Written by Mieke Dale-Harris, Institute for Advanced Studies
“While the costs of sugars and fats have become cheaper, healthier options like fruits and vegetables have become more expensive, rising nearly forty percent over the last 20 years”
Something seems to be going very wrong with the world’s food distribution policies. Enough food is currently being produced to feed each of the 7 billion people on the planet 2,720 calories, which is more than the 2,000-2,500 recommended intake, yet 925 million people in this world suffer from hunger and many more from nutritional deficiencies. This inefficient distribution of the foods that we are cultivating can be contributed to a number of factors in a complex system, but one major player is the global movement away from fruit and vegetable harvests toward certain cash-crops.
The cash-crops corn and soya now make up for the majority of the world’s crops. There are two problems with these crops; the first is that a large percentage is not used to feed humans, but rather cows, and the second is that the foods they are used to produce are often detrimental to our health. Here I will focus on the latter.
Between 1996 and 2006, corn and soy decreased in price by 32 percent and 21 percent, respectively, putting them in the bracket of the world’s cheapest foods. Not surprisingly, this has upped their commercial usage. The soybean alone is put into numerous products. It whitens bread, makes emulsifier (E322), and replaces saturated fats. It is an ingredient in doughnuts, instant soup, chocolate, sausages, margarine and much, much more.
The soybean is also the mother of the infamous trans-fats. Trans-fats were once hailed as a healthy alternative to saturated fats. However, it has since been discovered that they are nearly twice as bad for the heart and are estimated to cause between 30,000 and 100,000 deaths annually.
Unfortunately, trans-fats are just one example; corn and/or soya are used in most unhealthy processed foods in various forms of fats and sugars. They have been specially picked for this role for their dirt cheap production and malleable nature, which makes them fantastic for food producers but potentially lethal for consumers.
Ever cheaper processed foods wrapped in psychologically proven alluring packaging, means that where the poor used to suffer from under-nutrition they now suffer from obesity, or even worse both. It seems an unlikely coincidence that the surge in products made with corn and soya over the last couple of decades occurred at the exactly the same time as the obesity epidemic in the U.S, which in turn lead to an increase in the debilitating and threatening disease of diabetes.
This shift in diet does not only affect the lower classes who are easily persuaded to buy unhealthy processed meals for both psychological and financial reasons. In Bristol, a fairly well-off British city, 41% of families are “forced” to buy cheaper high calorie but low nutrient foods as healthy foods have become unaffordable. This is not a localized problem. In the US $1 can now buy 1200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda, but just 250 calories of vegetable or 170 calories of fresh fruit.
It is therefore vital that we stop talking about lack of food production but instead the type of food production. If we actually want to feed the world we need to put a reign on soy and corn farming and start encouraging, and in turn lower the prices of, fruit and vegetable cultivation.
What do you blame for the degradation of many of the world’s population’s diet?
This article is taken from a longer essay written by Mieke Dale–Harris called “The effects of LSLAs on global food security” that is to be published in autumn in “Millennials Speak! Essays on the 21st Century”.