Our Food System Tastes Like Irony

By Chris Barton and Aaron Rockwell, Staff Writers

Here’re a couple facts to try and wrap your heads around:

Clearly, there is some dissonance here: how is it that we produce far more food than we eat, many of us eat more than is healthy, and STILL huge numbers of people don’t get enough to eat?

Doodle by Aaron Rockwell
Doodle by Aaron Rockwell

Food waste, hunger, and obesity are all interrelated failures of a massively complex global food system. Each of them is a fantastically complex and nuanced problem on their own, having received years of intense studies by experts from many fields.

Yet at their core is a distribution problem for healthy food (farmers produce enough food, but we can’t transport all the food to market), a profit motive for unhealthy food (198.9 billion in 2014), and the problem of poverty (even when healthy food makes it to market, many people cannot afford to purchase it).

The problem is exacerbated by our actions, both as individuals and as societies. Agriculture subsidies fund food that contributes to obesity while the amount of food aid delivered worldwide has shrunk since 1999 (with emergency aid having to fill in the gaps). About half the produce grown in the US is thrown out because it is ‘ugly.’ Clearly, our priorities aren’t directed toward addressing any of these problems.

But there are surprisingly simple ways for us to work toward resolving this quagmire. France recently passed a law requiring grocery stores to donate unsold food instead of throwing it away. In the US, taking down the myriad of outmoded laws that make it difficult (or outright illegal) to feed the hungry would go a long way in both reducing waste and feeding people.

As individuals, we can buy ‘ugly’ fruit to save it from going into the trash. Buying local food shrinks the supply chain, lowering the chance of the food spoiling or getting damaged (it tastes better fresh, too.) Unprocessed food is better for you, as well as having a less wasteful supply chain than processed food.

There are a lot of different ways that this might turn out: If we deal with obesity but not poverty or food waste, people will continue to starve. If we deal with poverty but not food waste or obesity, we run the risk of the increased agricultural production overpowering our global ecological systems. If we deal with poverty and food waste but not obesity, we’ll all end up overweight and dangerously unhealthy – which, honestly, seems to be the way we’re going.

Obesity has been on the rise for the last couple of decades and fortunately, world hunger has been declining. Using a straight line slope for hunger (-.36% delta per year) and obesity (.1946% delta per year), we can gather some information on why movies are wrong, and how the World Bank will be focusing on obesity (rather than hunger) in the future. Doodle by Aaron Rockwell
Obesity has been on the rise for the last couple of decades and, fortunately, world hunger has been declining. Using a straight line slope for hunger (-.36% delta per year) and obesity (.1946% delta per year), we can gather some information on why movies are wrong, and how the World Bank will be focusing on obesity (rather than hunger) in the future. Doodle by Aaron Rockwell
Date: Event: Obesity % Number Obese (Billions) Population (Billions)
2016 Today 13.36 1.00 7.50
2040 Singularity 18.03 1.76 9.75
2043 No More Hunger 18.61 1.88 10.08
2179 Aliens (Sigourney Weaver) 45.08 20.12 44.62
2266 Star Trek 62.02 71.67 115.57
2461 Everyone’s Obese 100.00 975.72 975.72

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