Food Race

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American environmental author Daniel Quinn coined the term Food Race (by analogy to the Cold War's "nuclear arms race") to describe an understanding of the current overpopulation emergency as a perpetually escalating crisis between growing human population and growing food production, fueled by the latter. Quinn argues that as the worldwide human population increases, the typical international response is to more intensely produce and distribute food to feed these greater numbers of people. However, assuming that population increases according to increased food availability, Quinn argues that this response only ends up leading to an even larger population and thus greater starvation in the end. Therefore, Quinn's clear solution to the Food Race — to stop producing so much food — is not generally a common-sense or intuitive response; instead, it derives from seemingly counter-intuitive or "outside-the-box" thinking.

Quinn bases the Food Race on the premise that the total human population, like that of all other animals, is influenced by food supply. Thus, larger populations are the result of more abundant food supplies, and intensification of food cultivation in response to population growth merely leads to still more population growth. Quinn compared this to the arms race in the Cold War, noting that any increase in food supply is met with a corresponding increase in population. Like Garrett Hardin, then, Quinn sees the only possible conclusions to the Food Race as either abandonment (of such a "race") or catastrophe.

The similarities between this concept and a Malthusian catastrophe are obvious, but Quinn himself notes certain key differences. The primary problem in the Malthusian catastrophe is a population growing larger than its food supply can support; in Quinn's view, this is impossible, as population is a function of food supply, and not an independent variable. So, in some ways, Quinn's "Food Race" is in fact the opposite of the Malthusian problem. Quinn characterized Malthus's concern as, "How are we going to FEED all these people?" In juxtaposition, he states the Quinnian problem as "How are we going to stop PRODUCING all these people?"[1]

The idea that human population is tied to food supply is contentious, however. Many biologists disagree with Quinn's assessment. While food supply certainly imposes an upper limit on population growth, they point out that culture, living standards, human intelligence and free will can impose lower, secondary limits to population growth. Critics also point out that the most significant population growth is occurring in the Third World, where regional food production is lowest. Meanwhile, the First World, where food is most plentiful, is undergoing a decline in birth rates. Quinn has suggested this results from international food distribution and has claimed that the farms of the First World fuel population growth in the Third. United Nations projections that world population will level off sometime in the near future also contradict Quinn's statements. In November 1998, Daniel Quinn made a video exploring these topics with Dr. Alan Thornhill of the Society for Conservation Biology, entitled, Food Production And Population Growth. Russell Hopfenberg has written at least two papers attempting to prove Quinn's ideas, one paper with David Pimentel entitled, "Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply," and another, "Human Carrying Capacity is Determined by Food Availability." Hopfenberg has also made available a narrated slide show entitled "World Food and Human Population Growth." Jason Godesky wrote an article in 2005 entitled "The Opposite of Malthus," which attempts to ground Quinn's work in a more solid, scientific framework.

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  1. ^ "Q and A #83". Ishmael.org. Ishmael.org. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 

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