An astounding one in eight people on the planet are undernourished, over three million children die every year from hunger or malnutrition, and two billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies (Caritas). And as the world’s population continues to grow, with estimates putting it at ten billion by 2050, we can only expect the situation to get worse. Unless, of course, we do something about it. But for that to happen, we need to recognize that food insecurity on this level is not simply unfortunate, but it is deeply unjust. We need to reframe the global hunger problem in terms of food justice.
What is it
The number of chronically hungry people in the world is over 800 million, yet developed countries are facing health challenges from rising rates of obesity. The growing problems of food security and water scarcity seem an issue of distribution rather than availability. But other factors also influence the status of food and water security worldwide. So where does the problem with food and water security lie? Do developed countries – or any other entities or individuals – have any moral obligations to ensure a global network of water and food security? What practical, policy-oriented action can fulfill any moral obligations that might exist? John and Ken grab a bite with Tim Benton, Professor of Population Ecology at the University of Leeds and UK Champion for Global Food Security.
There’s a lot of food injustice in the world, John tells Ken – 1 in 8 people are undernourished, 3 million children die every year because of malnutrition – and that is just plain wrong. Ken agrees, adding that food injustice is going to be more present in upcoming years – we already cannot produce enough food for seven billion people, so population growth will only worsen the situation. But, says John, food availability is not the problem. Instead, the problem is that people cannot afford to pay for the food that is already available; he brings up how much food is wasted yearly. So, says Ken, people should grow their own food. And if there are no adequate resources to grow food for oneself, then we simply need to figure out a better way to distribute the food that already exists. Well, says John, solving global warming is easy in principle, too. In fact, food security and climate change go hand in hand, with the environmental impact of transporting food and the clearing of forests to raise livestock being only two factors. John and Ken discuss whether individual action is all that is needed to turn this situation around or whether collective, structural efforts are a more favorable bet.
John and Ken introduce Tim Benton, Professor of Population Ecology at the University of Leeds and UK Champion for Global Food Security. John asks Tim what a Champion for Global Food Security does, and Tim explains that he works to help the UK government think about the challenges of food into the future. John recognizes that global food insecurity is a problem. But what, he asks Tim, is the biggest single factor we ought to focus on when thinking of this issue? Poverty. There is a lack of access and affordability to food in the developing world as well as in developed areas. So, Ken suggests, does that mean that if we could provide income support for all around the world who currently cannot pay for food, the problem of food insecurity would go away? Tim answers that sufficient access to enough safe food is not true for many people, and this has to do with poverty, but also with power – i.e. why we have food deserts – and inaccessibility. Income support is one element of the solution. John asks whether, given that poverty is problematic in regards to food security, those of us who have a lot of money are not a part of the problem. Tim explains that most people in the developed world waste massive quantities of food, so if we chose to eat differently, it would free up agricultural resources that could then be used otherwise.
Who is morally responsible for solving food insecurity concerns, John asks? Tim explains that the right to food is a fundamental human right, so there is a moral obligation affecting each one of us to ensure that all have access to food. In the developed world, we also all contribute in one way or another to global warming and other important concerns, and we must take responsibility for these contributions. Ken wonders whether he, as an individual consumer of the food choices presented to him, need to feel some moral guilt for making the choices he does. After all, individuals do not create the system or the choices available to him. Tim says that there are issues to do with every person’s consumption choices. But, adds Ken, all those consequences of individual consumption choices are highly invisible to the consumer, and the industry is not trying to make the consequences visible. Tim speaks of the benefits of living in an age of easily accessible information via technology.
John and Ken welcome audience participation, and issues ranging from the difference between demand and need and how it’s measured in calories and nutrition to whether new technologies are the route to or away from food justice are discussed. The extent to which political activity affects food justice and the unintended consequences on food justice of the actions we take are also debated. Regarding the latter, Tim speaks about the externalities of food injustices and how important it is that those costs are repaid, the question being who pays for them.
Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 7:09): Shuka Kalantari explores the problems of food justice not only in regards to food hunger but taking into consideration our food choices. She speaks with Mary Jo Cook, Chief Impact Officer at Fair Trade USA, about fair trade items and sustainable farming practices, and with Ashel Eldrige, founder of Earth Amplified, about food deserts in the U.S, locally produced juice, and education pathways.
- 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 46:08): Ian Shoales reminisces about the days when food was simple, diets meant smoking cigarettes, and vegetarians were hippies. Now we know otherwise, but with knowledge comes conspicuous consumption, food indulgences, and snobbery.