Can we feed the world?

One of the links in the roundup of Interesting Stuff I posted a couple days ago was a video entitled Can We Feed The World?

Well, not if we’re trying to feed the world according to the USDA recommendations, which push people to get most of their energy from carbohydrates. It doesn’t immediately look like that – see how grains and protein are both 5 ounces per day? But then look at the veggies – 4 cups “starchy” veggies, and 1 cup “beans and peas” per week – both high-carb food groups. That amounts to basically another 5 ounces per day of carbohydrate on top of the grains. And what the heck is “other veggies”? Veggies that aren’t dark green, red, orange, starchy, beans or peas? Seriously, what vegetable is in that set? Cucumber, maybe? Celery? You want to eat 3.5 cups of cucumber and celery per week? I could manage that if pickles count, I think.

Then look at dairy: they’re pushing for reduced fat options. Protein, ditto: lean meats. At least they’re not recommending fruit juice instead of whole fruits! But down at the bottom is the real kicker: “Your allowance for oils is 5 teaspoons a day. Limit Calories from solid fats and added sugars to 120 Calories a day.” And reduce sodium, of course.

Let me share an example. This morning for breakfast I made myself a serving of steel-cut oatmeal. Into my oatmeal I put about a tablespoon of coconut oil and 1/3 cup blueberries, and I sweeten it with Splenda. The oatmeal, which is 1/4 cup of the uncooked grains, contributes 150 calories. That tablespoon of coconut oil contributes 120 calories. There are four tablespoons in 1/4 cup. So here’s the thing: if coconut oil counts as an oil according to the USDA, I’ve just had a little over half my oil “allowance” in one meal. If it counts as a solid fat (which is what it actually is) then I just hit my entire daily calorie allowance for solid fats AND added sugars in one tablespoon of a healthy fat. But look at those calorie counts again: one tablespoon of coconut oil is providing me with just about the equivalent energy of four times as much oatmeal. If we’re talking feeding the world, that higher calorie count in the coconut oil means I need to eat way less healthy fats than I need to eat “hearthealthywholegrains” to stave off starvation. And I really, really don’t want to eat four times as much oatmeal for breakfast, thanks.

If I punt the USDA recommendations to the curb with the trash where they belong, I need a whole lot less food to reach my necessary caloric intake. And while I’m going to be eating some starchy vegetables, I don’t know that I’m going to go so far as to eat that much! (I could really use more dark leafy greens in my diet, though. Gotta go get some spinach for myself, even though J is not a spinach fan that just means more for me!) 

So yeah. Can we feed the world? We’ve got more food than we know what to do with right now, but it’s not all healthy food – corporate-monocropped grain agriculture is bad for the environment, and founding your diet on starchy foods like the USDA recommends results in – guess what! – exploding rates of obesity and type II diabetes, so it’s bad for people, too. Meanwhile, people would need a lot less meat (and the dreaded naturally fatty foods) to get their minimum caloric requirements met than they’d need if they were eating mainly grains and other low-fat plant-based foods. Less food required, more nutrition, less dependence on high-inputs-required monocropping as done by vast multinational corporations growing Roundup-Ready GMO grains? Farming techniques that can be used by communities so that they aren’t so dependent on long, fragile supply chains? Sounds like a good thing to me.

We can feed the world, so long as we’re not trying to feed them on starches!

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About pancakeloach

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4 Responses to Can we feed the world?

  1. Carbohydrates are cheap, and contain a concentrated energy. If we do without starches is the situation that requires increased intake of food. If you think about it for a minute, food that more easily causes weight gain is what has the higher energy value.

    • pancakeloach says:

      Hmmm, did you read the comparison of oatmeal (starch) to coconut oil (nonstarch)? The starch is a far less concentrated a form of energy than the oil. And one of the reasons that carbohydrates are so cheap is because they are subsidized by the government.

      The food that most easily causes weight gain is not necessarily the highest calorie value, because the biological trigger for storing weight in fat cells is insulin, and the relationship between calorie concentration and insulin response is not 1:1. Carbohydrates do indeed facilitate weight gain, but not because they are the most caloric-concentrated types of food. One tablespoon of cooked oatmeal has far fewer calories than one tablespoon of oil – even honey, which is six times higher in calories than oatmeal and pure, fully-metabolizable carbohydrate (which oatmeal, containing non-digestible fiber, is not), is still only about half as calorie-dense as coconut oil. But the honey is far more likely to trigger the body to store fat than the coconut oil is!

      It seems like you haven’t done a lot of research on this topic. I recommend starting with a great humorous documentary, free on Hulu: Fat Head, by Tom Naughton.

  2. The only research I’ve done is fieldwork.

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