Roughly a year ago, for those of you who were attentive enough to realize it at the time, there was a significant run on the shops. Specifically people panic-bought rice. There was none left on the shelves anywhere. Not a grain. You could have blinked and missed it though; within a few days the life partner of curries and chicken dinners was thankfully returned. The major newspapers had all been running the same ‘Global Food Crisis!’ story with varying degrees of urgency and column space. Rice, as one of the world’s staples, was on a list of soon-to-be-depleted crops, which could just no longer sustain the world’s ever larger, and ever hungrier population.
The twenty-one sub-Saharan African nations that were already in a state of ‘food security crisis’ would of course feel the brunt of the global food crisis the hardest, but God forbid, the western world might too be deprived. Naturally, we panicked. This was breaking news. Only of course it wasn’t. This food shortage, most acutely felt around the developing world already, has been slowly growing for decades. It was not solved by Band Aid in the mid ‘80s and it was not solved when, after a week, the story slipped off the radar again last year. True, the semantics have been securitized to give the situation a touch of urgency, and perhaps we opened our wallets, though it seems likely we took this recourse so that we could continue our happy existence with closed minds.
It feels wearisome to point it out, as so often this is the mantra of environmental and ecological polemics, but our lifestyle is largely to blame. Whilst Thomas Malthus, the calloused bastard that he was, may yet be vindicated, we have still not reached the point where human beings have out-bred their ability to subsist. A plethora of contributing factors explain the crisis, and the troubling figure of 3.5 million children dying each year from malnutrition. Project Concern places the blame on ‘rising fuel costs, lower agricultural production, weather shocks, more meat consumption, and shifts to bio-fuel crops.’
Bio-fuel is no longer heralded as the great savior it once was. It has necessitated deforestation, and at best (or worst?) offsets our need to wholeheartedly pursue renewable energy. What it most certainly does is take away land that could be used to feed our population. Weather is of course a wildcard. Natural disasters are not due to the hubris of man, though climate change, and the increase in such freak weather –droughts, hurricanes etc- is something for which blame can be apportioned. Fuel, climate change and bio-fuel are all intimately linked, though this is not the space to declaim against the shortsightedness of environmental policy. Rather, our profligate consumption of meat should be most abhorred.
Around the same time as the ‘rice run’ last year an article came out in the Guardian stating that to be an environmentally-friendly meat eater is to limit your consumption to four portions per week. (A portion equated to a few slices of bacon, or a pork chop.) A seemingly drastic cut for many. Though we must put it in context: our global consumption of meat has quadrupled over the last fifty years; there are twenty-billion heads of livestock in the world; it takes 4.8lb of grain to produce 1lb of beef. Compare the use of pastoral land to agriculture and this is thrown into even sharper relief: a ten-acre farm can support sixty people growing soybeans, twenty-four people growing wheat, and only two producing cattle. The average westerner consumes two-thousand pounds of grain per year via cattle and other animals.
According to the World Bank, 100 million people have fallen into poverty in the last two years and there are many more statistics that could be deployed to elucidate the severity of the problem. Fortunately I won’t have to list them here. One World Week is upon us once more, and the global food crisis is a topic in the eclectic forum. As the OWW abstract explains, ‘this never-ending crisis is the one that so far, we have not quite faced. Global progress is shamed by the world that is hungry.’ The event will be taking place on Sunday 25th of January. Participating in the lecture will be a UN representative and other experts in the field. So take a couple of hours out of your life to re-evaluate your own role in helping to solve hunger. We are fortunate to be in the empowered position to make changes in our own lives that will have untold benefits to the lives of others.