Monday, October 19, 2009

Food for locals or cash crop for global market

Cotton was in high demand throughout Europe and most settlers wanted to raise cotton for big profits. But Mexico demanded that the settlers produce corn, grain and beef, dictating which crops each settler would plant and harvest.

[ Santa Anna ] also imprisoned some cotton plantation owners who refused to raise their assigned crops, which were intended to be redistributed within Mexico instead of being exported. These actions triggered outrage throughout Mexico.

-Texas Revolution.Background [wikipedia]

Records show Irish lands exported food even during the worst years of the Famine. When Ireland had experienced a famine in 1782–83, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. Local food prices promptly dropped. Merchants lobbied against the export ban, but government in the 1780s overrode their protests. No such export ban happened in the 1840s.

-Great Irish Famine.Food exports to England [wikipedia]

I've posted these historical records to highlight how there is nothing new in the friction of "local food supply economy" versus "lassiez-faire capitalism cash crop economy". I've left out any research on Southeastern US cash crop economics, but can speak from life experience: the traditional southern diet is so unhealthily slanted towards starches and meats cooked in grease, and simple sugary dishes because while the region was almost totally agrarian before the end of WW II, not all agrarian societies are the same. In New England the yeoman farmer could direct some or all of his production towards foodstuffs good for his family. In the south, we know the cliche, "Cotton is King". Ever try to eat cotton?

Leaping to the present and projections for an economic depression or collapse, its good to keep in mind these frictions of local food supply versus the landowner's choice to utilize the land for a distant market. Just because the USA experiences an economic collapse, other places may stay wealthy. e. g. What if a land owner near Seattle chooses to grow X crop for wealthy people in Beijing? With the threat of post peak oil, the potential for an "Ethanol is King" scenario of fuel for wealthy foreigner's cars is entirely plausible.

Things will get interesting.

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