A Biblical Perspective on Environmentalism: What World Food Shortage? (1)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read the series so far.

With the human species now numbering more than seven billion souls—and growing—we periodically hear claims that we are about to exhaust the earth’s food-producing resources and are on the precipice of widespread famine. Of course, we have been hearing such assured claims from professional alarmists for two centuries (at least since Thomas Malthus [1766-1834]), all backed up with “science” and facts and figures, and yet somehow the apocalyptic predictions have always failed of fulfillment. No, we humans aren’t even close to a food shortage and are currently producing nowhere near the earth’s maximum sustainable quantity of food. In truth, the primary factor limiting present production is insufficient demand.

On what basis do I assert that there is no world food shortage?

First, the two most populous nations, China and India, are food self-sufficient, that is, they currently grow enough food within their borders to feed all their billion-plus souls, and this in spite of the fact that in India, the dominant Hindu religion’s belief in reincarnation leads to the diversion of large quantities of grain to feed rodents and pigeons and other animals which will never end up as part of the human food supply (cattle in India at least provide milk products). In the case of China, they produce enough food to actually export some to other countries (just check a can of smoked oysters next time you shop for groceries, or a bag of pine-nuts, or dozens of other items—“product of China”—which, by the way, I refuse to buy due to grossly inadequate quality control practices there).

Second, we in America have a serious problem of too much food consumption on the one hand, accompanied by incredible waste of food on the other. Fully a third of American adults and a disturbing number of children are obese—that is, seriously overweight to the point that it poses an immediate health risk (high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, joint deterioration and much more). Obviously, the problem here is too much food (and often of the wrong kind). And then there is the waste.

I read recently that fifty percent—half—of all food served in restaurants and in government-directed school lunch programs is thrown out, uneaten (many of the government-mandated lunch components are reported to be simply awful and virtually inedible, which is another issue). Another recent newspaper article reported a government estimate that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food a year—enough to feed 25-30% of our populace year-round. If there were in reality any kind of food shortage, or even the real possibility of it any time soon, such widespread chronic over-eating and waste would simply not exist. Similar excessive food consumption and rampant obesity in adults and children is clearly evident throughout much of Europe (as I have seen with my own eyes in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and elsewhere during many trips to Eastern Europe in recent years). Japan also has a growing obesity problem, as does even China, and no doubt other places.

As for available productive farmland, were there anything like a shortage of that, we could not afford the luxury of having our house lots surrounded by inedible grass and shrubs and flower beds, and our streets and parks full of non-food-bearing trees—elms, sycamores, ashes, silver maples, ornamental pears, pines, spruces and such. Instead, we would be compelled of necessity to substitute fruit and nut trees by the millions. And there would be no idle “set-aside” farmland that the government pays farmers to leave in un-grazed and uncut native grasses.

Consider my own small acreage (just over 6 acres). A decade ago, it was badly over-grazed pasture, with scattered thorny trees, providing zero food for human consumption, and scarcely a month’s grazing in an entire year for a single steer, if that. I am convinced that in its present moderately renovated condition, it could graze at least one or two steers from spring to fall (assuming something approximating “normal” rainfall here). Beyond that, my gardens last year (covering about an eighth of an acre), in the worst growing weather I’ve ever experienced, produced 650 pounds of sweet potatoes, about 100 pounds of “Irish” potatoes, about 20 pounds of asparagus, and what I would estimate was another 150 pounds or more, total, of beets, carrots, broccoli, collards, cow-peas, English peas, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, corn, apples and more. Had there been anything like “average” weather and rainfall, these quantities could easily have been doubled.

As it was, what I grew was about a full year’s worth of total calories for one person (though not quite “complete” nutritionally). If I put two full acres under intense cultivation (essentially increasing the square footage sixteen times over), nearly the complete nutritional needs of sixteen people could be provided for—and more in a good year—all on ground that a decade before was growing nothing at all, and even now doesn’t have to be under cultivation, since I could buy all my necessary food at the local grocery stores, grown and shipped in from elsewhere. Extrapolate my own example to every home owner in the county where I, along with half a million other residents, dwell. What an immense quantity of food—amounting to virtual self-sufficiency—could be grown if we wanted to, or needed to! But most of the ground around houses goes untilled and is wholly non-productive of food, since we have enough food already, and too much.

Having given it much serious thought and study, I would estimate that the earth, if intelligently managed, could readily grow enough food to provide a healthy and adequate diet, not just for our current seven billion, but at least twenty to twenty-five billion people, and possibly considerably more than that. No, there is no present or impending world food shortage (barring some unprecedented cataclysmic world-wide crop failure or series of such failures—such as are foretold in Revelation 6).

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