Blog Action Day: this year, it’s food

Today is Blog Action Day when bloggers around the world are encouraged to blog on the same chosen topic. In 2007, it was the environment; in 2008, it was poverty; in 2009, it was climate change; and in 2010, it was water.

This year’s theme is food.

Now two centuries ago, there was a fashion for Malthusianism – ideas derived from the political/economic thought of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, as laid out initially in his 1798 writings “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, which described how unchecked population growth is exponential (1→2→4→8) while the growth of the food supply was expected to be arithmetical (1→2→3→4). Malthus was convinced that we would not be able to feed a much larger population, so that famine and war would be needed to correct the imbalance.

At the time Malthus wrote his book, the world population was just less than 1 billion. Today it is just short of 7 billion. Yet two things are self-evident.

First, thanks to changes in agriculture and technology, we are capable of feeding a population seven times greater than at the time of Malthus. Second,  there are massive inequalities in the distribution of food around the world, so that the people of many developing countries suffer from malnutrition and even famine while simultaneously the citizens of most developed countries are being ravished by an obesity epidemic. You can view an illustration of this variation here.

The answers to this contradictory picture are complex and a mixture of the political, economic and personal.


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