.
This type of nonsense only makes sense in a world where the bottom dollar is the only way to way to evaluate decisions. However, resource conservation (think of the food miles!), fair labor prices, and the preservation of local cultural economies are certainly issues that should be considered.
"In this Feed the Future video, narrator Matt Damon discusses the importance of increasing food production around the world and notes the importance of equipping women with the right tools, training, and technology to see as much as a 30 percent increase in food production. To feed our growing population we need to increase food production by 70 percent before 2050. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in many areas of the world."
A colleague mine thought that the ideas in this video were so obvious and non-controversial, he said, "Why does this even need to be stated? Why would we exclude women from agriculture?" The simple answer is that it wouldn't need to be stated if women around the world did have equal access to resources. For many of the world's poor, this is where the rubber meets the road.
"Mr. Tom is as much a chief technology officer as he is a farmer. Where his great-great-grandfather hitched a mule, 'we’ve got sensors on the combine, GPS data from satellites, cellular modems on self-driving tractors, apps for irrigation on iPhones,' he said.
The demise of the small family farm has been a long time coming. But for farmers like Mr. Tom, technology offers a lifeline, a way to navigate the boom-and-bust cycles of making a living from the land. It is also helping them grow to compete with giant agribusinesses."
Corn, watermelon, and peaches were unrecognizable 8,000 years ago.
I think the term 'artificial' in the image might be misleading and it depends on your definition of the word. Humans have been selectively breed plants and animals for as long as we've been able to domestic them; that is a 'natural' part of our cultural ecology and has lead to great varieties of crops that are much more suitable for human consumption than what was naturally available. Long before climate change, humans have been actively shaping their environment and the ecological inputs in the systems with the technology that their disposal. This is a good resource to teach about the 1st agricultural revolution.
"The Sahel’s ability to produce food is not keeping pace with its growing population, and global warming will only exacerbate the imbalance, according to a new study. Among the 22 countries making up the arid region in northern Africa, the population grew to 471 million in 2010 from 367 million in 2000, a jump of nearly 30%. As the population grew rapidly, the production of crops remained essentially unchanged. Using satellite images to calculate annual crop production in the conflict-ridden Sahel belt, south of the Sahara desert, the researchers then compared output with population growth and food and fuel consumption."
Corn is not what you think. For starters: Most of the time, it's not human food.
Land use practices that determine what is grown in a particular place are partly determined by the health needs of a local population, but they are more directly shaped by economic markets. Over 75% of the corn produced in the United States is destined for animal feed or fuel; since global population projections are now supposed to be 11 billion by 2100, these are some important issues for us to consider before we are forced to reassess our societal choices.
Many advocates of local foods favor a small-scale approach to farming and are opposed to large-scale agribusiness. It might be easy for those disconnected from the food production system (like me) to romanticize and mythologize the farmers of yesteryear and yearn to return to this past. This talk highlights how essential large-scale farming is absolutely critical to feeding the global population; this other TED talk discusses many of the hunger problems especially the uneven access to food. Here are some other pro-agribusiness resources.
"By 2050, the world's population will likely increase 35 percent. But is growing more food the only option—or even the best? National Geographic investigates the challenges and solutions to feeding everyone on our planet, based on an eight-month series in National Geographic magazine. Visit http://natgeofood.com for ongoing coverage of food issues as we investigate the Future of Food today on World Food Day."
"Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. See other videos on this organization here."
There has been a revitalization in urban gardening as many city dwellers feel disconnected from their food systems; urban gardening is a way for people to actively control what they are ingesting into their systems many fear some of the modern agricultural methods. Based in Milwaukee, WI, Growing Power has created an interesting combination of vegetable gardening and aquaponics for the urban environment.
"United Nations, June 2008 - The bio-fuel, ethanol, is generating a revolution in renewable energy that could help reduce the world's thirst for oil. In Brazil, the production of ethanol from sugarcane is booming, but what is not clear is the impact it is having on the industry's sugarcane cutters." Transcript of video available here.
Although ethanol is working well for Brazil, there is a growing literature supporting the idea that wide-scale ethanol production is not sustainable or environmentally beneficial. This is a great example to demonstrate that economic and environmental policies are locally dependent on geographic factors and are not universally transferable. Click here for a simple explanation of the differences in the economic and environmental differences in the production of sugar and corn-based ethanol.
"For at least 70 years, the Red Delicious has dominated apple production in the United States. But since the turn of the 21st century, as the market has filled with competitors—the Gala, the Fuji, the Honeycrisp—its lead has been narrowing. Annual output has plunged."
The story of the Red Delicious is almost a perfect analogy for the food industry. It was genetically selected for its marketable skin, an aesthetically sumptuous red. The skin of the Red Delicious better covers bruises than other varieties and tastes more bitter. Consumers were buying what the industry promoted and “eating with their eyes and not their mouths.” But recently there has been a backlash in the United States and more American consumer are seeking out other varieties; meanwhile the apple producers are working on exporting this variety to around the world, but especially into Chinese markets.
In many countries, eggs aren't refrigerated and they're still considered safe to eat. But in the U.S., we have to chill them, because we've washed away the cuticle that protects them from bacteria.
For many Americans that are traveling abroad for the first time, realizing that eggs aren't in the refrigerator is a bit of a culture shock (not to mention the moment they find milk in a box that also isn't being refrigerated). Agricultural practices dictate storage requirements and some things we might have imagined were universal are actually place-specific or peculiar to our cultural setting. What we are taught to think of as gross, appropriate, attractive or even sanitary is often steeped in a cultural context. So is it strange the we refrigerate our eggs in the United States, or that they don't in other places?
"While people often say that borders aren’t visible from space, the line between Kazakhstan and China could not be more clear in this satellite image. Acquired by the Landsat 8 satellite on September 9, 2013, the image shows northwestern China around the city of Qoqek and far eastern Kazakhstan near Lake Balqash.
The border between the two countries is defined by land-use policies. In China, land use is intense. Only 11.62 percent of China’s land is arable. Pressed by a need to produce food for 1.3 billion people, China farms just about any land that can be sustained for agriculture. Fields are dark green in contrast to the surrounding arid landscape, a sign that the agriculture is irrigated. As of 2006, about 65 percent of China’s fresh water was used for agriculture, irrigating 629,000 square kilometers (243,000 square miles) of farmland, an area slightly smaller than the state of Texas.
The story is quite different in Kazakhstan. Here, large industrial-sized farms dominate, an artifact of Soviet-era agriculture. While agriculture is an important sector in the Kazakh economy, eastern Kazakhstan is a minor growing area. Only 0.03 percent of Kazakhstan’s land is devoted to permanent agriculture, with 20,660 square kilometers being irrigated. The land along the Chinese border is minimally used, though rectangular shapes show that farming does occur in the region. Much of the agriculture in this region is rain-fed, so the fields are tan much like the surrounding natural landscape."
Pharmaceutical companies would need to compensate indigenous people for using their knowhow in creating new medicines
I'd never hear the term biopiracy before this month, but this idea is this: companies from wealthy countries commercially develop the genetic resources of developing countries with local assistance but don't fairly compensate the local population. I never had the vocabulary to describe such a thing, but that is biopiracy in a nutshell and the EU is working to end that. It doesn't only impact the pharmaceutical companies but heavily impact the agricultural industries as well. Anyone in the developed world eating quinoa and kale 20 years ago? Being marketed as 'superfoods' has changed the global production systems but also impacted local indigenous food supplies (some are referring to this as food gentrification).
Maps and charts updated weekly show the latest extent of the drought in the United States.
I've shared numerous links here about the drought situation in California over the past few months, but the situation extends far beyond California as these animated maps and charts demonstrate. Some of the best public data on drought can be found at the National Drought Mitigation Center.
"One-third of the seafood Americans catch is sold abroad, but most of the seafood we eat here is imported and often of lower quality. Why? Author Paul Greenberg says it has to do with American tastes."
The United States exports the best-quality seafood that Americans catch, but import primarily low-grade aquacultural products. This is just one of the counter-intuitive issues withe U.S. fish consumption and production. This bizarre dynamic has cultural and economic explanations and this NPR podcast nicely explains these spatial patterns that are bound to frustrate those that advocate for locally sourced food productions.
Editor's note: This story is one in a series on a crisis in America's Breadbasket –the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer and its effects on a region that hel...
This isn't new, but it is a new development that the media is covering the issue that has been going on for decades. The Ogallala aquifer is the primary water source in an agricultural region from Texas to Nebraska in dry, but agriculturally productive states. The reason behind their agricultural success in the dry high plains is that more water is being extracted from the aquifer than is naturally being replenished. This is the obvious result of a human-environmental interaction where the individual actors are incentivized to deplete a communal resource.