Monday, 11 August 2008

Fixing Planet Earth: The Food Crisis

Possibly the most globally catastrophic effect of the West’s current mishandling of its economic stewardship is the impact that it is having on food and the access that humans have to it. Credit crunches, recession, gas prices, oil supplies and the bottoming out of the housing market, all these great economic woes are, at their very end creating what the global food crisis. Rising population + limited land + limited crop + limited finances = not everyone can eat.

Now, before you start worrying your own little head about how this affects you, you can chill. Anyone from Western Europe or North America can sleep easy. A recession could be a killer, it could tighten belts and cause great hardship for families and individuals, but no one (who doesn’t have the capacity to budget and live within their means) will be going hungry because they can’t afford food. You may have to shop at Morrisons instead of Sainsbury’s or M&S instead of Harrods, you might have to give up goose liver pate and daily helpings of fresh mozzarella (my own personal weakness) but you will never reach the point where food becomes so pricey that you cannot afford to buy any of it.

You’re a Westerner, the only group of people in the world where being fat is a bad thing. The only group of people that have developed allergies to food. Go to Ethiopia, I doubt you’ll find anyone with lactose intolerance or a strictly white meat diet over there. Being fat in over half the countries in the world be an achievement beyond the wildest dreams of the average citizen. So don’t worry, you will be eating at the weekend.

No, the people that are suffering at the ends of the global food crisis are those that need food more than anyone. It is the farmers, the abattoir workers, the fruit pickers and the shepherds; the men and women that live off the land, often in inhospitable regions, who sell more food than they eat, just to be able to afford the meagre amount that they live off of. It is they, those at the bottom of the ladder that produce the worlds food that are the victims of this crisis.

The explanation for what is happening is linked directly to the current energy crisis (article link here: and ties into an upcoming article about war and another regarding mutli-national corporations. The three things form the crux of the economic problem facing planet earth. The food crisis is the by product of inactivity/wilful ignorance over the food crisis and the economic disaster caused when war is used as a business tool.

The current problem is easy to break down (the figures are simplified guesses in order to illustrate a point). A farmer in Patagonia sells his meat for $5 a kilo. $2.50 goes on living expenses, $1.50 goes on eating and $1 is saved. His food, bought for $5, costs another $10 to transport from Patagonia to Wyoming, where it is processed and sold by Walmart for $20 a kilo to the average American consumer.

However, the current Gulf crisis is driving up oil prices, meaning the ship that transports the farmer’s meat now cost $20 to fill instead of $10. Walmart, refusing to take a hit in profits, use their economic bargaining might to force the farmer to drop his prices. The food he grows and buys for himself still costs the same amount of money, so for the $3.50 he’s now being paid, $2.00 goes on his living expense and $1.50 on eating. Life is tight, but liveable.

However, the problem of the energy crisis comes into play, as the cost of heating and lighting Walmart increases, as well as the cost of the gas to truck the meat from port to store. Walmart increases the price of its meat by $5 a kilo, meaning it is now sold to the customer for $25 a kilo. The energy prices have driven the company’s costs up by $10 however, so, using its economic might again, it forces our farmer in Patagonia to drop the asking price for his meat down to $2. Now, he has $1 to cover his living costs, and $1 to buy food. Yet the food he buys has still not dropped in price, if anything it has increased, as the cost of getting it to him has increased. Life is now tough, and getting enough food to survive is proving difficult.

And that’s the food crisis, in a simplified nutshell. The people that no one really cares about, the guys that produce most of the cheap food; those $3/£1.50 prime beef steaks that we refuse to pay a higher price for, are the ones that suffer the most. And no one knows about it. This is a social problem, caused by the media’s disinterest in reporting such cases, and preferring to focus on more salacious stories, or lay the blame at the victim du jour’s feet (currently Gordon Brown).

As mentioned earlier though, the food crisis is a by-product, it is cannot be solved alone. Maybe if people knew that their 8pence bananas were only that price because the guy growing them is struggling to survive then they wouldn’t mind paying a little more, but the food that funnels into the upper echelons of the human hierarchy is taken for granted, expected to be cheap, and any change would cause public outcry. The British or American public don’t care about starving farmers, because the news anchor on Fox or the editor of The Sun or Bono hasn’t told them to. The only way to solve the problem is by affecting the others; addressing the energy crisis, dealing with the problems of war and corporate might, and perhaps educating ourselves just a little bit better. If only knowledge were cheap food.

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