Political Ecology: The World Food System
Global difference in food patterns is one of the most noticed and researched traits of world’s nations. What we eat and how we consume it, is part of our culture and living style. It is very obvious that an Arab living in KSA is going to consume more dates rather than Fish as compared to a Bengali living in India. Availability is a key factor which is a decisive factor in our eating habits. However, one cannot forget the importance of available capital or money, in affecting our eating habits. Thus availability and affordability are the key factors which play important role in determining our eating patterns. Similarly, this is the reason why a family living in Germany would have a totally opposite food intake as compared to the one living in Mali, Africa.
In 2005, Peter Menzel published his book called, “Hungary Planet: What the world eats.” In his work, Peter shared photographs of different families (along with the food they consume on weekly basis) from all over the globe. What was most disappointing was the disparity between the food consumed by the most affluent and the neediest ones.
It was interesting to observe a difference between the German family and the Malinian family (photographs are given in the appendix A). The German family called “The Melanders,” a family of four, had a weekly consumption of food worth $501. On the other hand, the Natomo family from Mali, had a weekly consumption of almost $27. The difference between the kind of food consumed is rather drastic. Statistics gathered by Food and Agriculture Organization mentioning calories consumption per capita in developed and underdeveloped countries, are given in Figure 1.
The Melanders, have a weekly consumption varying from flavored bread to cereals, soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, processed food and raw meat and poultry etc. whereas, the Natomos have only raw grains and vegetable as their disposal, which is utilized by them during three meals of the day. Also, the procurement of food is also very contrasting. The Melanders, perform their shopping of groceries from the contemporary general stores, super markets as well as the outdoor markets. The shopping habits of Melanders reflect the influence of culture as well as the desire of having access to the modern brands available in modern stores. On the other hand, the Natomos utilize mainly raw food available in the nearby local markets, relatives’ farms and out of their own purchase for business purposes (the head of the family is a grain trader).
The food intake by both families during three meals during the day, are completely opposite to each other. The source of starch intake in Melanders in grains, vegetables, bread and other processed food (where this liberty is obviously given by affordability and availability). Whereas, grains are the only source of starch for Natomos, (most of which comes from the purchase made for business purposes). Dairy products consumption by Melanders is worth almost $67 and ranges from raw as well as processed form of dairy which includes processed milk, fruits yogurts, cheese of various types, processed cream, butter etc. And, Natomos only spend $0.30 on sour milk which is no luxury but a necessity for food preparation.
Similarly the differences between red and white meat consumption, vegetables, nuts, fruits show a similar pattern. A lot of food consumed by Melanders which is part of their normal lives is rather luxury for Natomos. Where the beverages utilized by Melanders include mineral water, different types of tea and beers, juices, flavored milk etc.; the only beverage used by Natomos is water which is taken from the nearby community well and doesn’t costs a dime.
The type of food eaten by both the families on daily basis, also have varying nature. The food intake of Melanders is traditional as well as contemporary. Processed food, fast food, processed beverages, refined grains as well as purchases of fresh fruits, vegetable and nuts made from the local market; show a variety of food consumed by Germans. Research has suggested that easy access to the supermarket has an influence on the access to healthy food (Renee et. Al, 2011). Also, the preparation of food has various techniques. Considering the type of food eaten, it is obvious that use of normal gas stove to microwave ovens alone with bar-b-q grills, is rather common for Melanders. Whereas, Natomos cook their food by burning wood which is very common in Mali?
By having a simple glance at the two pictures, one can easily observe that starting from procurement till final consumption, the eating habits of both the families who reflection of the areas they live in, are completely opposite to each other.
Also, it is quite easy to observe how there exist two global cultures; one which is a result of industrialization of food industry and the other is a consequence of simple poverty. The industrialization of food industry started back in 1970s where the main emphasis was on consumption of healthy food components only (of course, by those who could afford it). Markets were flooded with food having only carbohydrates and least fat. Time proved that this notion was wrong and leads the world to obesity. Resultant is the today’s world of consuming processed food only, which is refined but lacks nutritional value (Pollan, 2008).
One cannot ignore the role of international monetary bodies in this food disparity all across the globe. It’s the policies of organizations like IMF and World Bank, who have made the affluent countries more rich and the poor ones drained out of their resources. 1980s was the era when the African states decided to rely on their internal production and curtailing imports. As Africa is one of the most populated regions of the world, reduction in importance could have had a drastic impact on GNP of developed countries. But due to the policies of World Bank, this plan of sovereignty collapsed completely, burring African nations in debt, and causing their future mortgaged to the commodities with declining value (Patel, 2009).
Also, IMF is an equal culprit in this global inequality. We can take example of Malawi here, a country destroyed by IMF policies where hundreds starved to death. Due to erroneous data presented by IMF, Malawian government reduced its grain storage by 3/4th. The intention was to reduce the storage cost; however the result was hundreds of people dying of famine. Malawi government had to take loan from IMF which further indebted the country and worsened its state (Rowan, 2002). Although IMF claimed in its fact sheet that this disaster was the result of government policies (IMF, 2002). A 2009 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute estimated that, in the absence of resolute government action, daily food availability in sub-Saharan Africa will average 500 calories less per person in 2050 (Godoy, 2009).
Food disparity is an evil depriving millions of their basic right: food. Our eating habits reflect who we are and where we belong to. It also explains our social status and culture. There have been various studies conducted on this topic and they successfully managed to explain the difference between the nourishment intakes in between citizens of developed as well as developing countries. Where the affluent ones have all the luxuries at their disposal, those living in developing part of the world are trying hard to make the ends meet. Organizations such as IMF and World Bank have also played their role in enhancing this global inequality and if their current policies prevail, the situation might get worse globally.
Figure 1: Foods Available for Consumption (kcal/cap/day)
Source: FAO: 2007
Food and Agriculture Organization. World Food Insecurity and Malnutrition: Scope, Trends, Causes and Consequences. 2009
International Monetary Fund. Malawi — The Food Crises, the Strategic Grain Reserve, and the IMF. 2002
Godoy, Julio. Climate Change Worsening Farming’s Trade-Related Woes. 2009
Menzel, Peter. Hungary Plant: What the world eats. 2005
Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System. Melville House: 2009.
Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food. Penguin: 2008.
Rowan, David. Famine in Malawi as IMF policies bite. 2002
Walker, Renee E. et. Al. Factors Influencing Food Buying Practices in Residents of a Low-Income Food Desert and a Low-Income Food Oasis.
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