QUALITY - CONSERVATION - WHAT FOR?
There is a strong controversy in industrialized countries about food conservation, and techniques it involves.
Yet it is a crucial factor, not of quality, but of maintaining the quality in its various aspects.
It is important to understand that conservation is an essential aspect, not for luxury food, but for nutritional balance, and also to significantly reduce food waste. Without these opportunities, we would be forced to feed all winter long with bread, chestnuts and lentils. A big part of these reserves would rot during wet winters, we would continue to have to endure periods of famine. Our ancestors have done that for centuries, it's true, but curiously, in the industrialized countries at least, life expectancy increased from a little over 40 years to around 80 years in the space of a century and a half.
The poorest countries, which have not yet been able to achieve this level of modernization, and don't have the same improvements, especially conservation equipment, continue to have a very short life expectancy, strong dietary imbalances, a huge infant mortality, frequent and deadly famines, and, lest we forget because it goes with, an important political instability, and many situations of war.
A balanced diet throughout the year plays an important role in this significant improvement of situation, in conjunction with vaccines, hygiene, medicine and comfort.
But I think it is good to remember a key point on food conservation and quality.
The modern human being, especially the city dweller, unaccustomed to contact with Nature (even "agriculturised"), has no question about whether it is natural to conserve foods. The answer is clear and sharp. Foods are mostly not "designed" to conserve when they arrive at their optimum point of consumption, because at this point they have completed their cycle, they arrived at the end of their usefulness to the plant, then Nature planned to destroy them, so that they enter into another phase of utility: its consumption by other members of the living community.
The plant no longer needs them for the dissemination of seeds, for fruits, nuts, grains, peas and beans, or to use the reserves accumulated for other purposes (carrot for flowering, potatoes for the new generation, etc.). In short, when the food gets to the point, it is designed by nature to degrade very quickly.
Life has changed. It is not "natural" to shop once a week or less, and require food purchased on Saturday are as beautiful and as good the following Friday, despite conditions of poor or bad conservation.
Formerly, fruits and vegetables were harvested or purchased on a daily or at least every two days. The animals were killed according to needs.
Conservation techniques started with salted or dried meats and cooking. In Nordic countries, they knew that food is better conserved in winter than in summer, thanks to the action of cold.
These simple, empirical criteria, acquired over the centuries have resulted, through the industrial revolution and the latest technologies, to fantastic progress in conservation opportunities.
A food is able to conserve only through plant breeding efforts and technologies applied to it. These two essential points are constantly changing.
But after the purchase by the consumer, the food usually has only a few days of survival potential. All passages from hot to cold it has to bear in the store and after, quickly undo all the efforts made previously to maintain the cold chain, from the harvesting to the store.
It's not by chance that one third of food waste, occurs at the household level. Don't forget that it amounts to the incredible amount of about 100 kg per person and per year in industrialized countries, with food which has been purchased, transported to the home, and discarded without being consumed. It's huge, and it is largely due to conservation problems, not always easy to solve.
Even if the subject is controversial, food conservation remains a crucial point for global food security, on which substantial research is still needed. It is urgent to develop technologies that increase the useful post-harvest life of food in order to optimize consumption and to minimize losses while maximizing their nutritional qualities in the conservation period.
Special efforts must be worn on the last stages, that of shelving, and that of domestic conservation, because they are the most critical points and most poorly mastered.
Earlier phases are generally mastered, but it remains to develop non-controversial methods to get there (finding alternative forms of conservation fungicides, for example), and to generalize its setting-up in poor countries.
Conservation is a crucial point for the future, insofar as it can significantly reduce food waste, thus reducing the environmental impact of agricultural production.
See what I said in my article No. 1, almost 3 years ago http://culturagriculture.blogspot.fr/2014/01/v-behaviorurldefaultvmlo_10.html
Considering that 33% of food produced in the world (45% regarding fruits and vegetables) are wasted, and lost before consumption, while "only" 12% of the world population suffers from malnutrition, the resolution of waste, in theory meets alone with two huge problems of humanity:
- Hunger in the world at the level it stood at the publication of the FAO report, ie 870 million people affected,
- The increase in world population during the next 20 to 30 years, ie we produce enough food to adequately feed 8.6 billion human beings, even if is maintained the same overconsumption in rich countries.
And conservation is most of the causes of waste, because of the lack of structures in the places of production, and because of a poor management of the cold chain.
Progress to be made should be targeted on the development of new conservation technologies and their implementation among farmers, particularly in the less favored regions, but also in shops of sale and in private homes throughout the world.
We accept it or not, conservation is now an essential element of the sustainability of food production, which must allow, if well controlled, an important reduction of the environmental impact of agriculture.
It should also enable a significant reduction in food distribution problems, and access to sufficient and balanced nutrition for poor people.
Food conservation is a huge issue that leaves no room for controversy.