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Food, Survival, and Resources

Our caveman conditioning

Humans are no different from any other animal in that without a steady supply of food, we cannot survive, prosper, and multiply. This essential need has shaped our attitudes in everything we have done as we moved from warm African origins to spread out across the world. Hunger has driven our behaviour, and the survivors are those who won the fights, took the food, and fathered the next generation. This drive to survive is now slightly less obvious beneath a veneer of civilization, and what was once an essential characteristic has unfortunately steadily evolved into the traits of greed and avarice. The main change is that we initially needed food to live, whereas for large sections of the advanced world the attitude is more that we live for food. It is certainly pleasurable, but for many it is an addiction that brings poor health.

Technology in food production has matured from bows and arrows for hunting to satnav-driven tractors that, completely unmanned, can plough the ground and harvest crops. We similarly have developed a taste for exotic produce from all over the world, and expect to be able to have it at any time of the year. This probably does not add to our enjoyment, as older generations say there was great pleasure in having seasonal foods and looking forward to their appearance.

Because we have prospered, the world population has grown, and it is still increasing at a very steady rate. Advances in medicine have also contributed to far greater longevity. So the demand for food is increasing, not least as the Third World countries, not unreasonably, aspire to the lifestyle and nourishment of the advanced nations. In countries and times when child mortality rates were high, and more hands were needed for manual agriculture, the population increases were partially self-limiting. Nevertheless, we are approaching the point where food production, distribution, and availability are stretched to cope with existing high population numbers. We currently survive, but to raise global food standards and production volumes is a severe challenge.

As always in such uncontrolled situations, the facts and opinions of how to proceed can seem quite contradictory. The current population of around 7 billion people is expanding and may well double within the next 25 years (i.e. just a single generation). However, the changes are very diverse in different regions. Numbers are falling in countries that are more advanced and where both men and women have better education, but where women are denied education (often for religious reasons), numbers are increasing. This is despite the fact that in most of the world, the fertility rate (i.e. the number of children born per woman) has declined. Comparing numbers from the 1950s to the present day shows a steady fertility decrease varying roughly as follows: Africa (7—5), Oceania (7—2.5), Asia (7—2), Latin America (6—2), North America (3.5—2), and Europe (2.8 —^ 1.8). This is not totally positive, as within Africa a number of very populous countries have increased the fertility rate towards 8 births per woman. If we were to maintain the current world population, then the target number is near 2.1 (with a caveat that we do not increase average lifetimes significantly).

 
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