The world food system has changed drastically in the space of a generation. Food production has increased in scale to sheer enormousness, as the video depicts. This enlargement is a response to increased and largely excessive consumer demand from a relatively small segment of the world population. This intensifies the already, highly skewed food distribution.
The United States (US) is home to the largest proportion of obese people in the world, according to world statistics from 2005. In fact, 30.6% of the population are deemed obese in the US. That is more than 5% higher than Mexico - the country with the second highest prevalence of obese people (24.2%).
On the production side, the US is the leading producer of poultry and beef. These livestock, as well as pigs, now tend to be produced in concentrated animal feeding operations that are also known as factory farms (see below).
Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sustainabletable/2950341874
Meat processing accounted for 24% of all food and beverage processing in 2005, the largest industry share. These large-scale operations produce a huge amount of waste and pollution. This is in the form of excrement that pollutes neighbouring farmland and local waterways, producing an array of further problems for aquatic life. Pollution also takes the form of greenhouse gases, with livestock accounting for 18% of global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
Livestock production requires a great deal of animal feed, which most often takes the form of corn. The US is the largest producer of corn, producing 331 million metric tonnes per year. This accounted for 39% of world production in 2010 and is more than double the second largest corn producer, China. Of this enormous amount, a staggering 39.4% of corn is used for animal feed. Bearing in mind that corn is one of the most water-intensive crops, this makes beef one of the most water-demanding food products in the world. To produce just 1kg of beef requires 15,500 litres of water on average.
In addition, the production of corn for bio-fuels is one way in which prices in the global market are forced up, severely damaging the livelihoods of some of the world’s poor that depend on the crop for food or export.
So, what is the problem with all this?
There are three broad groups of losers in the current global food system. One group is the 14.1% of the world population that are obese and suffer greater risk from are heart disease, diabetes and other related diseases. The other two losing groups include the 925 million people in the world that do not have sufficient nutritious food to eat and the environment. Both of these latter parties are under represented in world debate so it is unto us to make a change.
Most articles and reports addressing this issue argue that companies need to change their ethics and food production needs to be reduced in scale. Whilst these are important, they are not sufficient and the root of the problem lies elsewhere.
If those who eat in excess consciously consumed less exuberantly, then food may be distributed more fairly.
There would also be less need for super-size factory farming, which would reduce harm done to the environment. Smaller farms produce less waste and require less intensive use of fossil fuels, water, chemical inputs, and so on. This requires consumers to refrain from overbuying, no matter how hard the supermarkets try to convince them that they need more.