The future: one chef’s plan to feed the world

Desperation: More than 800 million people went hungry across the globe in 2016. © Sanchi Aggarwal

Are we on the brink of a food revolution? For the final part of our series on different visions of the future, we examine a fascinating and provocative plan to solve world hunger forever.

In the year 2050, a lone farmer heads to an enormous barn to check on his livestock. Inside the shed, thousands of flu-resistant chickens cluck loudly as they peck corn from the dusty ground.

As he peers into the darkness, the farmer winces: the stench is phenomenal. Outside, row upon row of self-fertilising wheat sways gently in the breeze.

This is the future farmyard, as imagined by celebrity food blogger Anthony Warner in a new book published yesterday.

In Ending Hunger: The Quest to Feed the World Without Destroying It, Warner paints a picture of an unfolding global crisis. Without “significant, fundamental change,” he argues, there is “absolutely no chance” that our food system will be able to feed everyone on Earth by 2050.

His fears are not unfounded. In six of the 11 years leading up to 2018, human beings ate into stockpiles, consuming more food than they produced.

And astonishingly, more than 50% of all human calories today come from just three plants: rice, maize and wheat. This makes us vulnerable: if just one crop is wiped out by a new pathogen, or even by climate change, millions could be at risk of starvation.

By 2050, experts warn, the situation is likely to be even worse. With a global population of nearly 10 billion, demand for food will be 60% higher than today. At the same time, climate change, urbanisation and soil degradation will have shrunk the availability of arable land.

Now the “Angry Chef” is angrier than ever. In the past, Warner has attacked food fads and conventional explanations for obesity. This time, his targets are even more surprising.

Warner believes that to solve the food crisis, the world must scrap its love of organic vegetables and locally-grown produce and instead turn to genetic modification.

Indeed, while organic farming may sound like a good idea to many, lower yields mean that in the end, farms need to take over more land, destroy more forests and create more greenhouse gases to supply the same amount of food.

As such, organic farms should instead be replaced by intensive, GM-boosted food production, which could both feed the world and preserve precious wild land.

His ideas may be controversial, but Warner is not alone in his wrath.

“Essentially, organic food is rich people spending their extra cash to feel good,” wrote Danish author Bjorn Lomborg in 2016. Today, 90% of organic produce is sold in North America and Europe.

Meanwhile, scientists around the world are continuing to turn the genetically modified meal from science fiction to reality.

In 2019, 30 years after it was first developed, the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon became the first genetically engineered animal approved for sale in America.

And in Beijing, researchers have crossbred cabbage with scorpions to create a new strain of vegetable that is no longer reliant on pesticides: incredibly, it uses its own venom to fight off caterpillars.

So, are we on the brink of a food revolution?

Feeding frenzy

Yes, say some. We cannot feed the entire global population with organic farming alone. The world needs radical new ideas for food production if we are to keep up with population growth and solve the problem of global hunger. Some of Anthony Warner’s suggestions may sound bizarre and provocative today, but one day they may be a necessary part of humankind’s survival.

No, say others. Farming is a notoriously conservative industry, and many people are reluctant to change the way they eat. Warner’s hatred of organic farming and local produce puts him in the minority – one American food scientist said last year that organic food is a human right. Nobody denies the urgency of the food crisis, but intensive GM-driven farming is not the way to solve this problem.

You Decide

  1. Would you eat genetically modified food?
  2. Do rich countries have a responsibility to find a solution for world hunger?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a scientist developing new genetically modified foods. Draw a picture of a new genetically modified plant or animal, such as the scorpion cabbage, and label the improvements you have designed.
  2. Hold a class debate on the motion: “Population growth is the biggest problem facing the world in the 21st Century.”

Some People Say...

“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), American lawyer, diplomat and President

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that food shortages disproportionately affect people in poorer countries. Today, 98% of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries. Indeed, the vast majority of people who go hungry live in extreme poverty, defined as an income of $1.90 per day or less. The largest group of people worldwide living in extreme poverty are smallholder farmers in developing nations, who do not have enough land to feed themselves year round.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether or not genetically modified food should be allowed at all. For years, anti-GM campaigners have argued that GM crops pose a danger to wild plants and that the long-term effects of eating GM food is unknown. In 2015, more than half of EU countries decided to ban their farmers from growing GM crops. But advocates say that GM crops taste better, can be made stronger than traditional crops, and above all are necessary to feed a growing population.

Word Watch

Anthony Warner
A British chef and food writer. He is the author of a blog called the Angry Chef.
Pathogen
An organism that causes disease. In the 1950s, the Panama Virus wiped out the Gros Michel variety of banana, which used to make up the vast majority of the global banana supply.
Food fads
Warner was inspired to write his blog after hearing about popular diets which were not backed by research. One example is clean eating, a diet concept where people avoid processed foods.
Locally-grown produce
Warner believes that “buying local” does not help the environment or solve the problem of food shortages because big companies and lorries are more efficient at producing food than small ones.
Genetic modification
Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally, for example through the introduction of a gene from a different plant or animal.
Yields
The amount of produce a farm or area of land provides. In his book, Warner writes that people who want to replace conventional farming with organic farming must “decide which half of the population you are prepared to kill”.
Wrath
Extreme anger. The word wrath is derived from Old English.
Bjorn Lomborg
A controversial Danish author and academic who has challenged some mainstream ideas about climate change. He was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004.

Subjects

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