US food wasteland

May 22, 2008

A thought provoking editorial from today’s Dallas Morning News:

What’s for dinner tonight? Your answer to that question depends in part on how people in India and China answer that question. Growing appetites from the rising middle classes of China and India are helping drive demand past what the world food market can supply.

This wasn’t such a problem for American consumers when the Chinese and Indians were too poor to eat like us. But that’s changing. Frankly, the Indians are tired of hearing us complain.

Irritated economists and officials in India can point to United Nations data showing that the average American consumes or discards 3,770 calories of food energy per day – roughly 50 percent more than the average Indian. U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the average American eats 57 times more corn annually than does the average Indian and about seven times more corn than the average Chinese.

What about meat? Americans eat eight times more beef than the Chinese do and six times more chicken. U.S. beef and chicken consumption exceeds India’s by multiples of several hundred.

In fact, Americans throw away a staggering amount of food – 27 percent of what’s edible, according to government data cited by The New York Times. True, tossing out leftovers in Dallas doesn’t correspond directly to meatloaf taken out of the mouths of the Third World poor. But you can imagine how it sounds to people in hungrier countries to hear Americans complaining about higher food prices, but discarding massive quantities of food we just couldn’t get around to consuming fast enough.

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times,” presidential candidate Barack Obama said last weekend, “and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK. That’s not leadership.”

He’s right. We Americans are gluttons for energy, as well as for food. Given that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, we should have the good manners not to complain about high food prices with our mouths full.



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