Gene Logsdon and Friends

Too Much Food?

In Gene's Weekly Posts on June 19, 2013 at 7:47 am

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From GENE LOGSDON

We talked a couple of weeks ago about how civilizations collapse when agriculture can’t produce enough food to keep up with population growth. There might be another way that collapse could occur even with population decline. This is just mind-stretching now— don’t take me too seriously.

A very interesting news report from the BBC recently pointed out that obesity could soon be the leading cause of death, directly or indirectly, if it is not already. Obesity is becoming a problem even in third world countries. I wonder if, at the present trend, the average weight of humans a century from now might be twice or three times what it is today. Simple mathematics suggests that would mean a need for twice as much food even if population did not increase by even one person. Since medicine will surely find ways to keep these budding behemoths alive longer, the need for more food even without more people will become critical. And remember this is not just about obesity but increase in the size of physically fit people. If you doubt that, look at our basketball players. Our giant agribusiness companies know what they are doing by trying to monopolize the whole food business from dirt to dinner table. Giant stomachs need giant food corporations.

Food dominates all our social functions. You can’t go anywhere without running into tables and counters and shelves and tailgates overflowing with food. I swear that half the printed material being published today is about food in one form or another. Every crossroads has three restaurants and a farmers’ market instead of all those gas stations of former years. The farmers’ markets increasingly sell meat and baked goods as well as fruits and vegetables and continue to operate all year, indoors through the winter. Every street of every big city swarms with food carts. On weekends, every town and village has a festival which essentially means a few blocks of the main drag decked out in food dispensaries, mostly selling stuff you tell your doctor you don’t eat. Many of these festivals are even named after food: strawberry festival, peach festival, popcorn festival (yes, in Marion, Ohio), pumpkin festival, you name it. Every weekday night, there are any number of spaghetti suppers, fish fries and ice cream socials that you pretend to attend to support local churches, libraries, hospitals, museums, whatever, but where you actually go to support your addiction to food. I once did an impromptu survey of county fair goers, asking one question. “Why do you keep on attending the fair every year?” (After eighty years of seeing the same things at our fair, I think they are boring.)  The answer, overwhelmingly, was: “I know it’s not good for me, but I love the food.” There are surely more eateries now in every town in America than there are churches, schools, banks, and hardware stores combined. I ask restaurant chefs I know why they pile my plate so full of French fries and serve sandwiches with such huge slabs of bread. Answer: “You learn if you don’t serve large portions, you’ll start losing customers.” When I ask patrons of fast food restaurants how they rate the purveyors, they always say by the size of the servings— the bigger the better. Even religion is about food, at least bread and wine. At millions of Christian and Catholic churches, the pivotal moment of the communion service is celebrated with the words of the biblical Last Supper: “This is my body; take ye and eat. This is my blood, take ye and drink.”

A hundred years from now, giants will walk the earth or perhaps ride the earth because they will be too heavy to move by physical muscle. Population will be lower than it is now but these huge humans will still face extinction from the same scarcities that overpopulation would cause. Plus many of them might be too big to procreate.
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  1. Giants RIDING the earth…….. Love it…

  2. I never thought about it that way but you may be on to something. I see so many young people teathered to electronic devices where the only excercise is for their thumbs! Are we collectively selecting for the lazy gene! It would seem that way.

    I have grown all my own food most of my life and I absolutely do not understand why more people dont do it. Just the work from growing food keeps the weight down. Maybe it is just a conspiracy to keep the health care industry strong and growing!

    • “I have grown all my own food most of my life…. Just the work from growing food keeps the weight down…”

      Love it. That’s my goal. We got our little homestead 5 acres recently and once we’ve got our tinyhome built, figuring out a gardening plan is gonna be my top priority.

  3. “Giant stomachs need giant food corporations.” I do believe I shall paint this on the side of my shed in the See Rock City style.

  4. Kind of a disconnect here, there are NO farmer’s markets or food festivals in the whole Seattle suburb area that you’d expect to be very farmer’s market friendly. There is usually one such market per main city, usually miles away and requiring a car, nothing I can walk to, unlike Safeway or other stores. Distances just don’t work for suburbs or even if you live in Seattle itself. There’s often no people living around where the markets are located, real estate space in city center is too expensive for markets.

  5. obesity figures are debatable..

  6. Hehehe… Pretty good fun, thanks!

    On the other hand, as any biologist who looks at population dynamics understands, population increases as a direct result of food supply – they are coupled. You can certainly see that happen with owls and voles, reindeer and lichen or yeast and sugar in solution, and you can see exactly that principle in play with humans over the last thousand years or so. Our population didn’t really explode until we began to master the conversion of fossil fuels into food through industrial processes. Our entire food supply is now nothing more than oil.

    Second thing is that the obesity epidemic is directly related to the inclusion of high fructose corn syrup into the food supply. Unfortunately that happened in conjunction with the demonization of saturated fats and cholesterol in our food, both of which are essential nutrients and which have significant protective effects. These two events created a profound shift, a dietary conversion to a high-carb/low fat diet that is utterly toxic and that plays havoc with our metabolism and health.

    Most people who are obese are not greedy, will-less slaves to gluttony. They are deep in metabolic starvation because they cannot get sufficient nutrients from carbs, starches and sugars – which are converted and stored as saturated fats. When they change their food supply and start eating lots of healthy fats (lard, butter, heavy cream, bacon, fat back and so on) then they are able to feel the satiation that comes from good, healthy food and their cells begin to release their hoarded stores of fats. This is the number one issue – dump the carbs, starches and sugar and start eating lots and lots of good fat. Once folks get that sorted out then everything else falls into place.

    Third thing is that wild, chaotic, extremely violent and unpredictable weather arising from climate forcing due to anthropogenic global warming will essentially end mass monocropping agriculture. One way or another this global industrial system will get dismantled, as there is nothing in human infrastructure that can withstand these forces of nature. The energy gradient from the excess heat in the climate system now is irresistible, as we have seen from the costs (hundreds of billions of dollars) from the extreme weather-related catastrophes in the last two years.

    We’ve picked the oceans clean to such an extent that every fishery around the world is collapsing, and we’ve poisoned what is left. Farmlands are degrading rapidly and the shift in rainfall vs drought is knocking the rest of it down. This civilization is so fragile in its interlocking systems that it doesn’t really matter what breaks first – whatever breaks will bring the whole thing down. Civil unrest, fuel scarcity, war, flood, drought, economic collapse, it’s all related. Anything at all out of balance and the whole thing goes.

    The only solutions I can see have to do with both permaculture and relocalization. Food forests with animal integration are incredibly resilient, they mimic nature itself in abundance and species diversity. And if we can manage food, water, shelter, energy, health care, transportation and security without inputs from a distance then we might have a chance. Otherwise we are screwed. And if there is too much methane in the undersea clathrates and in the permafrost, well – we’re just done no matter what.

  7. Your point seems to resonate with the evolutionary theories of “survival of the fittest, or only the strong shall survive”, of which neither fit into the obesity category. Just because bodies are expanding both vertically and horizontally, doesn’t necessarily mean the organs have the capabilities of supporting the massive structure -something has got to give and medicine can not create miracles without incurring serious ramifications. Your concerns are certainly valid however I believe humans are slowly pushing towards extinction and in as much as I know it won’t be any time soon, our time here is just that, a matter of time.

  8. Some weeks back I went through a Burger King drive-through and got a soda for a friend who was with us. I asked for a medium and was horrified at what they gave me… it looked like about a quart. Now I love food, but I just can’t imagine drinking that many calories at one time. So more recently when I got my annual craving for a root beer, and Burger King was the nearest source, I had the sense to ask for a small. Oh. My. Gosh. I swear that the small was larger than the large when I was young. And I’m only 44! As a Seattle native… I remember when the Starbucks coffees (which I think were actually recognizable as coffee back then rather than vehicles for a week’s worth of milk and sugar) came in Short or Tall… I think of the telling irony of all those menu boards with Tall as the SMALLEST size available. – I lived my late teens to mid twenties in Greece where portions were always reasonable, and came back to the US to find everything food-related was growing as fast as technology becomes obsolete.

    How right you are, Gene, to tie it all to the corporate bottom line. Don’t forget the ownership relationship between the food giants and the drug giants.

  9. Budding behemoths cracks me up, then I realize it’s not really funny when it’s true…

  10. Cannibalism ought to take care of the problem. Pass the ketchup!

  11. Your description of future humans reminds me of the movie Wall-e. I have a hard time seeing that as a fun children’s show, To me it was the ultimate horror movie.

  12. By the way Gene… institutional religion might have food at its center like everything else does, but Jesus had an awful lot of really interesting things to say about food :-)

  13. Hey Gene when global warming wipes out agriculture and all you skinnies are starving to death, I’ll be tooling along on my stored fat supplies and waiting for you all to die off. Fat was a guarantee of survival of famine and the Ice Age. Could be our genetic programming is telling us to stock up now while we have the chance!

  14. (too) Much food = (too) Many individuals.
    Inappropriate food (seeds, refined seed stuff including seed oils, and other abominations) = too much fat accumulation and its consequences.

  15. My opinion is there is way too much low quality food that humans consume in great quantities because their bodies are calling for more nutrients.Food these days are sorely lacking in many trace elements needed for healthy humans and animals which explains the
    huge increase in the medications being developed for humans and animals trying to make up for the lack of good solid basic nutrition.High quality food doesn’t leave one hungering for more and more it leaves one with a very satisfied feeling after consuming a reasonable amount.

  16. “Plus many of them might be too big to procreate.” So wrong and yet so true even now. Many couples are experiencing fertility problems which must ultimately be linked to nutritional deficiencies inherent in processed foods as well as chemical pollutants that we put into our bodies both purposefully and inadvertently (and waiting too long to have kids, to top it off). I don’t think we are going to have to worry about population control at all. I think in a hundred years we will be wondering mournfully where all the babies went. But, you’re right. We’ll probably be wondering mournfully while eating a Triple-Mega-Sized Schmeat Burger.

  17. When I was a kid,fasting was an important requirement in The Catholic Church- maybe they were on to something?

  18. The obesity epidemic is cresting and will slowly recede. It is an unsustainable trend that can last only a few more years. We will soon (within a few years) have a recession that makes 2008 look tame. Many restaurants will close – never to re-open.

    In a generation or two, we will all be back down on the farm again – working hard.

  19. Very thought provoking.

    One serious corn pathogen that can’t be stopped should end the whole situation. Taking bets on whether it’ll be a human plague or a corn plague comes first.

  20. In this vein, has anyone else noticed the high cost of bacon recently? In the past month the Smithfield company has been sold to China, which means a lot of Smithfield bacon and pork raised here is now shipped to China. Less supply here, higher price–good for the large hog farmers I guess. Food is already going the way of oil–a precious commodity to be extracted and sold to those who can afford the price. Maybe we should all raise a pig or two?

  21. I wished I could buy into the whole AGW thing. I just can’t bring myself round to that way of thinking….. That said, we as a species are a part of this planet. We have not been here as long as the dinosasurs were, but we are of this place. We are part of it. Are we not then natural? Are our actions not part of nature? Is not burning fossil fuel to produce food part of the natural process? Just thinking out loud here.

    • Yes, Bud, it is exactly what we do. We are like any other species. When there is an abundance we multiply quickly. What people here worry about is that just like every other part of nature, we will overshoot the supply and suffer a collapse when the abundance is gone. Many want to think that we, being thinking humans, can anticipate and avoid this collapse through conservation of irreplaceable resources or through engineering alternative resources.

      I can’t come up with a past example of humans having cooperated on a global level in the way required to change course? Instead, we have wars and even the Biblical example of the Tower of Babel. So myself, I think we will eventually overshoot, many of all of us will die off and then the earth will heal and it will all begin again.

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