How to Feed the World

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It’s a problem that farmers, scientists, politicians, capitalism, socialism, communism, the UN and your very self-righteous uncle have attempted to solve every since a collective responsibility to feed the world has been an issue.  Technically, we have enough calories (2,700 per individual) to eradicate global hunger. Problem is, those calories aren’t going to hungry individuals- one third goes to feed animals, five percent are used to produce biofuels, and another third is wasted along the food chain. That leaves about a billion people across the world without enough food.

In Mark Bittman’s latest op-ed for the NYTimes, he brings a more recent problem to the topic. Not only are people hungry, but three billion people are not eating well, according to the UNFAO. Obese and overweight people are part of the struggle for a more effective and healthier food system. Bittman argues that our current “Big Ag” industry contribute and exacerbate to both demographics. His proposal: agroecology, or the peasant system.

Bittman points out that the peasant system (small landholders) is not only the longer standing agricultural model, but the more effective and productive one. The industrial food chain uses 70% of agricultural resources to provide 30% of the world’s food; the peasant system produces the remaining 70% using only 30% of the resources.  

Small landholders tend to diversify crops, mix plants and animals, and plant trees. This allows them to produce more food with fewer resources and lower transportation costs- and that means greater food security and greater biodiversity. Bittman notes that furthermore, compared to industrial farming, small landholders are able to feed more people per area. Of course, the world has always been stacked against the peasant system: war, famine, drought, displacement, politics, and intentional land grabs, to name a few problems. Such issues push farmers into cities, where they can no longer grow food themselves, but are reliant on mass produced food.

“It’s a formula for making not only hunger but obesity: remove the ability to produce food, then remove the ability to pay for food, or replace it with only one choice: bad food,” writes Bittman. But by supporting traditional farming methods through investment and research, we can provide an alternative. Bittman also stresses the importance of reducing waste and overconsumption, although he is less clear on how this could work out, giving a growing middle-class and cultural tastes for meat and sugar.

As always, Bittman is a good source of food for thought. What do you think?

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