Book Review: Feeding Frenzy

by Yogesh Pathak

As we know, the environmental crisis is a multi-faceted monster. Chief among these is the food crisis, which has come to the center stage in the last 10 years. Its many aspects include the sheer quantity of food needed to feed the growing global population, malnutrition, unequal distribution of resources, changing land use, toxic-laden food due to fertilizers, pesticides, and preservatives, GM food, persistent rise in food prices (partly due to biofuels), falling yields, and the decline in the quality of soil.

‘Feeding Frenzy’ by Paul McMahon is among the first “post crisis” books on the topic. Published in 2013 by Profile Books, it traces the history of the global food system and dissects the causes of the current turmoil. The author raises key questions like: Can we feed a population of 9 billion by 2050? Do we have enough land and water? Will free markets really help in solving the problem?

Governments and industry are reacting by banning food exports, controlling supply chains, and buying large farmland in African countries for contract farming. Many of these are knee-jerk reactions. Poor countries will be the ones to suffer most as their dependence on imports will increase. e.g. A “nightmare scenario” similar to 1840s Ireland could be waiting for Africa.

The final chapter, ‘Better Ways to Feed the World’, lists solutions coming out of the author’s analysis: Helping smaller farmers and poor countries to grow more food (self-sufficiency), putting ecology at the center of food production, making financial markets solve rather than aggravate the problem of food pricing and availability, adapting to higher food prices (here the author presents good contrarian thinking), and accepting biofuels as a norm and regulating that industry. This last solution is something that does not make complete sense to us if we adhere to the holistic perspective for sustainability. We believe the world needs to reduce its aggregate consumption of energy. Precious land and water should be used to grow food and restore ecosystems, not for biofuel crops.

The book has a global perspective and offers insightful country-specific examples. It is an engaging read for anyone interested in the topic.

(This review was earlier published in the Newsletter of the Ecological Society, Pune)

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