Rethinking Food Distribution to Feed More People

The first twenty minutes of any zombie movie are the scariest, and they all tend to follow the same script. That script is pure and utter chaos.

See, before the zombies start massing and slowly taking over the landscape, and before our group of heroes has been winnowed from the rest of the other survivors left, everyone's just kind of losing their minds. Grocery stores become battle grounds as shelves become more and more barren. People start sacrificing their pets for food. Everyone's walking around with a shotgun, and no one trusts anyone. It's the last grasps of society, everyone for themselves. And it's more frightening than the rest of the movie because, unlike zombies -- which, you know, aren't real -- the collapse of society seems like less of an "if" and more of a "when."

And that when may be here quicker than you think. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, unless something drastic happens, that chaotic first act of a zombie movie is what the world will be like in 2050. Luckily, the U.N. has a few solutions. Unluckily, they're the wrong ones.

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The picture they paint of the world in 36 years at the current rate of food production and population growth -- we're expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 -- and is not a pretty one, full of "political turmoil, social unrest, civil war and terrorism." To avoid this dystopian future, the U.N. says that worldwide food production must be increased by 60 percent. Or else.

No matter how you look at it, we're in trouble, but it's not unfixable. In their report, the U.N. offers a pair of solutions, including increasing arable land areas and boosting the productivity rates. These solutions make inherent sense, but they may also be a bit of a booby-trap.

The biggest reasons that GMO companies cite whenever they're asked why the general public should embrace genetic modification in food is that it will help raise productivity in certain crops. And that's certainly true. The boon promised by GMOs is one where land is used more efficiently and crop yields are increased substantially. But what the GMO companies haven't done, yet, is offer enough proof that this route does not also bring with it worldwide disaster by inadvertently changing the food supply.

Instead, the better answer is one the U.N. left out, and one that environmentalists have been sounding the alarm bell about for years: Cutting down on food waste by distributing our food more effectively.

As I wrote about last week, the fact that we waste 1,249 calories per person per day is alarming. It's not only a giant waste of water, as well as being morally atrocious, but it's also just a tad over 60 percent of the government's recommended daily allowance of 2,000 calories. Go ahead and scroll back up to how much the U.N. recommends we raise food production by. Funny how these numbers seem to work sometimes.

Basically, if we focus our energies on finding ways to eliminate our massive amount of food waste, and instead figure out ways to funnel those grown but discarded calories to the areas of the world that are experiencing the largest shortages of food, that will essentially solve the problem. Hooray! No barren apocalyptic landscape in a tad over three decades! Simple enough, right?

No, of course not. This is a problem that can't be fixed by simply picking up our leftovers, throwing them on a plane, and dropping them to the needy. It means something more substantial: A complete revamping about how we think of food production. It's a solution filled with more logistical hurdles than getting a man on the moon. But, you know, we did that. And it didn't even take us all that long once we put our mental focus on it.

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