Jan 4, 2007

Food, glorious food

Tom Hager says the obesity epidemic is a big improvement over the mass starvation that was routinely predicted not all that long ago.
It was not that long ago that all the experts were predicting that our skyrocketing human population would soon outstrip its food supply, leading directly to mass famine. By now millions were supposed to be perishing from hunger every year. It was the old doom-and-gloom Malthusian mathematics at work: population shoots up geometrically while food production lags. It makes eminent sense. I grew up with Malthus's ideas brought up-to-date in apocalyptic books like The Population Bomb.


The underlying answer is this: There's a lot of cheap food around. Yes, walk into your local mega-grocery-emporium or just about any food-selling area anywhere in the world and stare the problem in the face. There's inexpensive, high-calorie food piled all over the place. Somehow we outsmarted Malthus. Food production has not only kept up with population growth but has managed somehow to outstrip it. There are ups and downs from year to year because of the weather, and there are pockets of starvation around the world (due not to a global lack of food, but to a lack of ways to transport it where it's needed). In general, silos are bursting. Tons of food gets plowed under the ground because there's so much of it farmers can't get the prices they want. Tons of cheap food (corn, for instance) is used to create more expensive food (like steak). Lots of food means lots of grease, and meat, and sugar, and calories. Lots of food means lots of overweight people.

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