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Ag, food tie into history lesson (commentary)

Ag, food tie into history lesson (commentary)

THE World War II museum in New Orleans, La., has been on my bucket list for some time.

I've always enjoyed WWII history, and with age, I increasingly appreciate the incredible sacrifice made by the "Greatest Generation." The freedom and prosperity we enjoy today are directly attributable to their commitment and steadfastness.

Recently, I visited the museum with my family. It was especially meaningful because my daughter was with me, and I think it's important to instill some sense of history in future generations, especially when it comes to a war of such great consequence.

We entered the museum just ahead of two veterans (one of whom piloted a Higgins Boat on D-Day, remarkably making four separate runs to the beaches!). I struck up a conversation with them after we received our tickets. They were especially troubled when the young man who worked at the ticket counter explained museum policy.

Because they were veterans, their entrance was free. Both gentlemen found that wording inappropriate. Nothing about it was "free"; it came at a great cost. The veterans found that reference especially degrading to their friends who made the supreme sacrifice. Appropriately, their loyalty to, admiration of and respect for the fallen heroes remain intact after all these years.

By now, you're likely wondering, "Why this discussion for Feedstuffs?"

The museum depicts the history in an engaging manner while providing a comprehensive overview of the major military events surrounding WWII, but it also offers insight into all that was required here at home to ensure that our troops were successful. There is where the food discussion comes in.

In particular, one of the promotional posters that circulated in the U.S. during the war caught my attention. It said:

Where our men are fighting. OUR FOOD IS FIGHTING. Buy Wisely — Cook Carefully — Store Carefully — Use Leftovers.

After all, that's not an aspect we typically consider important when it comes to winning WWII.

That's a hugely important lesson. Food security is inherently tied to national security. Both the German and Japanese armies were plagued by long-lasting food shortages during the war. Conversely, U.S. soldiers were relatively well fed when supply logistics were operating properly.

The poster was also meaningful considering that I had just written about how we live in a time of unprecedented luxury and availability as the result of a highly interconnected, intensively managed global logistics system that delivers food when and where we want it (Feedstuffs, June 24). As such, the poster is a powerful reminder of the incredible advancements we've made in terms of agricultural output since WWII.

The message is timeless, especially when it comes to food waste. By some estimates, nearly 30% of all food is thrown away and represents the second-largest source of landfill waste in the U.S.

That reality speaks volumes about the way we think about food. Our society largely perceives the food supply as never-ending, or else we wouldn't throw so much of it away. That's in sharp contrast to just 60 years ago, when food resources needed to be carefully allocated.

Perhaps most important here is the broader history lesson and the decisive influence of victory. That is, the world's advancements and quality of life improvements have been substantial since the end of WWII.

In no instance has that been more transformational than in the area of agriculture. Arguably, innovation within the food industry has been the most critical development of the post-war era.

We've embraced that transition — spending less money on food while enjoying the benefit of more variety and more abundance than ever. That doesn't mean it has all been perfect, nor have we necessarily exercised those advantages in the proper manner. That represents ongoing tension for the food system.

Either way, we need to remind ourselves that not so long ago, that conversation wouldn't have even occurred in the first place. So, let us be ever mindful that we live in a country that enjoys unprecedented agricultural productivity and ever thankful to the Greatest Generation who sacrificed so much in order that we might enjoy it.

*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

Volume:85 Issue:26

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