Over the years, my “Myth Buster Mondays” posts have taught me one thing: regardless of the strength and validity of the evidence to the contrary, most people will throw away the facts and cling to the belief. I would submit that today will be no different...
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-=[ Hunger Myths ]=-
They must find it difficult...those who have taken authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority.
-- Gerald Massey
This one is a pet peeve of mine because I’ve heard countless people, even some who consider themselves intelligent, repeat fallacies about world hunger. The best way I’ve seen it put is that while “hunger is not a myth... myths keep us from ending hunger.” At least 700 million people do not have enough to eat, or are “food insecure.” Additionally, every year, at least 12 million children die of hunger.
If you’re like many people, you’re most likely inclined to think that if only those promiscuous third world people would stop fucking like rabbits and stop having so many babies, they would have enough food to eat (C’mon, we all know black and brown women have low morals and will drop litters of future American-hating, cop-killing, terrorist sociopaths!) Okay, you might think I overstate the issue, but I think not. However, the population explanation has the advantage of easing our collective guilt because the implication is that starving people have only themselves to blame for their predicament (cue chants of: “John Galt! John Galt!... ”).
However, the reality says otherwise. For example, the evidence from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization shows that there is no relationship between hunger and population density. Yes, Virginia, there are countries where people are both crowded and malnourished. But there are also countries where people are starving despite a relatively low ratio of people to farmable land. Nigeria, Brazil, and Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger, come to mind. For every Bangladesh, a densely populated and hungry country, we find a Costa Rica, with only half of Honduras’ cropped acres per person, boasts a life expectancy11 years longer than that of Honduras and close to that of developed countries. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Then there are countries with far higher population density but much less hunger, such as Japan and other advanced nations.
As so often happens when we look at commonly held beliefs, we find that an apparent cause-and-effect relationship doesn’t stand up to critical scrutiny. The most likely explanation, according to the empirical work of Francis Moore Lappé and her associates at the Institute for Food and Development Policy, is that when hunger and population growth do go together it is because they are both consequences of the same dynamic: powerlessness.
Let’s take a look at some basic facts. The world’s food supply is most realistically described as abundant, not scarce. For example, there is enough wheat, rice and other grains produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn’t even count many other staples such as vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide -- enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most “hungry countries” have enough food for all their people right now. However, if a minority of rich people or multinational corporations controls most of the land -- as is true in countries previously mentioned -- then neither the size of the population nor the number arable acres is the cause of the problem. Even relatively few people can be kept poor and hungry if they’re working for someone else. And even plentiful cropland isn’t going to alleviate the problem if it’s being used to raise feed for cows that will end up under a Mickey Dee’s heat lamp as a hamburger.
In fact, having many children (potential breadwinners) could be viewed as a rationale strategy for survival when people live from hand to mouth. At the same time, well-meaning birth control programs can’t by themselves improve people’s lives. The available evidence suggests that starvation is less a function of people having too many mouths to feed than of having too little control over their bodies, their land, their time, and their future.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization...
Lappé, F. M., Collins, J., Rosset, P., & Esparza, L. (1998). World hunger: 12 myths. New York: Grove Press
Ahn, C. (Ed.). (2003). Shafted: Free trade and America's working poor. New York: Food First Books.
Food First/ Institute for Food & Development Policy (click here)