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<i>#foodcrisis</i>: The "Defining Challenge of Our Century" in a Graphic Novel

10/27/2014 01:02 EDT | Updated 12/26/2014 05:59 EST
Ron Bambridge via Getty Images

It's Sin City meets Homeland with a touch of House of Cards; there's something for comic book junkies and global politics nuts, too -- and plenty of food for thought for the rest of us.

#foodcrisis is a new graphic novel that portrays the collapse of the world's agricultural system in 2025. It has political intrigue, street riots, flashes of comedy and cliff-hanging suspense -- and it's being released one episode at a time over the coming months. (Binge-read the first three online now.)

Most importantly, the novel by Canadian professor Evan Fraser, puts the complex issues of global food security -- what Fraser calls "the defining challenge of our century -- into an accessible, entertaining format, targeted principally at the 16- to 25-year-old set, who will actually have to deal with the problem of feeding nine-billion people on our planet in the coming decades.

"We won't be able to ignore food security over the rest of in the 21st century," Fraser says to us. "It will be a grand struggle of the same magnitude as ending slavery or getting women the vote."

You'd expect something a little less epic from a geography professor. But Fraser, a Trudeau Foundation fellow and Canada Research Chair at the University of Guelph in Ontario, has spent much of his academic career bringing food security into mainstream consciousness. Fraser's previous project -- a nine-part series of whiteboard animation videos -- have been viewed over 100,000 times and are now part of high-school curriculum across Ontario and Saskatchewan.

But the lifelong comic book fan, whose research has spanned every food crisis in history, is still an academic at heart. #foodcrisis is accompanied by 12 supporting essays and over 200 paragraph-long footnotes for those readers (and skeptics) who want to dig deeper.

The series' main takeaway, says Fraser, is that "a food crisis is not inevitable. And it's not really about people starving to death," he adds with some foreshadowing of upcoming episodes. "It's about economic and political chaos coming from a crisis in food insecurity." Wars and uprisings throughout history--including the French Revolution and the recent Arab Spring -- "all started with people upset over food prices and access and then turned into explosive situations over other frustrations," he says.

Sounds like unconventional fodder for a comic book, and unfortunately there's no caped hero to save the day. So we asked Fraser what we can do to ensure #foodcrisis doesn't end up becoming a true story. Here's his advice.

Redirect our diets

"Embrace diets that are not as taxing on the environment. I'm not saying we all have to become vegetarian or eat local all the time," says Fraser. "But we need a shift in this direction."

Waste less

"The world today has enough food for everybody, yet we waste one-third of our food."

Boost production

"Just in the last two months, the UN's population projections have gone up significantly to 11 billion by 2100," says Fraser. So we are going to have to produce more food, and do it sustainably. In Canada, Fraser explains, that means using technology to maximize the efficiency of farmers' fertilizer, irrigation and other resources. "In developing countries, we need small-scale partnerships with local farmers and basic technologies to help increase productivity."

Share the wealth

"To improve food distribution, we must bolster local production around the globe to protect consumers from the [fluctuations in] the international market. We also must help people in the developing world get better incomes, which mean better access to markets for their agricultural products."

Store it up

"We have to store extra food at the household, regional and national levels to act as a buffer in a humanitarian crisis," says Fraser. "Food shortages and price spikes are the main trigger events for wars, riots and revolutions, and they could be again this century."

Want to learn more about food security? Read Fraser's World Food Day manifesto, and if you want a paperback copy of #foodcrisis, check out his Kickstarter campaign. Hopefully, society will get a hold on this issue so we don't one day see Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba starring in a Sin City-esque movie version.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day.

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