The book Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity makes a clear argument against the existence of "a world hunger crisis." Lappe and Collins support their main thesis that rather than a "global food shortage," we are facing an unequal distribution system. The book discusses the development of our current food production and distribution systems. It supports the idea that there is in reality enough food production to supply everyone on earth with an adequate amount of calories, but that there is much wasted energy in the production, packaging and distribution of food to certain parts of the world. The main thesis of the book is that there is actually no real food shortage, just an unequal distribution to certain parts of the world.
Lappe and Collins open Chapter four with the idea that in order to meet the nutritional needs of a society, a food production system must have two qualities: "(1) It must avoid long-term depletion of the natural resource base, and (2) it must equitably distribute essential nutrients to people" (Lappe and Collins, p. 95). They then go on to discuss the theories of Thomas Malthus who surmised that the population of the world was growing at an exponential rate, while the food supply was growing linearly. He surmised that there were certain limitations placed on food production including limited land and labor.
Lappe and Collins point out that Malthus underestimated the difference that that the industrial revolution would make on the amount of food production available. Although this will solve the temporary food production problem, we must remember that rule number one is that the method does not deplete the necessary natural resources. Lappe and Collins do not point out the fact that fossil fuel is not an unlimited resource. They use advent of fossil fuels as the ultimate antidote to Malthus' dilemma. They point out that we have the capability to produce enough food to solve our immediate food needs. This means that, as they pointed out, Malthus' argument that we do not have the labor and means necessary to produce the food necessary to keep up with population growth is false. They have proven through this argument that Malthus' argument us false based on primary premise number two, that the food must be able to be equitably distributed.
However, they completely ignore that, even though the use of fossil fuels solves the problem of equitably distributing food and speeding production, it is not a resource that is sustainable. Therefore, the argument that a true world food shortage does not exist is only valid for the current time, unless we find a way to maintain equitable distribution with something other than fossil fuels. It is interesting that they made two clear conditions for a food source to meet the needs of society and then chose to completely ignore one of them in their proof.
They sufficiently proved that humans had the ability to increase food production through better technology and improved production methods. They traced the development of our modern food production system through out the ages and showed how when the population demanded more food production, we had on every occasion risen to meet the challenge. They used these examples to further destroy the idea that Malthus proposed regarding the development of a worldwide food crisis.
They discussed three theories and supported them through examples throughout human history. The three theories are the Population Pressure Model, the Optimization Model, and the Risk Minimizing, Subsistence Security Model (Lappe and Collins, p. 100). These theories have to do with the ability of the way that people find ways to support their nutritional needs. The main difference in these theories is whether population grows as a result of increased food, or whether food production increases and becomes more efficient as a result of pressure from population growth. They do not pick one theory over another, but rather support the existence and validity of all three though historical examples.
The primary focus of Lappe and Collins was to prove the theories of Malthus to be false through historical example. The theories of population growth as a basis for the existence of worldwide food famine is one of the major arguments world economists today who promote that distribution and development of better manufacturing techniques to in order to produce more food and support more people. Lappe and Collins have shown through many examples that there has always been enough food production to support the global population, but that a very small percent has been in control of the land to produce the food and the food itself, once produced. humans have always found a way to intensify food production to meet local needs.
Lappe and Collins also showed that, as advances in technology became more widespread, world food production moved from a local level to a global level. However, even though this was true, the same inequalities still exist regarding the distribution of this food.
Chapter Five introduces us to the modern food production system, where we basically take a natural food source, high in energy and nutrients and turn it into something with virtually no nutritional value. This process only appears to be more efficient as the sheer volumes of food produced are impressive, but in actuality, these food production systems are inefficient and have a much higher energy input, than energy output.
Lappe and Collins make a well-supported argument, using American culture as the prime example, of how the food distribution system has become more inefficient as a result of high concentrations of population in certain areas. They also point out that even though economically wealthy countries have higher food consumption per person that poor countries, they still suffer from malnutrition due to the inefficiency of the nutritional value of their food. They point out that there are different types of malnutrition and that in some cases malnutrition is caused by a lack of food and in other cases, it can be caused be an overabundance of poor quality food, as is the case with American culture.
The gross misuse of land is a highlight of Lappe and Collins' work. They point out that land is used, not for food production, but for "cash crops" which produce luxury items other than food. They point out that this system was developed by a people who had never experienced hunger, as the rest of the world knows it. Money has become more important in these areas than food production. This land used for non-food production is owned by a small percentage of the population. Therefore this creates a great imbalance where the use of the land is controlled by a small percentage who do not see the need to use land for its most efficient use, but see it as an investment to gain more wealth and therefore control more land. If more of this land were used for more efficient food production, then we could produce more on less land and virtually end the world food famine, This argument supports the idea that we do have the ability to produce enough food on the land that we have, but that the problem lies in an inequality of the distribution of food resources.
Lappe and Collins made a significant point about the extreme amounts of resources that are spent to promote less efficient food items. Food items that are not efficient will not maintain their place in society and will be eventually replaced by more efficient foods. Food items such as potato chips and pop require massive amounts of advertising to maintain their marketplace. Whereas, more nutritional foods require less advertising. The entire system feeds itself and creates a need of more land and resources than the human population can maintain.