A Review of the Scientific American Global Food Issue – Sept 2007

Scientific American sports a double cheeseburger in a global bun on its cover this month in one of the most informative magazines so far this year. The “From the Editor” column sets the tone – the 20th century’s green revolution in farming has resulted in “billions and billions served” (apologies to McDonald’s). Wow, have we shown Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, author the 1968 book The Population Bomb, wrong! And all through scientific advancements! Exactly how do 6 billion people get fed breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday (or not) – and what are the remaining problems and how do we solve those?

The opinion piece Breaking the Poverty Trap by Jeffrey Sachs points out that poverty, internal violence, and political collapse tend to go together and points out that a lot of the problems are geographical in nature. Jeff suggests focused investment that enable farmers to gain access to fertilizers, high-yield seeds, small-scale management technologies and livestock management. Tropical diseases are easily preventable and completely treatable – we need a supply chain established of “crucial commodities”. We need a technological infrastructure that can break economic isolation. Check out The Earth Institute of Columbia University where there are success stories of malaria incidents being cut from 75% to 10% with the simple introduction of insecticide treated bed nets and a health clinic.

The Introductory Article: A Question of Sustenance by Gary Stix declares that for the first time in human history the number of overweight people is greater than the number of undernourished people worldwide (1.5 billion fat people versus 1.3 billion undernourished people). Poor Mexicans actually drink more soda than Americans do. There has been Coca-Colonization the world over. American-styled supermarkets selling corn, soy, and other vegetable oils are overtaking the village market the world over. The “green revolution” has forestalled mass starvation, but has made people all over the world overweight. What to do? There is a global paradox of obesity and malnutrition.

Eating Made Simple by nutritionist Marion Nestle is practical. It deals with the problem of conventional nutritional advice continually changing. Here are Marion’s main points:

  • Do not overeat
  • Exercise more
  • Consume mainly fruit, vegetable, and whole grains
  • Avoid junk food (especially soda pop)

She blames food marketing for almost all that ails us. Grocery stores provide a vital social service but they are not social service agencies. Their job is to sell as much food as possible. For instance – colorful, aromatic and enticing fresh produce when you enter, then long center aisles forcing consumers to pass by many items that they may buy on impulse, highly prominently placed junk food, and checkout lines with candy. Its all a plot to super size it! Marion says that you can have a study to justify almost any conclusion. The big problem for nutrition research is that you cannot lock large numbers of people in cages and feed them measured formulas of a complete diet, it is hard to make people stick to a restrictive diet protocol.

Then there is the requisite article debunking the myth that being slightly overweight may be good for you. The next article is about how we have caveman stomachs and minds that are physiologically designed to binge eat and store food in our stomachs for when food is unattainable. We are not designed for a world full of food, this article argues. So its not our fault that we eat so much and don’t work it off!

The next article This Is Your Brain on Food explains why we crave food the same way addicts crave drugs. It is caused by the same brain circuitry called dopamine – and some people are at greater risk for food addictions. Some mice diet go off a high sugar diet better when given naloxone – the same drug they give morphine addicts going through withdrawal.

The next article by Barry M. Popkin is entitled The World is Fat and declares obesity has become a bigger problem than malnutrition in virtually all of Latin Merica, Mexico, Egypt, and South Africa, the Middle East and North Africa. Even in Nigeria and Uganda! Why? Soda and TV. Mopeds instead of walking. Supermarkets. Fruits and vegetables are OUT and sweeteners are IN. In 1989 fewer than 10% of Mexicans were obese. In 2006, 71% of Mexican women and 66% of Mexican men were overweight to obese. This is about the same as in the US. Diabetes has gone from being almost non-existent to being a disease that 1 in 7 Mexicans suffer from. The poor are getting fat – with much less health care and health information than we have in the US. It is because people are designed to drink, and when they have a choice between Pepsi and water – they choose Pepsi. Wal-mart, Carefour and Ahold are opening up giant stores around the world selling cheap snacks and soft drinks. The super stores are putting the traditional markets out of business! Mexico has a GDP $10,700 and obesity has increased from 61.9% in 2000 to 69.3% in 2006. If food keeps on getting more and more tasty and our life styles continue to get more and more sedentary we will continue to get more and more unhealthy.

The next article is entitled Still Hungry – one eighth of the world’s people do not have enough to eat – by Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng. 720 human being die of hunger every hour. Six million people are going to die of hunger this year. The lack of food causes much more hardship than death – it also causes handicaps people’s ability to function and live properly. 800 million – two and a half times the population of the US – live everyday with hunger. The problem does not stem from insufficient food production – but because people are unable to pay for food – poverty. Natural disasters, escalating military conflicts, and children being orphaned by Aids are also causes.

So what are the solutions? Rapid economic growth for poor people – including programs for rural development, with an emphasis on agriculture, basic education, and health services. Credit must be made available to poor rural people such as microloans. Development assistance should be increased from the current 0.3% to 0.7% from rich countries to poor countries. The more people who can buy goods, the more everybody prospers!

There are two more articles – one on biotechnology on genetically modifying crops in developing countries, and one about protecting the food supply from terrorist plot.

What would Jesus think if he read this Scientific American? First of all I think He would think that healthy well-fed people who are not redirecting their resources to the poor, sick and hungry in an ever shrinking world are being unloving. He tells a story about how all nations will be gathered before the Son of Man, and will be separated into two groups – goats and sheep. He will say to the goats – “I was hungry and you failed to feed me”, and the goats will say “when were you hungry?” and the Son of Man will say – when you sat on your butts while people died of hunger or died of malaria because they didn’t have a ten dollar mosquito net.

Ending hunger, disease, and poverty (as well as casting out evil spirits, and the dead being raised) is the essence of what the Kingdom of God is all about – and it will take all of our mind, all of our souls, and all of our strength, to wipe out poverty in our generation. It may involve moving to another country, or taking a job that does not pay as well, or giving of our resources, or making a micro-loan. We have not been given a new life in Christ so that we can continue to destroy our environment, vote for the interests of the rich, and ignore the poor. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS” and the good works that need to be done in the twenty-first century is to wipe out poverty, wipe out disease, wipe out hunger by going, thinking, and giving. The Scientific American think scientists have a handle on these problems and they are working on solutions – but what about us – have we given up? Faith without works is dead. Food without work is obesity. We need fruit, vegetables and whole grains from heaven because man does not live on bread alone.

-To the Moon


1 Comment

Filed under Africa, America, Asia, Christianity, food, Global Warming, mission, politics, Religion, Sustaining Technologies

One response to “A Review of the Scientific American Global Food Issue – Sept 2007

  1. Great info, I have been in the nutraceutical product development business for 30 years. My site will provide the end user with a ton of info, it is still in the development phase and will be growing in size over the next few months. Feel free to check it out for an ‘insiders’ view of the nutrition and herb markets.


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