Culinate

Future famine

Feeding the growing masses on a shrinking planet

By
August 31, 2010

In a fascinating New York Times book review, Mark Bittman recently took a look at an apocalyptic tome titled The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It. Like Malthus before him, author Julian Cribb predicts that the planet’s exploding population will soon exhaust its resources, leading to global chaos and starvation. But as Bittman notes, the solutions may not need to be huge:

For the most part he comes down on the side of organic, or at least small-share, farming, pointing out that entire countries support themselves without resorting to industrial farming.

The fall issue of environmental magazine OnEarth begs to differ, however, with a cover feature by Frederick Kaufman that argues the future of food lies with big agribusiness, not small-scale farmers:

But even as the power of the American food movement waxes, organic farms still make up less than 1 percent of this country’s cropland. The unignorable presence of that other 99 percent has forced many environmentalists to a singularly pragmatic conclusion: If there is going to be a significant attempt to slash the use of water, fossil fuels, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides — the resource-sucking carbon and chemical footprint that has come to define the modern agro-industrial complex — the bulk of that effort will have to emerge from the operations of large-scale, conventional farms.

Anya Fernald, the founder of last weekend’s Eat Real Festival in the Bay Area, made similar arguments recently to the blog Grub Street:

I’m not imagining we’re ever going to come up with 99 cent Eat Real meals. But when the system really cracks, which we’re going to see at some point, then people need to be prepared. Everything’s going to get more expensive. But idealism isn’t useful after a while. The food movement needs to be a bit more aggressive, and to say there are these massive systemic changes that have to happen before we can offer a real alternative.