Skip to main content

Fighting the food shortage myth

This Friday is World Food Day. Which is a great program to highlight global hunger and efforts to eliminate poverty around the world. Many Americans would be surprised that the face of poverty in the US isn't urban. It leans slightly rural. It's also regional with the South making up a pocket of persistent rural poverty. But hunger isn't a food problem. That would also surprise people. It's a systemic distribution problem. Which is why I get a little edgy when anybody involved with food tries to jump on the "growing population" bandwagon. We inevitably--in their eyes--need industrial agriculture, new technology, GMOs, or improved yields to supposedly feed the increasing billions.

It's all false narrative.

We currently grow enough food to feed more than all of humanity. We grow so much food we waste it. We grow enough to feed a billion more than the 9 billion that is thrown around as a target number to feed. No, hunger is not a yield, technology, or even food problem at all. It's an economic problem. A political problem. A poverty problem. A distribution and access problem. We don't need to grow more. We need to increase availability.

Granted, many people are so far removed from food production that they have no idea how it all works. No clue that the vast fields of corn you drive by on the interstate in, say, my own Midwest aren't directly going to feed people. It's going to feed animals--largely in factory operations. We've gradually convinced ourselves over the last 100 years that this model of agriculture is the way it has to be because it's "efficient" the same way that making one stop at the supermarket is efficient. Nevermind that a quick trip to the coffee aisle will tell you that having one giant store filled with everything means one giant store not really good at anything. Nobody serious about coffee...or meat, or cheese, or produce, or baked goods...would expect to find the best outside of a specialty store for a reason. Size is great for keeping prices cheap. We don't mind eating subpar food if it's inexpensive. And, because hunger is a food access problem, it hides the very real problem of persistent poverty. Fewer people are experiencing food insecurity when food is artificially affordable.

Couple all this with vanishing farmland, an aging/retiring farm population, and our industrial agriculture system also fools us into thinking the loss of local, fresh, small-farm grown products is tolerable. What's a little urban sprawl there, a strip mall here, and a farmer too old to work with nobody younger to replace her. We have biotech corn with great yields and huge machinery to mask that, according to USDA statistics, very few small farmers are doing well financially. And most American farms are smallish. A very few farms are large--huge--and most of the profit in agriculture goes to them. Sound familiar?

Hunger isn't a problem about food. It's a problem about how we grow it, where we grow it, who can afford it, how they get it, and whether the system can be continued indefinitely. I encourage anybody thinking about World Food Day on Friday to think carefully about the future of food production. Not just here in the United States, but in Africa, Asia, globally. How are we going to use our land smarter to lift more people out of letting them make a living and by letting them have control over their own healthy diet.

The future shouldn't belong to getting more billion dollar corporations involved in what and how we should be for getting more people directly involved in caring for the earth. It's not a question of do we produce enough. It's a question of can we do it better.