Farmers feeding a hungry world and caring for it too

Back in college, I was (and I continue to be) pretty fiscally conservative. But, at the same time, I have also always loved ample quantities of good food. These reasons combined make me a big fan of a good buffet. Of course, at a buffet, my personal goal is always to make “profit” — to consume an amount of food with a value that is in excess of the monetary cost of the buffet in question.

For example, I was part of a group of three or four guys back in college that would venture down High Street at OSU and stop at a $6 pizza buffet. At that same place, I could buy a pizza for $9.99. So, if I could eat an entire thin crust pizza at the $6 buffet, I would easily make ample profit. A buffet outing that focused on the higher dollar “everything” pizza would be even more profitable if sufficient quantities were consumed.

When I started dating Kristin, who is now my wife, I quickly discovered that taking her to a buffet (unless it was an anomaly like a $6 lobster buffet or something) was almost always a losing venture. She can never eat enough to make profit — kind of a buffet profit handicap.

I, however, used this opportunity to raise the stakes a bit in the buffet profit game by eating enough to cover most of the cost of both of our buffets. So at the same $6 pizza buffet for two ($12 total), this made eating an entire thin crust pizza almost a necessity for me to achieve “profit” when Kristin was with me. If I could eat $10 worth of pizza, she only had to eat more than $2 worth, which was possible if she ate the fancy pizza.

Unfortunately, though, my buffet profit glory days now seem to be behind me. I realized this while staring at a menu at one of my favorite German restaurants in Columbus and eyed the offerings trying to find something that would be better than the buffet. As of late, I find that I can still make profit at a buffet, but that I am left uncomfortably full for hours afterwards, which makes the experience less enjoyable and less personally profitable.

In this country, it is amazing that we can have so much food so often that we can make eating more than about just surviving. We can dine instead of eat. We can seek out “profit” at a buffet. How fortunate we are.

I was reminded of this recently while talking to Dave Shoup, with Shoup Brothers Farms, Ltd., the recipient of the 2013 Ohio Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award. Shoup and his family members have traveled around the world on mission trips through their church and have seen the challenges of hunger in many countries.

Of course, Shoup understands the value and importance of being a steward of the environment, but he feels that we also need to maintain that with a focus on the production of food as well.

“Stewardship to me means different things in different countries. If you are in a Third World country, food is the most important thing and you are going to get it no matter how you can. I think we sometimes limit what we can produce in this country and forget about the people in the world that are starving,” Shoup said. “If we could produce more, we would have more to export that is less expensive for these people to afford. I believe in environmental stewardship, but not at the expense of limiting food production. We have experienced so many people in need in this world and I don’t want my environmental stewardship to keep them from getting the food they need. If we can produce more food to get somebody around the world a meal, I think we should, even if there is a little risk to the environment.”

With ever-tightening environmental regulations, environmental groups crying foul around every corner and an unprecedented focus in the history of mankind on minimizing the impact to our surroundings, such a statement sounds almost radical. Gasp, how could someone propose something that could be detrimental to our environment? That sounds crazy, but it shouldn’t.

What is crazy is that anyone would consider doing/implementing/regulating anything that would limit the production of food while there are people who don’t have enough to eat. That is astonishing.

In his book “The Hole in the Gospel” author Richard Stearns writes this about the horrors of hunger:

“Can you imagine your children so hungry that you offer to give them to strangers — just so they will live? Unthinkable. Most of us have never been truly hungry…So it is very difficult to understand what hunger really means for the poor. Its cascading impact goes far beyond just the pangs and physical discomfort that accompany it. Hunger also affects the human spirit. Perhaps most destructive of all is the desperation felt by parents who know there will be no food today, and likely none tomorrow, to satisfy their hungry children. This horror gnaws at the heart, perhaps even more than it gnaws at the stomach, and it colors every other aspect of life. Each day becomes a struggle to survive. Everything must be pushed aside: productive work; education; family and community projects; even social interactions, celebrations and play — all tabled in favor of the quest for food.”

Such an existence is almost impossible to even comprehend for anyone who is reading this, but it is an unthinkable, and unfortunate, reality for far too many. And, as long as this reality exists, I am glad we have environmental stewards in agriculture who balance both caring for their resources in the best possible way but also maximizing the amount of food that they can produce to feed the hungry mouths of the world. Of course, simply having enough food is not enough to solve the complex problem of world hunger, but it is a pretty good place to start.

Thank you to all of this year’s environmental stewards.

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