Can we continue to eat what we want?

RoseThe day came about because people spend time stressing over their diet, not helped by today’s world being filled with magazine covers depicting perfectly toned, perfectly tanned models drawing pictorial attention to our own inadequacies.

Going on-line to check out what ‘Eat what you want day’ was all about, I was struck by the pictures of people who had enthusiastically endorsed the concept by twitter.  This was a group for whom the maxim ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ and it barely had emphasis on the word ‘little’.

Let’s put this group of the self-indulgent in perspective.

By 2014 more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide were overweight (me too I’m afraid).  Of these, 600 million are obese.  That is about 13% of the world’s adult population. Overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.

On the other side of the picture, according to 2012-14 figures, 805 million people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment. That is 11.3 % of the world population. This is a better picture than two decades previously when 1,014 million were estimated to be undernourished. The principle underlying cause of poverty and hunger is usually laid at the feet of the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world.  Essentially, control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power which typically ends up in the hands of a minority.

But is it realistic to think that everyone in the world can be fed?  A hotly debated topic, but the consensus seems to be that, theoretically, they can.  Currently, intensive farming in the developed world doesn’t help.  Food has to be produced where it is needed.  That proportion of the world’s population which is undernourished cannot afford to purchase expensively farmed food from those that produce more than they need to cover their own requirements. Furthermore, over the decades, incomes have risen for the developed nations which means that more people eat meat and drive cars so that grain producing agricultural land has been set aside for growing grains for livestock feed or for biofuels.  At the extreme (i.e. livestock fed exclusively on grain) it can take 7kg of grain to increase the weight of a cow raised for beef by 1kg.

In 2013 a coalition of 100 major charities formed to combat world poverty and hunger. The charities include Oxfam, Action Aid, Christian Aid, UNICEF, Save the Children and others.  The campaign was endorsed by an impressive array of movers, shakers, the great and the celebrated including Bill Gates and Desmond Tutu. So there definitely are organisations along with the big hitters such as the World Food Programme tackling the problem, but the impact is difficult to ascertain.

Getting back to my initial question, can we continue to eat what we want?  The answer is no, not if we also want to save the hungry from the poverty trap and the self-indulgent from early deaths.

What do you think? Can we make the change from eating what we want to ensuring that everyone eats? What should our charities and social enterprises be doing to combat the problem?

We’d love to hear from you.

1 Reply

One response to “Can we continue to eat what we want?

  1. Lindsay

    Interesting blog Rosemary, and especially pertinent in National Vegetarian Week! Meat consumption is a huge contributing factor towards climate change and has also been repeatedly linked with ill-health.

    I’ve heard conflicting arguments about the intensive farming issue e.g. Mark Lynas ‘The God Species’ contending that the most environmentally efficient way of feeding the world is GM crops and intensive farming – perhaps opposite to our instincts towards organic and local farming.

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