The Hunger Games

The day after Thanksgiving when we think to ourselves, “Wow, I really ate too much,” seems apropos for considering how the rest of the world eats. This infographic shows the highest 20 and lowest 20 countries by calories consumed per person. Roll your cursor over a country’s number to see the calories per person and the percent of income paid for those calories. A good example to start with might be Israel (3540 calories per head and 17.9% of income) and the Palestinian Territories (2130 calories per head and 66.0% of income). The United States weighs in at 3770 calories per head and an average food cost 6.9% of income.

Visualizing The World’s Calorie Consumption

A visualization of the 20 highest and lowest calorie consuming countries compared with those same countries’ percent of income spent on food. Built by Food Service Warehouse.
Source: Food Service Warehouse

Food Service Warehouse says “The calories consumed by country (per capita) data comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN). The percent income spent on food comes from various household expenditure surveys (conducted independently by country by various research bodies) which are the most useful and reliable measure of this type of countrywide statistic.”

The infograhic is a snapshot; we have progressed over the last 200 and especially the last 35-50 years. “The daily food intake in developing countries has increased,” wrote Bjorn Lomborg in the Guardian (2001), “from 1,932 calories in 1961 – barely enough for survival – to 2,650 calories in 1998, and is expected to rise to 3,020 by 2030. Likewise, the proportion of people going hungry in these countries has dropped from 45% in 1949 to 18% today, and is expected to fall even further, to 12% in 2010 and 6% in 2030. Food, in other words, is becoming not scarcer but ever more abundant.”

The the United States Department of Agriculture assessed the state of world food security in 2007. Their report echos Lomborg’s words:

The rise in global per capita food consumption during the last few decades has been largely driven by rising consumption in developing countries. At the global level, per capita calorie consumption (all food available for consumption) increased by 17 percent from 1970 to 2005. Daily per capita calorie consumption in developed countries increased nearly 9 percent since 1970 to 3,418 in 2005. While consumption in developing countries was much lower than that in developed countries, 2,722 calories in 2005, it rose at a much faster rate during that 35-year period, more than 27 percent. (Food Security Assessment, 2007  GFA-19, Economic Research Service/USDA)

Since 1970, food availability has increased more rapidly in developing countries

The world is not perfect, and 925 million people face malnutrition every day. Yet, we have made progress. Instead of more and hungrier people we (through the green revolution and other advancements) have forced the trend down. Let us give thanks.

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7 Billion Reasons to be Thankful

Last month, the world welcomed the birth of Danica Camacho of the Philippines.[i] The United Nations chose her to represent the arrival of the seven billionth person on Earth. And, even though the UN picked Halloween, this event is more in keeping with Thanksgiving.

Danica has inherited a better world than her mother.

She has been born into a healthier, wealthier, safer, and better-educated world. A world her grandparents and great-grandparents never dreamed of. Today’s average Filipino is twice as rich and lives 18 more years than the average Filipino of 1961.[ii][iii] Today’s average Filipino mother has nearly four fewer births than a 1961 mother.

Please note that I am not saying that she has it good. Danica certainly does not have it as good as an American baby; the average American’s income is nearly 15 to 30 times greater than an average Filipino’s (depending on the method used to compare incomes).

I am saying baby Danica was born into a world whose people (compared with 1961) are richer, healthier, happier, with a lower birth rate and exceedingly better off than 100 years ago.

Little Danica will probably be healthier than her mother due to increased availability of vaccinations, sanitary facilities, and clean water. She will have 70 percent less chance of contracting malaria than someone had only twenty-five years ago.

Danica will probably live in a city; today, more than half our planet’s population lives in an urban area. According to the United Nations Population Fund, cities “can deliver education, health care and other services” efficiently, due to compactness and that can relieve stress on natural habitats.[iv]

She will probably own a cell phone, since 80 percent of Filipinos already do.[v] In her developing country, Danica will be able to use her phone to find the best places to market her goods or services and where to find the best prices for what she needs. “Data services such as mobile-phone-based agricultural advice, health care and money transfer could provide enormous economic and developmental benefits,” wrote Tom Standage in The Economist.[vi]

She will probably go to school and be literate. “More than four-fifths of the world’s population can now read and write,” wrote Charles Kenney in Foreign Policy magazine, “And progress in education has been particularly rapid for women, one sign of growing gender equity.”[vii]

In fact, the world she entered is better than just six years ago and, given our current trend, extreme poverty (defined as less than a 1985 dollar a day), could be gone by 2035.[viii] A report issued by the Brookings Institution estimated “that between 2005 and 2010, the total number of poor people around the world fell by nearly half a billion people, from over 1.3 billion in 2005 to under 900 million in 2010.”[ix]

While you may scoff that far too many still live in soul-crushing poverty, the world is better. Better, by definition, is better. Instead of the world’s poor losing ground to being poorer, sicker, less well off, they are healthier, wealthier, and more prosperous than even ten years before.

That trend marks a first in our world’s history and we should give thanks this Thanksgiving season. Of course politicians and the high priests of Green theology can reverse the trend with calls to burn carbohydrates (biofuels often made from food) instead of hydrocarbons (oil and gas) for energy; thus driving up the price of food for those least able to pay for such claptrap. “I’m sorry about taking food out of your mouth, but we need to curb global warming for your own good.”

Let us give thanks for a world moving, for now, in the right direction. Although no one would argue the world is perfect, the strides made are striking. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Note: Many of the numbers used in this article came from the World Bank. And others from www.gapminder.org, the brainchild of Swedish doctor Hans Rosling. Gapminder exhibits trends by having circles (representing countries) move in relation to two variables over time. It has some ready-to-go graphs, such as “The Wealth & Health of Nations,” that will whet your appetite for more.

Footnotes:


[i] CSMonitor.com As world welcomes ‘7 billionth baby,’ UN says empowering women is key to stability (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2011/1031/As-world-welcomes-7-billionth-baby-UN-says-empowering-women-is-key-to-stability )

[ii] In 1961, the average income per person (GDP per head) in the Philippines was around $1623 per person per year and the average life expectancy was 54 years (6.95 children/woman). Today, the average GDP per head has nearly doubled to $3204 (that is adjusted for inflation) and average lifespan is 72 years (3.03 babies/woman). In 1961 the average rate of birth per 1000 was 44. In 2011, it is around 25. And, 1961 was way better than 1911 where the Filipino GDP per head was $980 with average life expectancy of 31 years (5.94 children per woman). (Source: Gapminder desktop and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/world/india-leads-push-to-7-billion/)

[iii] According to the world bank little Danica’s lifespan average is 71.5 years which is identical to the world average for a female born today (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.FE.IN/countries/1W-PH?display=graph)

[iv] UNFPA Urbanization: A Majority in Cities: Population & Development (http://www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm (accessed 11/4/2011)

[vi] Mobile marvels | The Economist, (http://www.economist.com/node/14483896 )

[vii] Kenney, C. Opening Gambit: Best. Decade. Ever. Foreign Policy Magazine, (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/16/best_decade_ever )

[viii] Ridley, M. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, p 15, 2010, HarperCollins (http://www.rationaloptimist.com/books/rational-optimist-how-prosperity-evolves)

[ix] Chandy, Laurence, G Gertz, Poverty in Numbers: The Changing State of Global Poverty from 2005 to 2015, Brookings Institution. 2011 (http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2011/01_global_poverty_chandy.aspx)

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Postcard from the Earth: What a Wonderful World

I hear babies cry. I watch them grow.
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself: what a wonderful world.

What a Wonderful World by G. Weiss, G. Douglas, and B. Thiele

It’s photos such as these, time Lapse views of Earth from space, that makes one grateful to be alive today.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

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