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68 Comments:
Merrill said 8 days ago:

Wageningen has a large number of relevant courses available on edX.com. A while ago, I audited the three courses "Nutrition and Health: Food Risks", "Nutrition and Health: Macronutrients", and "Nutrition and Health: Micronutrients". They were excellent courses.

Since then, they have added many courses on sustainable agriculture and sustainable development. https://www.edx.org/school/wageningenx

spraak said 8 days ago:

I was under the impression that there already exists enough food in the world to feed everyone, and that it is actually a distribution (inequalities and economic) problem?

Merrill said 8 days ago:

The production of food by farmers, ranchers and fishermen is only a small part of the food system. There are all the agribusinesses that provide inputs to the farmers, such as farm machinery, fuel, pesticides, herbicides, etc. After the food is produced there is a system of buyer and wholesalers that acquire the raw materials, processors that fabricate food products, and distributors, wholesalers, retailers, restaurants, etc. that deliver the food to consumers.

Only about 5% of the total cost goes to the farmers, and they are probably only about 5% of the sustainability issue.

cryptoz said 8 days ago:

The title indicates ~4B more people than are alive today.

Also, there is not enough food in the world to sustainably feed everyone. Current average diets for wealthy countries are driving climate change that is reducing the ability of less-developed countries to reasonably plan for crops and build their own sustainable food sources.

It's not necessarily more food that's the problem so much as sustainable and low-cost food.

booboolayla said 8 days ago:

>Current average diets for wealthy countries are driving climate change that is reducing the ability of less-developed countries to reasonably plan for crops and build their own sustainable food sources.

One of these days we will face the unpleasant facts that: 1. Not all cultures/societies are equal 2. Some cultures/societies are incapable of sustaining themselves due to multiple _internal_ factors, and end up in a vicious cycle of population rises and violent decreases.

Blaming the Western culture might do well for your goals of re-inventing the Western society according to 19th century economic theories, but it won't help anyone in the real world. All the problems of unsustainable societies will stay firmly in place, but you sure will be able to inflict damage on your own societies.

SomeOldThrow said 8 days ago:

There is enough food—iirc we have enough now for 9 billion people—it’s just a completely unplanned and inefficient use of resources from perspective of resource use. A large part of this is 100% western diet but I’d be skittish to finger it as a primary cause—I don’t think that’s useful.

Also, not all food problems can be blamed on western climate change that we will always need to account for, like literal deserts in North Africa.

wang_li said 8 days ago:

> completely unplanned and inefficient use of resources from perspective of resource use.

People need to get over the idea of efficiency and centrally planned. These are not necessary qualities in order for humans to prosper.

yorwba said 8 days ago:

It's not necessary, but efficiency makes prospering easier by lowering the required effort. If efficiency weren't important, nobody would every bother to optimize (aka. plan) anything.

Also note that planning and central planning aren't synonymous. A central planning process makes more efficient use of planning resources, but that doesn't help if the plans it produces are themselves inefficient because they're based on five-year-old statistics someone faked for their personal gain. So far, decentralized planning seems to be more robust overall, and the additional decision-making overhead is small compared to the cost of actually moving things around.

In that sense, it's not even the case that food distribution is currently unplanned; a great deal of effort goes into determining what quantities of various foods should be transported to warehouses all over the world in order to meet future demand. The problem is just that the planners are optimizing their own profit, and keeping the largest possible number of people well-fed isn't profit-maximizing currently.

maxerickson said 8 days ago:

The carrying capacity of the planet is fixed relative to our current level of technology. Efficiently applying that level of technology can make the difference between shortage and plenty.

Of course so can technological change, but it's not like efficiency is just some dumb irrelevancy.

noja said 8 days ago:

> People need to get over the idea of efficiency and centrally planned.

People need to get over the idea that a free market is the solution to everything?

AnimalMuppet said 8 days ago:

For food distribution, historically, a free market beats central planning, hands down.

SomeOldThrow said 7 days ago:

Not at all; free market fails to feed people daily. Even in the heartland of captialism we had plenty of bread lines during the great depression.

To be clear I’m not advocating centralized planning, or any specific planning method. I’m simply pointing out the free market has specifically failed at food distribution. Or at least, you're going to need to contort the definition of success to get the free market to meet it.

lurquer said 8 days ago:

That's not true. In central planned economies, the members of the Party eat very well. /sarc

coldtea said 8 days ago:

No, but the opposite are enough qualities for humans and the planet to perish, and thus far, we're doing a good job on the latter...

SomeOldThrow said 8 days ago:

Well, based on current distribution of resources, unplanned isn’t going so well either. What’s your suggestion?

cryptoz said 8 days ago:

> iirc we have enough now for 9 billion people

I just don't know what this means. Do we have enough food to feed 9B people for one day? For their whole lifetimes? I think the statistic is too vague to mean anything.

I maintain that we do not have processes in place to feed 9B people for their expected lifespan. If we used our current processes, food sources, diets, etc to feed 9B people, there would be so much disruption in the environment that the situation (being able to feed 9B people with existing food) would not last for the lifetime of those people.

Perhaps I am wrong - but climate predictions for year ~2100 are pretty intense wrt. changes in crop production and such. I just don't think "we have enough [food] now for 9B people".

sarbaz said 8 days ago:

It pretty clearly means that the amount of food produced every day is the amount of food that 9B people consume every day.

Market forces will cause the types of food produced to be diverse enough to consist of a sane and reasonable approximation of a healthy diet, so I don't think that counterarguments along the lines of "we can feed 9B people if you think living off corn counts as feeding" apply here.

Modern agriculture is incredibly efficient. I am completely sure that if our modern techniques were fully implemented across the developing world, we would be able to feed another 4B people with ease.

cryptoz said 8 days ago:

> It pretty clearly means that the amount of food produced every day is the amount of food that 9B people consume every day.

I don't think that's all very clear to start with, but if that's what it means then I still don't consider it a useful metric; it's a local maxima that is reducing our ability to talk about long-term sustainable planning.

"Market forces" are largely ignoring the changing climate and food production's part in that. I don't think it's useful to only think about the daily food production and daily food requirements, since our real requirements are to plan to eat for a lifetime, not just one day at a time.

> Modern agriculture is incredibly efficient.

I think this is only true for narrow definitions of efficient. Modern agriculture is extremely inefficient in terms of pollution and sustainability.

If we implemented your idea of modern techniques globally I think we'd be in for a faster-than-expected change in climate that could put large swathes of that new infrastructure and land use at risk.

SomeOldThrow said 7 days ago:

> it's a local maxima that is reducing our ability to talk about long-term sustainable planning.

I mostly agree with this, but it's still a useful talking point to illustrate the failings of the current distribution of food to people who need food. In a more general context it's a disingenuous data point to bring up that does have long term sustainability issues. The issue of which food we're producing where is a different part of industrialized food production that's also worth time discussing for sure, but not my aim here. Even if we were to move to a better way of generating food for 9 billion people (say, radically via not farming meat on industrial scales) the problem of food distribution would remain. It certainly remains and grows in importance if our supply contracts. However, I don't think there's dire concerns that we should contract our food output, just many characteristics of how we farm our food.

sarbaz said 8 days ago:

>I think this is only true for narrow definitions of efficient

The definition I was going for is this: 2% of the US is currently employed in the agriculture sector. The US is also a very large exporter of agricultural products. So each ag worker produces over 50x more food than they consume. I think that's pretty amazing.

cryptoz said 8 days ago:

I don't think it's amazing to reach large local maxima for production efficiency when the major risks are ignored and we know about problems piling up that could dramatically reduce that efficiency in the future.

I think targeting that definition of 'efficient' is a mistake, as it doesn't represent the true, whole-system consequences. The efficiency metric you quote just completely ignores the pollution from the industry, which is a part of the system you're studying.

Passing the sound barrier wouldn't have been so amazing if the plane blew up just after.

seamyb88 said 8 days ago:

You were under the correct impression. In "wealthy" countries, we throw enough food out to feed the world many times over. In not even trying to feed those we have just cast aside, we have still produced enough food. But we're not going to just give people food, that would be left wing extremism and that's wrong.

vfc1 said 8 days ago:

Just throw a bunch of veggies in the microwave, add beans and some sauce, and done no need to eat processed insects.

This idea that eating whole food plant based is hard and time consuming is a myth. Almost every veggie cooks unattended in the microwave in about 10 minutes, potatoes included.

spraak said 8 days ago:

Small bit of anecdata - the times when I've been most poor has been when I've eaten the most whole foods (and plant based, as I'm vegan). At those times I would nearly every day put rice and a type of bean (or variety of lentil) into the pressure cooker as my staple throughout the day. Alongside that I would have fresh fruits and steam some frozen or fresh vegetables. The biggest upfront investment was a B12 supplement, but spread over time it's cheaper than most foods.

Since I didn't have the budget for highly processed things, I inadvertently ate super clean.

So this has me thinking, there are already complex distribution channels for medicine for places in need; to that could be added a few key supplements like B12. As long as they are getting otherwise the main macronutrients met, it becomes easier for more people to eat WFPB, which in fact like me in times of poverty many people already do.

jillesvangurp said 7 days ago:

People eating lots of meat is a fairly recent thing. In many cultures meat used to be at most a once or twice a week kind of thing as opposed to a big part of one or more meals you have every day these days. E.g. traditional Italian or Indian diets do not actually include a lot of meat. It's their popularized modern variations that tend to have a lot of meat.

Insects are popular in places where meat is still relatively scarce/expensive. I'm sure it's a great source of protein if you are in need of protein and there's nothing else around. However, I prefer to eat things because they are delicious. I could probably feed myself on a shoe string budget by giving up most of the things I enjoy eating/drinking. But why would I want to?

The trick is going to be feeding 11 Billion people in a way that is actually enjoyable. Insects are going to be a hard sell to someone who can afford a steak. On the other hand, shrimps, lobsters, etc. are just under water insects (or at least closely related). I don't particularly enjoy them but for lots of people they are kind of a delicacy and a completely normal part of their diet. A lot of these kind of things are learned behavior.

Science giving us options is a good thing. But I'd say they need to focus more on the eating experience than on just the protein content/nutritional value. Things like texture, juiciness, umami, maillard reaction etc. All the reasons people like steaks basically. The kind of things that get foodies excited.

spodek said 8 days ago:

Even faster and more delicious in a pressure cooker.

Fnoord said 8 days ago:

I went to Wageningen University open day in ~1999, with school (4 VWO). After a speech by a professor, it was lunch-time. I didn't take lunch with me, assuming I could buy some there, but I barely had money with me as well. Well, they were serving two things for free as some kind of pilot or demo. It was grasshoppers with Italian spices and vegetables, and mealworms in white sauce. My co-students were laughing at me, but I tried both and actually liked both. After I went a second time, they no longer had grasshoppers, so I only got a portion of maelworms (I'm not a fan of white sauce). They had a good taste, kind of a nutty flavor. Only issue with the grasshoppers is that parts of them get stuck in your pockets.

Fast forward, in this decade I ate insect burgers by a Belgian company called Damhert. Again, nutty flavor, and tasted well. In Africa, insects already get eaten as they're a cheap and reliable source of protein. Unfortunately, it isn't quite clear if insects suffer from pain. At the very least they don't have a CNS, like mammals do. There is even a Dutch "insect cookbook" [1]

Maastricht University is also busy feeding 11 billion, with the in vitro burger (meat based on stem cells). Don't have a link at hand. While not strictly vegan (the stem cells are taken from a live animal), it is vegan in spirit as it reduces animal harm substantially.

[1] https://www.bol.com/nl/p/het-insectenkookboek/92000000397193...

bryanlarsen said 8 days ago:

Feeding 11 billion people where a large portion of those people can only afford to spend $2/day on food? Very difficult.

Feeding 11 billion people where everybody can spend $100/day on food? Very simple. If necessary (and it's not), we could build vast quantities of greenhouses and get orders of magnitude improvements in calories per acre.

The environmental consequences of such high-intensity farming is another issue, of course.

AndrewGaspar said 8 days ago:

This is kind of a tail wagging the dog argument. If only everybody was rich then there wouldn't be any resource scarcity!

nategri said 8 days ago:

To badly paraphrase Willian Gibson: the richness is already here, it's just not evenly distributed yet.

dominotw said 8 days ago:

> the richness is already here

how do we know this?

cryptoz said 8 days ago:

> The environmental consequences of such high-intensity farming is another issue, of course.

It's not another issue, it's the same issue. We're in this mess in the first place because nobody cares to price in the costs of the equation over time. We all want to eat for like a century, right? So why make price estimates that only work for ~10-20 years of unsustainable-climate-change-driving industry and then collapse when the climate changes and farming has to change too?

Pricing the costs into the equation from the start makes your "very simple" point become still, "quite complex".

The environment changing is a key fact in the pricing of things, and ignore-the-environment-in-first-estimates trope is a major flaw in how we think about problems.

PeterStuer said 8 days ago:

Now if only there was a way to create $1.000.000.000.000.000 at the push of a single button ... Understanding the true meaning and implications of a fiduciary currency should be a mandatory part of education, but I guess then we would have a revolution on our hands.

raphaelj said 8 days ago:

Creating a such amount of money will just create inflation. You'll end up with exactly as much purchasing power, is not less.

PeterStuer said 7 days ago:

The whole point is that 'money' has no intrinsic value. It is merely a proxy we use for prioritization. The current system prioritizes adding a 67'th Ferrari to the collection of Mr. Big, over clothing/feeding/healthcare for people that do lack the basics.

Inflation is not caused by the creation of money itself. If it were, the USD would be resembling the Zimbabwean dollar after all the 'Quantitative Easing'.

For inflation to occur you have to put the fresh currency into the hands of those that are actually going to spend it on unmet needs for which there is an inelastic offering, meaning you can not or choose not just produce more to meet the demand.

Giving free new money to Mss. Rich will not suddenly inflate the bread price, as her demand for breads was met long ago. It might drive up the stockmarket as she is dumping cash on speculation or buying shares back in her own companies, or drive up prices of real-estate for speculation etc.

jnurmine said 8 days ago:

It's not only the greenhouses, it's the logistics of getting the food from the greenhouse to the mouth.

jhcl said 8 days ago:

Personally I like the insect idea, just processed so that they don't look like insects. Sorry, save that for a next, more open minded generation. I don't get the meat lookalikes. Is a plate of food without a piece of meat so abhorrent?

tdb7893 said 8 days ago:

There's a lot of cultural inertia behind meat and it's incredibly difficult to get people to change their diet that drastically (they can't eat their favorite foods, they need to learn entirely new recipes) it's much much easier to just work with them and make good substitutes.

I just went vegan and without it being a strong personal conviction I wouldn't have been able to do it.

royjacobs said 8 days ago:

No, but you can either spend a ton of effort trying to convince meat eaters that "this other thing is also delicious", but they'll just ignore it. Instead, just replace their burgers/nuggets with something else that also looks like burgers/nuggets yet pretty much tastes the same, and you don't need to convince them.

PeterStuer said 8 days ago:

It has been done before, only with true garbage instead of bugs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObcsswhO83I

said 8 days ago:
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godelski said 8 days ago:

I was under the impression that generic engineering (GMOs) were the way. That these are the industrial fertilizer of the 21st century.

I'm not opposed to eating bugs, but we do have other options. Like there's also lab grown meat. All three sound like a good way to move forward.

said 8 days ago:
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mipo5 said 7 days ago:

This is disgusting...

buboard said 8 days ago:

One-child policies could solve the problem and it's as taboo as bug-eating, yet it receives barely any coverage

neaden said 8 days ago:

Did you know that Iran of all places was able to drastically lower their birth rate by providing free birth control and education? No forced abortion/sterilizations like China, just providing options to people.

Frondo said 8 days ago:

That drop in birth rate isn't unique to Iran. It's one of the most well-studied phenomena in sociology. It has a name, too, the demographic transition. As you pointed out, educating women is considered a key part of ushering in the demographic transition.

The Wikipedia page is pretty good: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition

(Not a sociologist, but used to be married to one.)

yorwba said 8 days ago:

Indeed, the fast drop in fertility rates is strikingly similar: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN?contextu...

said 8 days ago:
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AndrewGaspar said 8 days ago:

They're taboo because they're abhorrent. I don't suppose you've spent a lick of time thinking of the implications of enforcing such a ban?

vasco said 8 days ago:

Why is it abhorrent to not have your own kids? There's plenty of them already that need families if you want to scratch that itch.

Plus you can solve climate change AND road traffic!

AndrewGaspar said 8 days ago:

> Why is it abhorrent to not have your own kids?

Please explain to me how you plan to enforce your ban on people having more than one kid.

buboard said 8 days ago:

Taxation

AndrewGaspar said 8 days ago:

If somebody chooses to have as many kids as they want to have, you're going to force them (and their children) into poverty?

buboard said 8 days ago:

If it comes to a point where overpopulation is equated with environmental pollution, yes

ricree said 8 days ago:

One child policies where? Most of the developed world has stagnant population growth.

Do you suggest imposing those restrictions elsewhere? Via what means, and how do you intend to enforce this within those countries?

ben_w said 8 days ago:

That solves one problem and creates another, as our current economy assumes at least as many new young people to support the elderly as now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the problem is insurmountable, but it does actually need to be dealt with somehow rather than just hoping tech will save us when we need it — that approach works fine right up until it fails catastrophically.

tdb7893 said 8 days ago:

In most developed countries birth rates are dropping on their own. I would try decent sex education and access to free contraception before this route

papreclip said 8 days ago:

Agreed. Why is our vision of the future 50 billion people crowded nuts to butts, eating beans and bugs, riding rusty bicycles to work? We need to control the population.

pizza said 8 days ago:

I find it hard to believe we would reach 50 billion people within the next millennium without new and incredible resource extraction technologies that would make current food shortage problems look like a piece of cake.

johnisgood said 8 days ago:

Resource extraction... sure, but I think the issue is more that there will be no resources left to extract at some point. We are already wasting a lot of things, even something as basic as water.

antepodius said 8 days ago:

What water? None of it leaves the planet. If you want enough clean water, build a nuclear reactor and hook it up to desalination plants.

johnisgood said 8 days ago:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_scarcity

We do waste water, but this is besides the point. The point is that you could have the best resource extraction technologies, but if there are no resources left to extract due to depletion, then you are pretty much borked.

bargl said 8 days ago:

What predictions? If you believe in scientific modeling at ALL. AKA you think global climate change is scientifically sound, then you should probably look at the population growth predictions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projections_of_population_grow...

PeterStuer said 8 days ago:

Most likely global population figures are reflecting the sign of the times. There was a period of 'irrational exuberance' between 1998 and 2004 where the 2100 projections suddenly dropped to as low as 8.4 billion, but after that we have been reverting to the projections of the 1980's and 1990's of 11B+.

rhacker said 8 days ago:

I just clicked that link and all of the projections were aimed up, even if slowed. Current projections still put 11.8 B people by 2100.

fyfy18 said 7 days ago:

There's plenty of places where you can live pretty much on your own, even in the US. Crowded cities isn't caused by too many people on earth.

avocado4 said 8 days ago:

China ruined their future for the next few decades through 1 child policy. It's a demographic time bomb.