An Entire Planet Hungry for Answers

How much do we really know about the food we eat? And how can some live in abundance while millions are on the brink of starving?

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Eight hundred million people around the world are chronically undernourished, but it’s not because there’s not enough food to go around. Globally, we produce about 2,800 calories of food per person per day, which is more than enough to keep you full and happy. The problem lies in how and where we produce our food.

“There’s enormous inequity within the global food system where we have some regions producing more food than they consume, and other regions are actually becoming what we call food-import-dependent,” says Professor Jennifer Clapp, Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo.

Clapp’s research focuses on illuminating the relationships between food production, society and the environment, and finding ways to address potential problems through education or governance.

For most of us, there is a lot of distance between us and the food we eat. Not just physical distance from where the food was produced, but also conceptual distance, where we know very little about the food we are consuming.

Food is increasingly being grown on a very large scale using sophisticated equipment. This is not only unsustainable for the environment, resulting in deforestation and high greenhouse gas emissions, but also leads to food monopolies, where the few large companies that can afford to produce in this manner are controlling a greater and greater share of the food supply.

“For example, there are just four companies that control around 75% of the world’s grain trade and these companies can move their operations around the world and take advantage of locations where labour and environmental laws are less strict,” explains Clapp.

But if you’re buying vegetables in a grocery store, chances are you have no idea where or how they were produced and what consequences that production may have had for the local farmers or environment.

By identifying and educating the public about these issues, we can start to put pressure on these large corporations to change their practices, perhaps resulting in certified sustainable supply chains. We can also make a difference by trying to eat local whenever possible.

‹ Previous post
Next post ›

Jennifer Clapp is a Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability and Professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo, Canada. She has published widely on the global governance of problems that arise at the intersection of the global economy, the environment, and food security. Her recent articles appear in the Journal of Peasant Studies, Food Policy, Globalizations, the Journal of Agrarian Change, Agriculture and Human Values, and the Review of International Political Economy. Her most recent books include Food, 2nd Edition (Polity, 2016), Hunger in the Balance: The New Politics of International Food Aid (Cornell University Press, 2012), and Corporate Power in Global Agrifood Governance (co-edited with Doris Fuchs, MIT Press, 2009). Professor Clapp is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, has held a Trudeau Fellowship (2013-2016), and is a past recipient of the Canadian Association for Food Studies Award for Excellence in Research (2012).