It shocks you at first, then it makes you think. A map of the world with all of the countries distorted - some bulging much larger than they really are, some thin and emaciated.
The map shows who produces the world's food, who consumes it, and who over-consumes. And what it shows is really no surprise. South America (notably Brazil), Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Australia produce much more than they consume. The United States, most of Europe, much of the middle east, South Korea and Japan consume more than they produce. The richer countries generally over-eat, and the poorer countries, notably in Africa, don't have enough.
But what is really shocking is that the food imbalance is so great. Almost a billion people in the world go to bed hungry. But more than a billion are overweight (see the flabby country?).
A new book, Stuffed and Starved:Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel, reviewed recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, analyses the world's food supply systems and finds them inequitable, unsustainable and manipulated for profit.
We all know that food is not distributed well or evenly, because of inequalities in wealth and suitable land. But this book reveals the large part played by governments and big business, for example:
- High farm subsidies in the US and Europe provide more funds to each cow than a poor family in a developing country can earn. Trade restrictions limit the opportunities for farmers in poorer countries to make a living.
- With food seen more as a multi-billion dollar business than a necessity of life, corporations create foods rich in sugars, fats and taste while poor in nutrients, leading to endemic obesity in western countries, poor nutrition in poorer countries, and often economic dependency as farmers in poorer countries move from subsistence farming to cash crops. "Through processed food, consumers are engorged and intoxicated. The agribusiness's food and marketing have contributed to diet-related disease, harming us today and planting a time bomb in the bodies of children around the world. Supermarket shelves offer an abundance of cheap calories, even as they bleed local economies."
- Trans-national companies control 40% of the world food trade, with some foods almost totally controlled by a few companies.
- Several major food companies also own weight-loss enterprises. They "promote products that make customers fatter and thinner simultaneously."
There are good health reasons why we in the west should modify our eating habits, consume less fat (and probably less sugars), eat more good carbohydrates, and avoid highly processed foods with a concoction of artificial additives. Doing our bit to avoid supporting companies which put profit way ahead of health may be another reason.