Wealhtheow's Reviews > Feeding People is Easy

Feeding People is Easy by Colin Tudge
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's review
Jul 12, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Recommended for: julian
Read in July, 2009

Tudge is exasperated by our inability to feed the world's population, and posits how to not only defeat hunger, but do so in an ecological, human, healthy way.

"For in truth, there is no such thing as cheap food. If chickens ever sell in the supermarket for 75 cents a pound as they often do, or cans of fruit are offered at three for the price of two, then we can be sure that some person or society or animal or landscape, somewhere along the supply chain, is being screwed. Some farmer is working for less than the cost or production; his workers are paid slave-wages; the animals are packed in cages, with the lights dimmed, and a body-full of growth promoters; some hillside is being eroded, some forest felled, some river polluted--and all the creatures who used to live in those hills and forests and rivers, and all the people who enjoyed them and made their living from them, are being swept aside...Food is cheap only because, for various reasons, the true costs are not taken into account."
"In short, the task before us is not to confront big governments and the corporates, for that is merely exhausting. We need instead to create viable and clearly superior alternatives, and allow the status quo to wither on the vine."
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Reading Progress

07/07/2009 page 95
59.38% "in the present global free market, only the most desperate can sell anything at all"
07/07/2009 page 101
63.13% "nothing has harmed our world and the people in it more than farming on the cheap"
07/07/2009 page 105
65.63% "if modern livestock production had been designed by a crack team of pathogens, they could scarcely have done the job better."
07/10/2009 page 128
80.0% "the world needs agrarianism, and has to pay what it costs.simply to decide that proper farming is too dear is to sign our own death warrant"
07/10/2009 page 137
85.63% "prime task is to establish,worldwide,a food culture:a critical mass of people who really appreciate food,&will put themselves out for it"
07/11/2009 page 153
95.63% "what is the best ratio of rural people to urban?It is clearly neither the 90% farmers in Rwanda or 1% in UK or US"

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Kelly H. (Maybedog) Oh, I think my parents would like this book!

message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert The world needs fewer people....

message 3: by Kelly H. (Maybedog) (last edited Jul 14, 2009 02:27AM) (new) - added it

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Lol, I agree but I don't think that killing off people will be a widely accepted solution to the problem so I guess we have to figure out a way to feed them for now. :)

Does the author advocate vegetarianism as a solution?

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert No...but it raises the question of whether China's one child policy is morally justified or not? Is infringing the rights of individuals now in order to conserve planetary resources justified? Consider the number of wars fought over water and settlement land resources as well as anthropogenic climate change and environmental degradation in all its manifestations.

Vegetarianism would reduce the overall impact of farming, without doubt.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Again, I agree. I'm just curious what this author's ideas are. I personally think all countries need to at least cap children at 2. Of course, it would never happen in the US since having lots of babies is the foundation for many religions. It's sad, too, because every person in the US uses as many resources as something like 15 people in the rest of the world.

message 6: by Robert (new)

Robert Agreed on all points.

message 7: by Wealhtheow (last edited Jul 14, 2009 06:18AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Wealhtheow Tudge seems to think that what we need is not to restrict and corral our existing population, but to make ourselves happier and healthier. Tudge argues that the happier and more satisfied they are, humans have fewer babies. And moreover, that no famine and no war occurs in a true democracy. So since we currently make enough food to feed everyone in the world, what we need to do is overhaul our systems of government, and make sure they are truly serving us. Meanwhile, current farming and livestock raising techniques have become too capitalist--too focused on making larger and larger profits. And so we get ecological damage, and immorality (our livestock and fishing methods are nauseating), and the food itself gets progressively less delicious and good for us. He wants us to stop depending upon monocultures and processed foods, and start being gourmets who demand healthy, tasty produce, fish and meat. To provide all this delicious, ethical, ecologically sound food, we'd need significantly more local farmers--less shipping across the world.

Since farming, done right, is time-consuming and geographically isolated work, he wants to make it possible for farmers to A)make a living (so we need to be prepared to pay for quality) and B)have access to health care and distance-learning. And because demanding all this from corporations and governments will be useless, we need to start farming, and paying for good food, ourselves. This revolution (like all true ones) has to go from the bottom up.

message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert Of course this won't work because intensive farming methods are the only reason we can produce as much food as we do; using more ethical and environmentally sound techniques requires more land use for the same volume produced, hence it is not possible to sustain our current population by his approach without making matters worse.

Waiting until 6.5 billion people have the same level of wealth and health as the already developed countries do so that population growth is curbed "naturally" is also not going to work as there simply aren't sufficient planetary resources to do that using current exploitation techniques. Several generations will have to pass before it could be achieved anyway and the population would then be even larger.

We can, as a species, choose to control our population now, or we can watch it crash later, no doubt, endangering entire biomes at the same time and completely wiping out numerous other species as we go down.

Wealhtheow Tudge addresses each of your points, and I'd recommend reading his take on it--I can't approach his level of experience or eloquence. But here's what I took away from the book, and from various articles.
To the idea that intensive farming is all that will produce as much food as we need: a huge percentage of land is already being used to produce as much profit as possible. But it is not being used to produce as much *food* as possible. We grow food far from their ecological niche (where the land and labor are cheap) and to keep them growing we use huge amounts of fertilizers, antibiotics and pesticides, which means increased yield today but ecological disaster for the soil, water, and native species. If, instead of trying to force the entire world to grow corn and soy, native plants and biodiversity were encouraged, not nearly so much money and resources would be expended to keep the plants alive. Soil in one area is vastly different from soil in another, and constantly adding nutrients to make them exactly the same is a waste. In addition, a farming or livestock-raising method that works in one area won't necessarily work in another--why destroy a forest to build an American-style cattle ranch, when cattle would be happier and healthier feeding and roaming beneath the trees? Tudge also wants to encourage more hands-on farming--with unemployment and poverty levels as high as they are now, there's no reason farms should be designed to be run by machines. Once machines are involved, everything must be standardized--and living organisms just plain live longer and healthier when individual attention is paid.

And not only would farming/livestock raising be more efficient if it were done where and how the environment is suited to it, and by people instead of machinery, but it would be better for the earth and the animals living on it. This is not something to take lightly, or think is only a theoretical ethics dilemma. Biodiversity is vital to our survival. Keeping our soil and water unpolluted is vital to our survival.

Wealhtheow Robert, to your second point--yes, absolutely we can't "raise" everyone to American or Western European standards of living. Tudge cites the "5 earths" statistic: it would take the resources of 5 more Earths to get everyone living like an average American. ::shudder:: Instead, why not decrease the resources the "developed world" uses? Which uses up more of the planet: a tomato grown in your yard or window box, or a tomato grown in Mexico, picked by machines, gassed, shipped half way across the world, and packaged in plastic?

message 11: by Wealhtheow (last edited Jul 14, 2009 12:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Wealhtheow All of this is not to say that I want to see unlimited population growth. But imposing restrictions only leads to greater trouble down the line, often in ways we cannot forsee. (See: China's troubling gender imbalance) It makes so much more sense in the long run to fix the problems that are causing unbridled population growth. Problems, I would think, like totalitarian governments, genocidal wars, crushing poverty and lack of education.

message 12: by Robert (new)

Robert Intensive farming using artificial fertiliser and other chemicals is as prevalent in temperate nations as elsewhere, or more so. I'm absolutely sure that most African farmers would be better returning to subsistance farming of local produce.

Suggesting Western people grow food in their private gardens is increasing the amount of land in use for food production by the back door - it would be necessary, too, if non-intensive methods were adopted in temperate countries - because their yield would most definitely be lower. If the tropics and equatorial countries are subsistance farming, then the West would have to grow its own food - at a lower yield. As the population rises, so the problem will get worse.

It is absolutely absurd to suggest that one could farm corn in the mid-west of America more efficiently by hand than by machine.

I am strongly in favour of reducing the amount of resources used by the West - there are two possible approaches - technological solutions and population reduction; we need to do both, urgently.

Then we hit a real snag: how do you provide mass education and poverty reduction to a population that is subsistance farming for its living? Children are free labour, but educated children aren't gonna stay on the farm, are they? And if they are in school all day, they aren't farming at all....

The poverty argument is really circular, anyway; a Western European consumes 8 times the resources of an African (on the average) - that's what not being in poverty means! Not being poor means using more resources! You can't tackle the poverty successfully without increasing the resource use per person, so for a steady population how much more efficient would we have to become in order to maintain even a steady resource consumption per year? Is it even technically feasible to do it? No.

The human population of the planet is going to go down - we can do it in a controlled fashion or we can wait for the crash, as I said before.

Wealhtheow "It is absolutely absurd to suggest that one could farm corn in the mid-west of America more efficiently by hand than by machine." And in that same town, unemployment is at an all-time high and that corn is used to fatten livestock, run cars, or rots because the price of corn fell that year. None of that is an efficient use of the corn, or the machinery. For using current farm machines to be worthwhile, you have to have a huge farm, the larger the more cost-effective. And to keep everything under control for the machine, everything has to be the same crop (or couple of crops), from the exact same genetic lines. (Monocultures never lead to famines!)

Why NOT encourage people to go back to the land, and make it possible for them to make a living doing so? Mass education is easy once you have the internet and good public transit. Keeping the farms full of workers is easy if A)small farming won't bankrupt you and B)you can choose city or country at will. There are plenty of people trapped in urban areas who would love to work with their hands, but can't because it makes no money. Let people choose where they want to work, and there'll be no need to "keep people down on the farm." Those with the temperament or gift for farming should be free to choose it (which nowadays they are not--it takes a huge amount of capital to start or buy a farm). And those who can't wait to work in an office all day could do so as well.

To human population growth: enforced birth control is unethical and, more to the point, would mean armed rebellion. Keeping birth control safe and available is necessary, but in addition we need to work on the factors which make people want multiple children. If our kids have a 50% of dying, or we need every helper we can get, we're not going to use birth control. If we feel safe, secure, and happy, we will. Look at the birth rates in, say, Italy vs. Uganda.

message 14: by Robert (new)

Robert My point is that this might have worked in the 1950s, maybe, but now there are just too many people. You haven't addressed the wealth = resources equation, or convinced me that less land would be required to feed the population.

Changing farming practices is insufficient to resolve serious problems such as anthropogenic climate change, increasing land use for industrial and living space, finite supplies of metals and fossil fuels and waste disposal.

Taken together, these problems, along with farming issues and water supplies, cannot be solved, even using every technological solution available, for a population of 6.5 billion or greater. So, what do you propose? Is it worse to allow the planet to go to wrack and ruin, or to control our own population? Are individual human rights more important than the survival of other species? Tough moral questions!

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