This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can We Feed 9 Billion--or More?

If you don't know who Mark Bittman is, then you should check out his cookbooks and blog. My view is that every home should have a copy of his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Earlier this week he posted a piece on the NYTimes titled "Don't Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion" that deserves comment. It is both insightful and naive at the same time, but could help move the world food agenda forward. The first criticism is, of course, that the UN demographers think we are headed closer to 10.5 billion this century, rather than just 9 billion--so the problem we face seems to be getting bigger, not smaller.

But his point is straightforward and would seemingly apply to 10.5 billion, just as it would to 9 billion. The problem, he argues, is not food production, per se, but poverty. If we reduce poverty, then we can reduce hunger--not just in developing countries, but also here in the U.S. You will recognize this as a classic neo-Marxian perspective, although I don't know anything about Bittman's politics (being a good cook doesn't necessarily put you in one political camp or another). The idea that we actually already grow enough food globally is one that Vaclav Smil has made repeatedly. Bittman, however, rejects Smil's view that maldistribution of food is a major issue--although Bittman does not really justify that position. There are, however, several other points that Bittman makes with which I am wholly in agreement:
There’s plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much of it is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted.
 We don’t have to increase yield to address any of those issues; we just have to grow food more smartly than with the brute force of industrial methods, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor.
And, although Bittman does not mention it, we need to be dealing immediately with the long-term effects of climate change, because that promises to change a lot in terms of what kinds of  food can be grown and where.

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