Of course we don\’t want to eat bugs. But can we afford not to?
In more detail Jay Rayner is once again making a fool of himself.
But protein from insects will eventually become a part of our diet.
As ever the key driver will be economics;
Oh dear, this isn\’t going to be pretty, is it? Economics as filtered through the understanding of a lefty food writer.
Meat is becoming increasingly expensive, beef especially so. This isn\’t some blip. The future is only for more of the same, as a rising global population puts a premium on cereals and grains, too much of which are fed to livestock.
At the same time grazing land will become scarcer and tensions over water will intensify. By the middle of the century as much as half the planet could be \”water insecure\”; letting cows and sheep drink what\’s left will seem obscene. Many experts believe that, to deal with the environmental impact of livestock, we will have to cut our fresh meat consumption by half.
Err, no. A Few scaremongers bleat that we\’ll have to reduce meat consumption. No one else very much does.
The driver of greater meat consumption is that the poor are getting rich. For which Hurrah! of course. As people do indeed get rich they do indeed like to get more of their protein from rich and juicy meat rather than having to stuff themselves with yet another bowl of maize porridge. We would do the same: indeed, our forefathers did do the same in the 19th century as bread became less the staff of life and meat became a regular part of even working class diets. Hurrah! again.
But here\’s the bit that always gets lost in these discussions. The poor getting rich, how does this happen? Well, by the poor becoming more productive. And what does more productive mean for farming? Well, specifically, here, it means that each farmer produces more output: the productivity of labour rises. But in more general terms it means that farming itself becomes more productive. That\’s the only way that poor farmers become rich farmers: by productivity increasing. And what actually do we mean by productivity increasing? Well, more food being grown actually. So if more food is being grown then there\’s unlikely to be a shortage of food is there?
Another way of putting this is that currently poor farmers will become rich farmers when they start using the same productivity boosting methods that currently rich farmers use. They might use different methods, this is true (what works for rice might be different from what works for barley for example) but by definition, productivity levels must equalise if incomes are to. And if the world\’s poor farmers were as productive in output of foodstuffs as currently rich farmers are then what food shortages are we going to have?
This is the thing you see. The two are intimately linked. The \”shortage\” of meat is going to come because the world\’s two billion destitute peasants will be getting rich and demanding bacon sarnies for their breakfast. For which Hurrah! of course. But the very method by which 2 billion destitute farmers get rich has to be, can only be, by current peasant farming methods reaching the productivity of current rich farmers\’ methods. It\’s this very increase in productivity that creates the wealth that allows the greater consumption of meat, see? And if the world\’s destitute farmers all become as productive as the rich ones then what fucking shortage of meat or food are we going to have?
And if farming doesn\’t become more productive then there won\’t be the extra demand for meat either.
Yes, of course, it is true that the increase in supply might not quite match the increase in demand. Could go either way actually: supply could increase more than demand, less than, making food either more or less expensive. Given historical evidence we\’d rather think that supply would grow more than demand making food ever cheaper. As has been happening since the Neolithic in fact.
But it is still true that what Rayner and the like are missing is that poor farmers will only become rich farmers if productivity improves. And improved productivity is indeed increased production from the same resources. We cannot just look at current output and say that the poor getting rich will increase prices: we must take into account that the very process of the poor getting rich will increase output.