Why Big Ag won’t feed the world

January 23rd, 2010  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  6 Comments

A year ago I sat in a room at the Earth Institute at Columbia surrounded by executives from big food companies. One of them, I believe from Unilever, clicked to a slide that read “The solution to global hunger is to turn malnutrition into a market opportunity.” The audience — global development practitioners and academics and other executives — nodded and dutifully wrote it down in their notebooks; I shuddered…

In 2008 more food was grown than ever before in history. In 2008 more people were obese than ever before in history. In 2008 more profit was made by food companies than ever before in history. And in 2008 more people went hungry than ever before in history.

Hunger is not a global production problem. It is a global justice problem.

A thoughtful post from Slow Food USA on the disparity between how much food we can produce and how much food actually gets to people (and how much of the food we produce is actually good, nourishing food).


  1. Zsuzsa says:

    January 23rd, 2010at 5:42 pm(#)

    Yeah, it’s the same with food as with just about anything else: medicine, water, clothing, housing…

  2. AQ says:

    January 23rd, 2010at 10:41 pm(#)

    “We grew 4,000 calories per day per person—roughly twice what people need to eat.”

    What do you think of this claim that people only “need” to eat about 2000 calories per day? It seems that with a shift away from industrial agriculture, more and more people would have to farm/garden to produce all this food. 2000 calories is probably more appropriate for a sedentary office worker than for a farmer or manual laborer. So would the 2000 calorie figure be too low in a world where more people have to be involved in less-industrialized agriculture?

  3. Sarah says:

    January 23rd, 2010at 11:17 pm(#)

    Ever read Raj Patel’s book “Stuffed and Starved”? It’s fantastic. You’d like it.

  4. ActionBabe says:

    January 25th, 2010at 11:06 pm(#)

    I don’t think 2,000 calories per day per person is ridiculous. I’m a highly active woman, and can tolerate about 2,200 on my most active days, but that’s still more than I need on those days. And I don’t mean I’m active like I take the stairs to work, I mean active like in the gym all morning, biking around town all day and dancing my bum off at night. I’ve also got more lean mass than most women, and I’m a little taller than average, so I imagine that the average woman needs less calories than I do… The poet in my head likes to believe that we’d all even each other out at the end of the day, small women making up for the extra calories that tall women need, things like that.

    I suppose we could look around and find some information on medieval peasant diets and see what they used to consume, vs. how much work they had to do. Mind you, there’s a difference in the amount of labour-> product when you’re working for some overstuffed lord plus yourself than when you’re putting away for just your family for the winter.

    I certainly don’t think anyone needs 4,000 calories just to survive. Except maybe Dave Tate, but, well, he’s Dave Tate.


  5. AQ says:

    January 26th, 2010at 9:40 am(#)

    Well, it looks like Dave Tate (pre-diet) needed over 10,000 calories to survive: http://www.johnberardi.com/articles/nutrition/dave_tate_1.htm

    I tried using those calculators that spit out calorie expenditure for different levels of activity, like the one on fitday and this table here: http://www.phs.d211.org/pe/PHS_PE/Freshmen%20Fitness/CalorieTable.htm .

    For example, using the table’s multipliers for a 150 lb person, I plugged in two “lifestyles”

    5 hours gardening, 19 hours sleep: 2808 calories.

    8 hrs sleep, 8 hrs office work, 1 hr transit, remainder sitting or eating: 2556 calories.

    Considering that a sedentary person working in an office job probably doesn’t need 2500 calories per day, I’m guessing that these estimates are inflated. Still, it looks like sleeping all day and gardening or farming for a few hours demands more energy than our standard day full of activity. Like you said, it would be interesting to see real data on the energy requirements of farm workers, as well as on how many more people will have to farm in that scenario.

  6. ActionBabe says:

    February 1st, 2010at 9:24 pm(#)

    The Dave Tate diet story is fascinating, the fact that they had to bump his calories up to +5000 because he was losing weight too fast is just insane, the man is a wall of muscle, now he’s just chiseled muscle.

    This is pretty fascinating:


    Note that this is considered the diet of a ‘prosperous’ English peasant, whatever that means.

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