Friday, December 7, 2007

The Price of Tortillas

Yesterday the house voted to increase goals for fuel efficiency. This is the bill that many are hoping will help reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Last week I learned a little bit about ethanol. I noted then that corn is a very difficult crop to grow in terms of land and water resources. But there is another issue: Corn is a food staple for much of the world; if prices sky rocket, the foundation of many diets, largely in rural and less developed areas of the world could suffer enormously. According to a report from the International Monetary Fund corn prices have roughly doubled over the past two years. Corn is the third most important food crop in the world after wheat and rice.

In June, China banned the use of corn for ethanol production for exactly that reason.

The Washington Post reported in March:
In recent months, soaring corn prices, sparked by demand from ethanol plants, have doubled the price of tortillas, a staple food. Tens of thousands of Mexico City's poor recently protested this "ethanol tax" in the streets.

There's a cool little article on "How Stuff Works" that does the math to show you'd need to plant a half an acre of corn to drive your car from Los Angeles to New York. It's just kind of clever and funny, but it's also like that experiment of how many Oreos would I have to stack to get to the moon. It offers a visual for an otherwise intangible number.

I also learned that corn always has an even number of rows. Nature is so amazing. The way it harmonizes and creates and breathes.

This descending god is associated with the corn worship:

Descending god from Dzibanché, Quintana Roo

It's almost, learning all of this stuff, like it doesn't quite feel like "learning" so much as hearing, because none of it feels new -- just piecing together a huge puzzle. It's a cliche, of course, but apt. You can't look at a half of a nose or the side of a tree and have any concept of what it all looks like put together. The problem with the puzzle as metaphor is that it implies control, predictability, some sort of end.

This morning, off the coast of Korea, an oil tanker spilled 66,000 barrels of crude oil.

1 comment:

elisa.mart said...

Jen - dunno if you've followed the Mexico thread yet, but I heard from a Mexican economist, while I was in Peru, that one of the nastier things about the lopsided NAFTA bargain is that Mexicans - for whom corn is heritage, as you've portrayed - are having to abandon their cornfields (agreed import quotas)... result? you guess... peasants flock to cities, unemployment, misery... that border crossing and a life of picking some other crop, North of the border. Meanwhile, non-tariff barriers (those Americans are sly, she said) keep 20-cent Mexican avocados rotting at the border (there's a pest, haven't you heard? or the lettering on your box is non-regulation) while those illegal immigrants shake their heads, picking $2 florida avocados.