A Hungry World: Lots of Food, in Too Few Places

Staff Writer
A look at the food crisis

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Examining the world's hunger problem

Of the roughly 7 billion people in the world, an estimated 870 million suffer each day from hunger.

That's hunger from malnutrition or not eating even the lowest amount of daily recommended calories — 1,800 — while often enduring food insecurity, or not knowing where the next meal is coming from.

The consistently massive population of hungry people — along with variables like severe weather and economic downturns — sometimes spark warnings that the planet faces impending food shortages.

And yet more people in the world — 1.7 billion — are considered obese or overweight from a daily caloric intake that in some cases is at least six to seven times the minimum.

This paradox is nothing new, experts say. It just shows the problem isn't that we have too little food, it's what we do with the food we have.

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"We have two or three times the amount of food right now that is needed to feed the number of people in the world," said Joshua Muldavin, a geography professor at Sarah Lawrence College who focuses on food and agricultural instruction.

"A lot of people aren't analyzing the situation correctly. We can deal with short-term food shortages after a disaster, but fixing long term hunger gets ignored," he said.

"We don't have food shortage problem," said Emelie Peine, a professor of international politics and economy at the University of Puget Sound.

"What we have is a distribution problem and an income problem," Peine said. "People aren't getting the food, ... and even if [they] did, they don't have enough money to buy it."

If there is enough food, a major problem causing scarcity is what we do with it, said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, an advocacy group for U.S. farmers.

"Something in the area of up to half of all that's produced is wasted," said Johnson, who runs his own farm in North Dakota.

"In the undeveloped world, the waste happens before the food gets to people, from lack of roads and proper storage facilities, and the food rots," Johnson said. "In the developed world, it's the staggering amount of food that's thrown out after it gets to our plates."