Adonis Diaries

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Don’t Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion

Should our slogan Not be “let’s feed the world,” but rather “let’s end poverty?

At dinner with a friend the other night, I mentioned that I was giving a talk this week debunking the idea that we need to grow more food on a large scale so we can “feed the 9 billion” — the anticipated global population by 2050.

She looked at me, horrified, and said, “But how are you going to produce enough food to feed the hungry?”

I suggested she try this exercise: “Put yourself in the poorest place you can think of. Imagine yourself in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Now. Are you hungry? Are you going to go hungry? Are you going to have a problem finding food?”

The answer, obviously, is “no.” Because she — and almost all of you reading this — would be standing in that country with some $20 bills and a wallet filled with credit cards. And you would go buy yourself something to eat.

The difference between you and the hungry is not production levels; it’s money.

There are no hungry people with money; there isn’t a shortage of food, nor is there a distribution problem. There is an I-don’t-have-the-land-and-resources-to-produce-my-own-food, nor-can-I-afford-to-buy-food problem.

And poverty and the resulting hunger aren’t matters of bad luck:

1.  they are often a result of people buying the property of traditional farmers and displacing them,

2. appropriating their water, energy and mineral resources,

3. and even producing cash crops for export while reducing the people growing the food to menial and hungry laborers on their own land.

Poverty isn’t the only problem, of course. There is also the virtually unregulated food system that is geared toward making money rather than feeding people. (Look no further than the ethanol mandate or high fructose corn syrup for evidence.)

If poverty creates hunger, it teams up with the food system to create another form of malnourishment: obesity (and what’s called “hidden hunger,” a lack of micronutrients).

If you define “hunger” as malnutrition, and you accept that overweight and obesity are forms of malnutrition as well, than almost half the world is malnourished.

The solution to malnourishment isn’t to produce more food. The solution is to eliminate poverty.

Look at the most agriculturally productive country in the world: the United States. Is there hunger here? Yes, quite a bit. We have the highest percentage of hungry people of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than that of Britain.

Is there a lack of food? You laugh at that question.

It is, as the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler likes to call it, “a food carnival.”

It’s just that there’s a steep ticket price.

A majority of the world is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, some of whom are themselves among the hungry. The rest of the hungry are underpaid or unemployed workers. But boosting yields does nothing for them.

So we should not be asking, “How will we feed the world?,” but “How can we help end poverty?”

Claiming that increasing yield would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars or private jets would guarantee that everyone had one.

And how do we help those who have malnutrition from excess eating? We can help them, and help preserve the earth’s health, if we recognize that the industrial model of food production is neither inevitable nor desirable.

That is, the kind of farming we can learn from people who still have a real relationship with the land and are focused on quality rather than yield.

The best method of farming for most people is probably traditional farming boosted by science.

The best method of farming for those in highly productive agricultural societies would be farming made more intelligent and less rapacious. That is, the kind of farming we can learn from people who still have a real relationship with the land and are focused on quality rather than yield. The goal should be food that is green, fair, healthy and affordable.

It’s not news that the poor need money and justice. If there’s a bright side here, it’s that it might be easier to make the changes required to fix the problems created by industrial agriculture than those created by inequality.

There’s plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much of it is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted.

We don’t have to increase yield to address any of those issues; we just have to grow food more smartly than with the brute force of industrial methods, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor.

Our slogan should not be “let’s feed the world,” but “let’s end poverty.”

You think that you are adult and finally decided to leave home without a proper education.  You want to investigate the world and feel aware of your potentials, courage, and determination to have a life of your own.  You are hitch hiking to the East, to the West as Kerouac did over half a century ago.  You meet people on the way who shared your longing; and you experiment with all kinds of drugs since you are in the experimentation mood.  Eventually, once you reach the western ocean where the weather is always hot then you discover that the homeless experiment is feasible: sleeping outside under a clear sky, near the beach, watching people passing by…  Then hunger sets in and the challenge of getting fed becomes acute because people are fed up of dolling out to outstretched dirty hands.

Waking up one morning in a ditch, awareness that you reached bottom posts in front of your spirit three alternatives:

First, you may try to change and apply to jobs.  This is not an easy decision:  You have to get a shower, shave your beard, find decent cloths, find an affordable facility to write and print your altered CV with catchy professional exposures.  Trouble is:  You don’t have a base to start with to keep up the cleansing, washing, and pressed cloths for the duration of job application process.

Second, you fall back to your parents and impose your presence.  They might purchase a computer and connect you to internet in order to get you out of their legs.  You get installed in front of this fast communication facility and view the world unfolding in front of you.  By the by, you are eating abundant quantity of junk food without realizing it and you gained a lot of weight.  One day you shave your extended beard and discover that the mirror is reflecting three chins and no neck.  Your mouth shrank relative to your bloated face.  Your eyes are just two dots surrounded by masses of flesh.  You are now addicted to eating; an addiction worse than opium, heroine, cocaine, or nicotine.  You gave up trying to diet:  This is an impossible mission.  You can no longer walk any distance:  Your heart has more urgent task to do than indulging aiding you stepping out.  People will no facilitate venturing out to the limelight:  You are a tar to the svelte community.  You decide to move to the basement and have your parents bring you food at your door step and you call the pizzeria to deliver.  A life form.

Third alternative, you enroll in the military.  Your country has always a couple of wars going on simultaneously and Uncle Sam wants you.  Free food aplenty; and they know exactly why you joined the army.  You are another mercenary with a petty goal of eating, getting paid, obtaining residency, or all the above.  You are sent to Iraq first.  You are killing innocent people (collateral damages?) and are traumatized.  You are the kind of sensitive person and your conscience is disturbing you.  You fall back swallowing huge amount of food to appeasing your ethical and moral standards.  You try to vomit what you regurgitated but fail.  Your stomach is aching continuously its skin is dilating to amazing proportions.

You are gaining about 25 pounds a year and are advanced to the front line; not because you are a valuable and trained soldier but you are an ideal shield for the skinnier soldiers moving behind you.  The army would love that you are “killed in action” instead of degrading the image of the army when you are repatriated.  For example these kinds of comments: “Are you fighting or spending time eating?”; “How are we to win if overweight soldiers are running the show?”; “McDonald must be making a fortune in Iraq”; “Now I can figure out why we witnessed this terrible financial crash”.

This pathology of becoming very much overweighted (much over 200 pounds) is endemic in the overseas divisions in war action.  This is no longer opium addiction or venereal diseases:  This is a worse terrible addiction that is shaming the image of a supposedly a young and svelte army.  The best trained and discipled war machine that can live on little and withstand moral atrocities.  The dailies are reluctant to cover that shameful pathology increasing exponentially.  Life forms cannot make headlines.

You are encouraged to read “A Life Form” by Amelie Nothomb.




June 2023

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