Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Category: A Food Education Alphabet

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B for Bee Trouble

This article is part of ‘A Food Education Alphabet’: an ongoing A to Z look at food and words to help spread the word about food issues like sustainability and healthy eating.

Bees are in trouble. And bee trouble means food trouble.

What kind of trouble?

Bee populations have been rapidly dropping throughout the world. In the United States, for example, there has been a fall in the number of managed colonies from an estimated 5 million in the 1940s to around 2.5 million today.

honey-bee-643878_1920Checking on a beehive. Image from Pixabay.

How are bees connected to gastronomy?

Whether you’re enjoying breakfast at home, snacking on street food, or sitting down to a fancy meal in the evening, there’s a high chance that bees played some part in getting you your grub.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 71 out of 100 of the world’s major food crops rely on bee pollination. Around one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees, with honey bees being one of the most important pollen-spreading species. Examples of dependent crops include apple, cucumber, almond, pumpkin, buckwheat, and cashew, as well as alfalfa, which is fed to livestock.

Love Braeburns, cashew butter, or steak? Thank the bees!

Honeybee Apple BlossomA honey bee on an apple blossom. Uploaded by Flickr user Orangeaurochs.

Why have bee populations been falling?

The invasion of pests in the 1980s was partly responsible for this, such as the spread of mites like the aptly-named Varroa destructor. Feeding on ‘haemolymph’ – the bee equivalent of blood – and passing on viruses which cause wing deformities, these dot-sized organisms can bring down entire colonies.

From 2006 onwards, beekeepers in Europe and America began reporting widespread cases of ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD), where adult bees would abandon the queen and her developing young. There are a number of suggested causes: pesky varroa mites and other parasites are one; global warming and loss of habitats are another.

Pesticides are especially harmful to bees, with neonicotinoids being particularly deadly – these attack the nervous systems of the insects.

1024px-Varroa_destructor_on_honeybee_hostA micrograph of Varroa destructor on a honey bee. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

How can bees be helped?

There are ongoing calls to minimize the use of pesticides, or to ban them completely. The use of three neonicotinoids has been restricted by the European Union since 2013, though this was opposed by the United Kingdom.

‘Integrated Pest Management’ (IPM) is an alternative, which calls for non-toxic methods like using other organisms to eat the mites, or employing ‘drone combs’.

Playing a role in maintaining natural habitats is essential. Planting bee-friendly plants is an excellent place to start – think sunflowers, poppies, mint, honeysuckle, and many more!

sunflower-943961_1280Sunflowers are one example of bee-friendly plants. Image from Pixabay.

As the National Geographic showed earlier this year, genetics could provide an answer, either with scientists creating a better-adapted bee, or with a better-adapted bee developing naturally over time.

Aquaponics

A for Aquaponics

This is the first piece in ‘A Food Education Alphabet’: an A to Z look at food and words to help spread the word about food issues like sustainability and healthy eating.

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics combines ‘aquaculture’ (breeding aquatic creatures, mostly fish) with ‘hydroponics’ (growing plants without soil using a nutrient-rich solution).

Brought up in tanks, fish produce waste. The water containing this is fed past plants, which are grown in floating containers or gravel beds. They take up organic fertilizer compounds from the waste through their roots, cleaning the water in the process. This is then returned to the fish tanks.

Ammonia contained in the waste is converted to nitrates by worms and nitrifying microorganisms. Larger pieces can be removed using filters.

Aquaponics DiagramA simplified diagram of how aquaponics works. Feel free to use – please credit Feast and Phrase and provide a link to this piece. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user IMCBerea College and shows Finnley Hayes at work in the Aquaponics Facility.

What are the benefits of aquaponics?

Two products are gained from one efficient, self-cleaning system, with much higher yields.

Aquaponics calls for significantly less land – about a tenth of what would be needed for conventional agriculture. Aquaponics can therefore be easily adapted for urban locations.

Because aquaponics works in a cycle, it only requires around 5 to 10 percent of the water that would be used in soil-based farming. This makes it ideal for growing produce in areas with limited water, like deserts.

Aquaponics 3A triple-tiered aquaponics system with fish, watercress, and running water. From Flickr user Justin Leonard.

In hydroponics and aquaculture, water must be regularly replaced to avoid the respective build-up of fertilizers and fish waste. This is not the case with aquaponics: in addition to the water taken up by plants, small amounts are lost in transpiration.

Hydroponics uses artificial fertilizers, which can be costly. Those used in aquaponics are organic and produced in the same location.

The lack of soil means no weeds or soil-based insects. As the water is naturally filtered, fish are also provided with a healthier environment and are less prone to disease, reducing the need for antibiotics.

Aquaponics 2This photo nicely illustrates the different levels involved in aquaponics. From Flickr user charlie vinz.

What are the disadvantages of aquaponics?

People may be put off by the cost of setting up the system or by the thought of having to take care of the fish, though these are not difficult to arrange!

There will be electricity costs for the water pumps, and those living in colder areas will need to provide a greenhouse to ensure more stable growing climates – again, not particularly pressing issues.

Is aquaponics ethical?

This may be argued both ways. Those who avoid eating fish may well object to rearing them for food and using them to grow plants. Others may say that providing the fish with a clean, filtered system is perfectly ethical.

Aquaponics 1Another photo of an aquaponics system from Flickr user Justin Leonard.

How long has aquaponics been around?

While the discipline as we know it today began developing in the 1970s, early precursors to aquaponics include the chinampas or cultivation islands of the Aztecs, and Southeast Asian paddy fields.

What kind of aquatic life can you breed?

Varieties of fish which are bred in aquaponics include trout, tilapia, perch, and koi, to name a few. Shrimp and prawns can also be used, as can crayfish.

 

A Food Education Alphabet 1

A Food Education Alphabet

Feast and Phrase has only been around for a few months and is still a baby in the blogging world. That said, writing and tweeting during this early time has made me quickly realise the urgent need for widening awareness about food-related issues like sustainability and healthy eating – both worldwide awareness, and my own!

From the work of organisations like Food Tank to Jamie Oliver’s call for ‘Food Revolution’, there is much going on to spread the word, and I’d like to be a part of it. Having already started to look at food, words, and society in my ‘Gastronomy and Society’ articles, I think it’s time to go further.

Today marks the start of what will be an ongoing series: ‘A Food Education Alphabet’. ‘The term ‘food education’ usually has people thinking of building food skills for children and young people – getting them cooking at home and improving their knowledge about nutrition. The alphabet will touch on this and more: heading from A to Z, each piece will focus on a word or phrase linked to the likes of food production and consumption, distribution and policy, diet and health.

Some subjects may be well-known, others less so – whatever I share with everyone, I’ll be sure to learn plenty along the way myself. Ultimately, it’s an alphabetical look at food and words to help spread the word about food issues.

Varun

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