Peak oil & food security

by Sandra Murray

Most people are familiar with the term ‘national security’ but relatively few are familiar with ‘food security’.

Food security means more than relieving hunger. Put simply, it means that all people have enough to eat at all times in order to be healthy and active, and do not have to fear that the situation will change in the future.

It means that sufficient food is physically available, accessible and affordable1 and envisions local cooperation, self-empowerment, and advance planning as the ideal ways to ensure healthy, consistent nourishment for everyone2.

Often considered an issue only for poor or developing countries, food insecurity also exists in Tasmania today and is likely to be as high, if not higher, than in other Australian states. Over 64,000 Tasmanians, or 13% of the population live on or below the poverty line3.

    Existing food security challenges combined with challenges caused by looming oil depletion (peak oil) are likely to mean huge escalation of food prices and reduced food choice. It means that we will need to take a leap from our reliance on industrial grown, processed and transported mainland food to engaging with locally grown food.

This shift will demand tremendous lifestyle changes for many of us who are used to drive-thru fast food and purchasing out-of-season fruit and vegetables shipped, trucked and flown thousands of kilometres to our nearest supermarket.

Understanding the impacts
Climate variability (flood and drought) may be already having a major impact on availability, affordability and continuity of our food supplies. Combined with Peak Oil the likelihood of a food crisis happening in Australia now appears very real. A recent report by the PMSEIC Expert working group warns that nationally we can expect to see years where we will import more food than we export and supports the need for a coordinated national strategy to prevent this4.

In our state both the Tasmanian Food Security Council5 and Tasmania Together 20206 state the importance of Tasmanians having access to good food. This means that regular supplies of locally grown basic food staples, for Tasmanian consumption, such as grain and cereals, some varieties of legumes, lentils, fruit and vegetable (often sourced from interstate or internationally) should be our priority, especially if Tasmania is to become more self-sufficient and more resistant to the challenges that lie ahead.

Building resilience into our food security.
The first steps our Tasmanian communities can take to peak-oil proof our diet is to get local.

In most regions of Tasmania, community groups are already starting to put the goals of community food security into practice. As awareness of peak oil grows, many are starting to understand the meaning of a post-oil future. Their efforts include establishment of community gardens, farmers markets, community-supported agriculture, permaculture groups, food justice movements, and relocalization initiatives. In an oil-deprived future, ventures such as these will be the keys to community health and survival.

Local government needs to play a key role by supporting and helping to develop locally relevant, integrated and long-lasting strategies to address community food security challenges7.

We need to create a Tasmanian food future based in diversified farming, thriving social enterprises, and expanding community food systems: from backyard gardeners to Community-Shared Agriculture could be our future.

We need to create an alternative local food system that can withstand systemic shocks based on the principles of resilience, fairness, democracy and sustainability8.


(Sandy Murray is a dietitian and lecturer at the University of Tasmania. She shares and promotes the benefits of eating local food and is a passionate supporter of community gardens, the Tasmanian farmers and encouraging people to grow their own.)