FAO in North America

Today’s Perspectives Essay Series

Submitted by Amy McMillen on October 3, 2014

By Sunhye Park, Communications Intern, FAO-Washington, DC.

Curated by the FAO Liaison Office for North America with the World Food Day Network, Perspectives is an essay series that digs deeper into the annual World Food Day theme.  This year, read different points of view on the value and future of family farming from farmers, ranchers, and leaders in agriculture, research and economics.  Two essays will be featured daily starting September 15 through October 16, World Food Day.


Today in Perspectives, the authors take a look at the farmers and stereotypes of the corporate farm. Ron Bonnett, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and a farmer himself, challenges the notion that “…big or successful = bad. I believe persistent misunderstandings like these have the ability to cripple the agricultural industry’s capacity to provide solutions to the sustainability challenges we face. We need to come together – all sizes and forms of production – and put forward out best ideas and innovations. We need a plethora of sustainability models to ensure we can feed the world and care for the earth – channelling the theme of this year’s World Food Day.”

Jamie-Rae Pittman from Kyle, Saskatchewan agrees, “Agriculture demands diversity. We cannot afford to limit our view of what agriculture is and how it should appear. Diversity is essential to the future in order to meet global needs, and to give farmers around the world opportunities to prosper.”  She continues, “We embrace these possibilities, as we believe going forward without change is impossible. Progress is about the shared success of producers and consumers.  We need to keep on diversifying, keep on asking questions and keep on seeking answers that provide benefits to all. It’s a great job, and a big job, this business of feeding the planet.”

Read both articles in today’s Perspectives.

Today’s Featured Perspectives Essays

Submitted by Amy McMillen on October 1, 2014

By Amy McMillen, Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator, FAO-Washington, DC.

Curated by the FAO Liaison Office for North America with the World Food Day Network, Perspectives is an essay series that digs deeper into the annual World Food Day theme.  This year, read different points of view on the value and future of family farming from farmers, ranchers, and leaders in agriculture, research and economics.  Two essays will be featured daily starting September 15 through October 16, World Food Day.


“A daughter of farmers, raised in Southwest Georgia, my parents instilled in me the value of hard work and dedication to the land. Our nation’s farmers work tirelessly to make sure their land is tended to, often passing it down from generation to generation. But at the end of the day, all farmers face the same question: who will farm next?” Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Krysta Harden, focuses on the department’s efforts to attract and support the next generation of farmers. “This World Food Day, I encourage farmers and non-farmers alike to think about who will grow our food 10, 20, 30 years from now. At USDA, we are making it easier for new farmers to access the programs and resources we offer. We must continue to expand opportunities for anyone looking to enter agriculture – and build on the wonderful diversity that we see entering the field of agriculture for generations to come.”

Odessa Oldham from Lander, Wyoming shares the story of her family ranch and in the process articulates the economic and social value of family farms. “Family operations offer products to the community for a profit that can stimulate the economy. The cash flow that goes into local foods returns to the community and generates a consistent flow. Furthermore, these local operations offer jobs and learning experiences to community members. Many local operations also support the youth in the community from sports to FFA or the local county fairs.” Perhaps most importantly she notes, “The business we operate is not just to gain a profit but a lifestyle that we love. There is nothing like gathering cows, facing obstacles and reaching your goals alongside a family member.”

Read both articles in today’s Perspectives.

Today’s Featured Perspectives Essays

Submitted by Amy McMillen on September 30, 2014

By Amy McMillen, Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator, FAO-Washington, DC.

Curated by the FAO Liaison Office for North America with the World Food Day Network, Perspectives is an essay series that digs deeper into the annual World Food Day theme.  This year, read different points of view on the value and future of family farming from farmers, ranchers, and leaders in agriculture, research and economics.  Two essays will be featured daily starting September 15 through October 16, World Food Day.

In Today’s Perspectives we return to the important topic of the next generation of family farmers. What entices young people back to farming or to be the first generation of farmers in their family? George Boody, Executive Director of the Land Stewardship Project and Beth Satterwhite share interesting perspectives to consider.

“Part of what this new generation of farmers is seeking is an opportunity to be part of a community—human and natural.” “Farming can help such a community thrive by relying on diverse cropping systems and livestock production techniques that utilize continuous living cover to restore soil structure, organic matter content and water holding capacity, while being productive.” George Boody argues that “It’s time to shift this narrative to a story about food and farming systems based on sustainable, community-based approaches that keep the land and people together, provide healthful food to eat now and the chance for future generations to do so in the future.”

Beth Satterwhite explores her journey to become a farmer, from researching food systems to directly impacting them through producing food.  “What’s my favorite part about farming? I really love the physicality of the work and being outside, experiencing all of the seasonal changes and weather extremes. I also love interacting directly with my customers at farmers’ markets. It’s a huge moral support to be able to chat with folks about what they’re making with our food, new veggies they’ve discovered, and so on, especially since I spend so much of my time alone in the fields. Farming is incredibly personal. Until you become a farmer, it’s hard to understand how invested we are…emotionally, financially… We go all in! Having those conversations makes it all worth it.” “What advice do I have for young people interested in getting into farming? First, you have to learn by experience: if you’re interested, do it for a year and then re-evaluate. Second, if you love it: go for it. Although it’s tough to earn a living from farming at first, with work, creativity, and good research you can find a way to make it work.”

Read both articles in today’s Perspectives.

Today’s Perspectives Featured Essay

Submitted by Amy McMillen on September 29, 2014

By Amy McMillen, Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator, FAO-Washington, DC.

Curated by the FAO Liaison Office for North America with the World Food Day Network, Perspectives is an essay series that digs deeper into the annual World Food Day theme.  This year, read different points of view on the value and future of family farming from farmers, ranchers, and leaders in agriculture, research and economics.  Two essays will be featured daily starting September 15 through October 16, World Food Day.

Today’s Perspectives address the linkages between national security, financial security and food security.  After 30 years of government service it is clear to Ambassador Daniel Speckhard that food security, economic security, national security, global security are all intertwined.  Now as CEO of Lutheran World Relief, “The more that we in the development community can do to support smallholder farmers who provide more than four fifths of the food in the developing world, the more we will be doing to ensure a safe and secure world for our children and grandchildren.”

Mina Devi a vegetable farmer in Bihar, India,  “Five years back, I wouldn’t have believed you could get this much money from farming vegetables. Back then, we farmed just enough for us to eat, using the practices I grew up with…I don’t worry so much anymore now. My life is secure now, and most importantly, my family is provided for.”

Read both articles in today’s Perspectives.

Today’s Featured Perspectives Essays

Submitted by Amy McMillen on September 25, 2014

By Sunhye Park, Communications Intern, FAO-Washington, DC.

Curated by the FAO Liaison Office for North America with the World Food Day Network, Perspectives is an essay series that digs deeper into the annual World Food Day theme.  This year, read different points of view on the value and future of family farming from farmers, ranchers, and leaders in agriculture, research and economics.  Two essays will be featured daily starting September 15 through October 16, World Food Day.

Today in Perspectives, Danielle Nierenberg and Alison Devine of Food Tank reveal the “image problem in agriculture” with the startling fact that “half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older and in South Africa the average age of farmers is around 62 years old”. Globally, the average age of the current generation of farmers is on the rise, and it is particularly concerning for developing countries that rely predominantly on agriculture for their GDP. The essay showcases examples from the Caribbean to Europe of young farmers’ coalition and projects that are striving to make agriculture an attractive career option. “It’s time for a revolution in the food system—young and new farmers need support to nourish future generations…World Food Day is a day for action, community, and mobilization between all members of the food system; most importantly, World Food Day must highlight and engage youth in the food system.”

One such young ambitious farmer is Andrew Campbell, a dairy farmer and Partner at Bellson Farms, Strathroy, Ontario. As a family farmer who is continuing the dairy farm that his grandparents started, he is proud of providing milk to the 5,600 people that rely on their farm. ”With the sweat, smiles and tears, that every farmer experiences daily, they built a farm that my Mom and Dad would raise their family on, and that I will now raise mine on…It is a privilege to be brought to your table.”

Read both article’s in today’s Perspectives.

World hunger falls, but 805 million still chronically undernourished

Submitted by Amy McMillen on September 16, 2014

MDG target to halve proportion of world’s hungry still within reach by end of 2015

About 805 million people in the world, or one in nine, suffer from hunger, according to a new UN report released today.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2014) confirmed a positive trend which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by more than 200 million since 1990-92. The report is published annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The overall trend in hunger reduction in developing countries means that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, “if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up,” the report said. To date, 63 developing countries have reached the MDG target, and six more are on track to reach it by 2015.

“This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed,” the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin, wrote in their foreword to the report.

They stressed that “accelerated, substantial and sustainable hunger reduction is possible with the requisite political commitment,” and that “this has to be well informed by sound understanding of national challenges, relevant policy options, broad participation and lessons from other experiences.”

SOFI 2014 noted how access to food has improved rapidly and significantly in countries that have experienced overall economic progress, notably in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Access to food has also improved in Southern Asia and Latin America, but mainly in countries with adequate safety nets and other forms of social protection including for the rural poor.

Hunger reduction has accelerated, but some lag behind

Despite significant progress overall, several regions and sub-regions continue to lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world’s most populous region, is also home to the majority of the hungry – 526 million people.

Latin America and the Caribbean have made the greatest overall strides in increasing food security. Meanwhile Oceania has accomplished only a modest improvement (1.7 percent decline) in the prevalence of undernourishment, which stood at 14.0 percent in 2012-14, and has actually seen the number of its hungry increase since 1990-92.

The agency heads noted that of the 63 countries which have reached the MDG target, 25 have also achieved the more ambitious World Food Summit (WFS) target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. However, the report indicated that time has run out on reaching the WFS target at the global level.

Creating an enabling environment through coordinated actions

With the number of undernourished people remaining “unacceptably high”, the agency heads stressed the need to renew the political commitment to tackle hunger and to transform it into concrete actions. In this context, the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP welcomed the pledge at the 2014 African Union summit in June to end hunger on the continent by 2025.

“Food insecurity and malnutrition are complex problems that cannot be solved by one sector or stakeholder alone, but need to be tackled in a coordinated way,” they added, calling on governments to work closely with the private sector and civil society.

The FAO, IFAD and WFP report specifies that hunger eradication requires establishing an enabling environment and an integrated approach. Such an approach includes public and private investments to increase agricultural productivity; access to land, services, technologies and markets; and measures to promote rural development and social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters. The report also emphasizes the importance of specific nutrition programmes, particularly to address micronutrient deficiencies of mothers and children under five.

Case studies

This year’s report includes seven case studies – Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi and Yemen – that highlight some of the ways that countries tackle hunger and how external events may influence their capacity to deliver on achieving food security and nutrition objectives. The countries were chosen because of their political, economic – particularly in the agricultural sector – diversities, and cultural differences.

Bolivia, for example, has created institutions to involve a range of stakeholders, particularly previously marginalized indigenous people.

Brazil‘s Zero Hunger programme, which placed achievement of food security at the centre of the government’s agenda, is at the heart of progress that led the country to achieve both the MDG and WFS targets. Current programmes to eradicate extreme poverty in the country build on the approach of linking policies for family farming with social protection in a highly inclusive manner.

Haiti, where more than half the population is chronically undernourished, is still struggling to recover from the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The report notes how the country has adopted a national programme to strengthen livelihoods and improve agricultural productivity by supporting small family farmers’ access to inputs and services.

Indonesia has adopted legal frameworks and established institutions to improve food security and nutrition. Its policy coordination mechanism involves ministries, NGOs and community leaders. Measures address a wide range of challenges from agricultural productivity growth to nutritious and safe diets.

Madagascar is emerging from a political crisis and is resuming relationships with international development partners aimed at tackling poverty and malnutrition. It is also working in partnership to build resilience to shocks and climate hazards, including cyclones, droughts and locust invasions, which often afflict the island nation.

Malawi has reached the MDG hunger target, thanks to a strong and persistent commitment to boost maize production. However, malnutrition remains a challenge – 50 percent of children under five are stunted and 12.8 percent are underweight. To address the issue, the government is promoting community-based nutrition interventions to diversify production to include legumes, milk, fisheries and aquaculture, for healthier diets, and to improve incomes at the household level.

Conflict, economic downturn, low agricultural productivity and poverty have made Yemen one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Besides restoring political security and economic stability, the government aims to reduce hunger by one-third by 2015 and to make 90 percent of the population food-secure by 2020. It also aims to reduce the current critical rates of child malnutrition by at least one percentage point per year.

The findings and recommendations of SOFI 2014 will be discussed by governments, civil society, and private sector representatives at the 13-18 October meeting of the Committee on World Food Security, at FAO headquarters in Rome.

The report will also be a focus of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome from 19-21 November, which FAO is jointly organizing with the World Health Organization. This high-level intergovernmental meeting seeks, at a global level, renewed political commitment to combat malnutrition with the overall goal of improving diets and raising nutrition levels.

Organic Foods Are Tastier and Healthier, Study Finds

Submitted by Amy McMillen on July 16, 2014
Photo of a potato basket.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANGIE MCPHERSON
Baskets of locally grown potatoes were on display at a farmer’s market in Maryland.

By Mary Beth Albright for National Geographic

This article was originally published on July 14, 2014 by National Geographic.

Can I interest you in consuming a more nutritious and tastier diet without changing the kinds of food you eat? Back in 2012 a study famously declared organic foods to be no more nutritious than their non-organic counterparts, but get ready for conventional wisdom about conventional crops to be turned on its head.

Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains have several measureable nutritional benefits over conventional crops, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) and released Thursday. Analyzing 343 peer-reviewed publications, researchers from the United Kingdom with the help of American Charles Benbrook of Washington State University found that organics contain 18 to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidants. Translation: the organic eater consumes the antioxidant equivalent of approximately two extra produce portions every day, without altering food intake.

“The study likely says more about nutrient decline in conventional food than it does about a miraculous quality of organic food,” Benbrook said when I spoke with him last week. Organic farming prohibits chemical pesticides that are widely used in conventional farming. Without pesticides to guard against harm, an organically farmed plant will produce more of its own compounds, called antioxidants, to fight damage. And when consumed by humans, these antioxidants also protect our bodies from harm.

Photo of organic vegetables.

Notably, when a plant grows organically without pesticides its taste is enhanced as well. Studies considered in the BJN paper show that higher antioxidant levels affect food’s organoleptic qualities—taste, aroma, and mouthfeel—and how the human senses detect a food’s unique flavor. Benbrook explained: “The concept of terroir can be traced to particular biological stresses in a region or soil types that impact how a plant responds to stress. The chemicals that a plant produces to respond to stress become part of that plant’s signature taste. People are yearning for more intense flavors, and there’s good news that organic farming accentuates flavor in fruits and vegetables.”

Conventionally farmed soil also tends to have high levels of nitrogen from synthetic fertilizers, which a plant uses as quick, easy energy to create high levels of sugars and starches (not generally deficient in my diet…yours?) in the fruit or vegetable, at the expense of flavor-producing, healthful antioxidants. The study additionally found cadmium, a toxic metal contaminant, to be about 50% lower in organic crops than in conventional foods.

Raising the $429,000 required for the study was possible in the UK, according to Benbrook, whereas “it never would have happened in the US. In the UK, funding sources want answers about food safety and the nutritional quality of food.” But with organics as an expanding $35 billion industry (and even Wal-Mart entering with its recent deal to carry a steeply discounted Wild Oats organics line), that may be changing. The more eaters express concern for scientific food-quality information, the closer our conventional wisdom will come to the truth.

potato4

This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month Future of Food series.

The National Geographic Society and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO) have teamed up to raise awareness on food and agriculture issues as National Geographic embarks on an eight-month, in-depth report on food issues in National Geographic magazine and online at NatGeoFood.com. Among the themes that will be addressed are food and agricultural statistics and trends, feeding megacities in a world of changing demographics, reducing food loss and waste, the role of animal and insect protein in diets, and global forestry issues.  ”Combining FAO’s specialized expertise with National Geographic’s 126 years of award-winning photography and reporting is very exciting, and this agreement will help bring up-to-date information about hunger and  nutrition challenges and solutions to a very wide public audience,” said Mehdi Drissi, FAO Chief of Media Relations.

As Honeybees Die Off, First Inventory of Wild Bees Is Under Way

Submitted by Amy McMillen on July 15, 2014

Could wild bees be the key to saving U.S. crops?

By Sasha Ingber for National Geographic

This article was originally published by National Geographic on July 11, 2014.

Not every bee may count, but Sam Droege is counting every bee.

On Saturdays, the head of the landmark Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the U.S. Geological Survey leaves his straw-bale house, where bees burrow in the walls, and goes to his office—for pleasure. From his desk, a recycled segment of a lane from a bowling alley, he pores over bee specimens with a microscope.

“I’m looking deeply into [their] eyes to see what they reveal,” said Droege. “I’m looking for species in potential trouble, gathering information on their status before they’re designated an endangered species.” (See “Intimate Portraits of Bees” for more of Droege’s bee pictures.)

Droege is pioneering the first national inventory of indigenous wild bees, a task of growing importance. The buzz started in 2006 when honeybees, the non-native species used commercially to pollinate crops, began to mysteriously vanish after leaving their hives. If honeybees continue to wane in coming decades, scientists believe wild bees could save our crops. (See “The Plight of the Honeybee.”)

Problems for Pollinators

More than half of managed U.S. honeybee colonies have disappeared in the past ten years. Though native to Eurasia and northern Africa, honeybees pollinate a third of the American diet, from nuts to produce—not to mention coffee and cotton. In 2010 they contributed to more than $19 billion worth of crops. (Related: “U.S. Honeybee Losses Not as Severe This Year.“)

Pesticides, fungicides, and viruses, among other factors, have contributed to the honeybees’ decline. Though they lack a traditional vertebrate circulatory system, they’re vulnerable to parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, which deforms their bodies and shortens their life span.

Little is known about the hardiness of the honeybee’s native counterpart, the mostly solitary wild bee. Many scientists believe that wild bee populations were once greater, but have dwindled as land was developed and agriculture intensified.

Home gardeners may also be contributing to the bees’ habitat loss. Gardeners with a love of exotic plants often uproot native ones, not realizing that this deprives most pollinators of their food. Other factors limiting the bees’ food supply include the effects of climate change, droughts, floods, and flowers blooming prematurely as the days grow warmer.

The Bees in Our Backyard

“People were collecting bees in the early 1900s, but they weren’t doing quantitative analyses,” said Georgetown University biologist Edd Barrows.

In 1998, Barrows gathered bees in Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia, using mesh, tentlike structures called Malaise traps. The bees he collected then—still awaiting examination due to lack of time and funds—could serve as a historical reference point to show scientists how the preserve’s bee fauna is changing due to water and air pollution, erosion, and invasive plants.

“We need to have some way of measuring whether native bees are increasing or decreasing,” said Droege.

His own survey methods are unconventional, albeit familiar to scientists on shoestring budgets. To collect bees, plastic party cups act as pan traps. (Droege says the idea stems from the 1970s, when butchers gave their customers yellow pans, which people would fill with soapy water to catch bugs outside.)

Workers from New Horizons Supported Services, an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities in Maryland gain employment, paint the cups to mimic the colors bees prefer in flowers. Then the cups are filled with propylene glycol—the same substance used to maintain moisture in food, medicine, and cosmetics. Its low surface tension means that insects will sink to the bottom. Every two weeks, the traps are emptied by volunteers.

After that the bees are washed, dried, and stored at the USGS lab in repurposed pizza boxes. Their deaths serve as a chance to learn about, and monitor, potentially endangered native bee species.

The biggest problem is telling the bees apart. Bees are often difficult to differentiate, and about 400 species—ten percent of North America’s bees—lack names. (Compare that to the 1,000 ant species that have been named.)

“[They're] not something someone like a birder could look at, and say, ‘That’s a robin,’” said biologist Daniel Kjar of Elmira College in New York.

So Droege spends hours trying to identify species. His team captures the pitting on their skin, the striations of hair on their abdomens, and other physical traits with a macro lens camera—a sort of insect portraiture. Droege says these body features may help bees avoid predation and attract mates.

Harvesting the Unknown

Today, scientists will go to great lengths to study the small insects.

Sean Brady, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology, is studying evolutionary relationships between different bee species. He’s sequencing their genetic material, which can cost between $10,000 and $50,000 for a complete genome.

He’s also interested in understanding why, among certain bee species that produce offspring twice in a season, the first brood spends its lifetime caring for the second hatching instead of reproducing. The work may help him understand the social behavior and pollination strategy of wild bees.

“The unknown can be a good thing,” said Brady. “There is a lot to learn in the next 10 to 20 years.”

In 2010 and 2011, Brady and Droege set up traps in the cacti and thorn scrub of Guantanamo Bay, where the native habitat is preserved in the midst of the prison camp. They collected more than a third of the bee species that live on the entire island of Cuba. A new species they discovered was quickly named—Megachile droegei, after Droege.

The National Geographic Society and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO) have teamed up to raise awareness on food and agriculture issues as National Geographic embarks on an eight-month, in-depth report on food issues in National Geographic magazine and online at NatGeoFood.com. Among the themes that will be addressed are food and agricultural statistics and trends, feeding megacities in a world of changing demographics, reducing food loss and waste, the role of animal and insect protein in diets, and global forestry issues.  ”Combining FAO’s specialized expertise with National Geographic’s 126 years of award-winning photography and reporting is very exciting, and this agreement will help bring up-to-date information about hunger and  nutrition challenges and solutions to a very wide public audience,” said Mehdi Drissi, FAO Chief of Media Relations.

Map: Here’s how much each country spends on food

Submitted by Amy McMillen on July 11, 2014

This article is crossposted from Vox.  Vox – Explains everything you need to know, in two minutes.


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When droughts or crop failures cause food prices to spike, many Americans barely notice. The average American, after all, spends just 6.6 percent of his or her household budget on food consumed at home. (If you include eating out, that rises to around 11 percent.)

AMERICANS SPEND A SMALLER SHARE OF THEIR INCOME ON FOOD THAN ANYONE

In Pakistan, by contrast, the average person spends 47.7 percent of his or her household budget on food consumed at home. In that situation, those price spikes become a lot more noticeable.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service keeps tabs on household expenditures for food, alcohol, and tobacco around the world.

Americans, it turns out, spend a smaller share of their income on food than anyone else — less even than Canadians or Europeans or Australians:

Food_spending_worldwide_2

Note that the map above is based on data for food consumed at home — the USDA doesn’t offer international comparisons for eating out, unfortunately. Still, even if you do include food consumed at restaurants, Americans devote just 11 percent of their household spending to food, a smaller share than nearly every other country spends on food at home alone.*

Below is a chart showing numbers for a handful of select countries. Note that this doesn’t include spending on subsidies and the like — it’s just a measure of the fraction of household expenditures devoted to food consumed at home:

How_much_countries_spend_on_food

There are a few notable points here:

1) Richer countries spend a smaller fraction of their income on food. This makes intuitive sense. There’s an upper limit on how much food a person can physically eat. So as countries get richer, they start spending more of their money on other things — like health care, or entertainment, or alcohol. South Koreans spent one-third of their budget on food in 1975; today that’s down to just 12 percent.

SOUTH KOREA SPENT ONE-THIRD OF ITS BUDGET ON FOOD IN 1975 — TODAY THAT’S JUST 12%

That said, this relationship doesn’t always hold. It depends, at least in part, on what kind of food people favor, patterns of eating out, and the specific food prices and subsidy schemes in their country. Note that India spends a smaller fraction of its budget on food consumed at home than Russia, which is much richer. Likewise, South Korea spends a smaller share of its budget on food than wealthier Japan does.

2) Americans spend less than Europeans on food. The fact that Americans spend a smaller portion of their budgets on food than Europeans do is partly a consequence of the fact that Americans are richer. But Americans spend less on an absolute level, too.

The average American spends $2,273 per year on food consumed at home, the USDA notes. The average German spends $2,481 per year. The average French person spends $3,037 per year. The average Norwegian spends a whopping $4,485 per year on food.

The USDA doesn’t explain the variation. Some of it likely has to do with different tax systems in Europe (here’s a comparison of food prices in Europe), as well as differences in eating out. But there are also dozens of forces making food in the United States so cheap — from farm subsidies to advancements in industrial agriculture that have pushed down the price of food. (Over the years, the price of meat, poultry, sweets, fats, and oils in the United States have fallen, although the price of fresh produce has risen.)

There are fierce debates about the downsides of industrial agriculture — as well as the desirability of subsidizing agriculture. But one thing this system has done fairly well is keep the sticker price of food at the grocery store down.

3) High spending on food and malnutrition seem to go hand in hand. This is another perhaps obvious point, but worth highlighting. Poorer countries that have to spend a much larger share of their budget on food also end up with much higher malnutrition rates.

Here’s an older map from Washington State University making this point (click to enlarge, although note the date is from 2008):

Food_expenditures_and_malnutrition

Washington State University

You can find the USDA’s data on international food expenditures in this spreadsheet. (Note that there’s also data on alcohol and tobacco spending — the Czech Republic comes out on top here, spending 9.3 percent of expenditures on booze and cigarettes.)

* Updated by  on July 6, 2014, 12:50 p.m. ET @bradplumer brad@vox.com.  Update/clarification: I added a clarification about how the USDA data handles food consumed in restaurants. Apologies for the omission originally.

Further reading: 40 maps that explain food in America

Why Can’t Once-Malnourished Children “Catch Up”? Answer May Lie in Gut

Submitted by Amy McMillen on June 13, 2014

Malnourished children have immature gut bug systems, scientists find.

A photo of children suffering from maladies associated with malnutrition in Bangladesh.

Children suffering from maladies associated with malnutrition in Bangladesh, where the author of a new study researched children’s digestive tracts. PHOTOGRAPH BY RON HAVIV, VII

By Karen Weintraub for National Geographic.

Originally published on June 4, 2014 on NatGeoFood.com.

Doctors have learned how to stop malnutrition from killing small children, but they’ve been unable to figure out why these children remain at a disadvantage even after they’re well fed. A new study suggests the answer may lie in gut bugs.

Infants and toddlers who are malnourished have an immature ecosystem of microbial organisms in their digestive tracts, according to new research published in this week’s Nature. The current treatment for malnourishment doesn’t help the child’s system catch up to normal maturity, which may explain why formerly malnourished children still suffer from short height, immune problems, and intellectual delays, said Jeffrey I. Gordon, who studies the gut microbiome at Washington University in St. Louis and who led the research.

“There’s something lacking in our current approach to treatment,” said Gordon, who suspects the children may need to eat therapeutic foods for longer and/or get supplements of probiotics, or beneficial microorganisms, to catch up. “We need to think of food as interacting with this microbial organ.” (See our Future of Food series.)

The study also outlined a method for determining the maturity of a child’s gut bugs, which could be used in other health-related contexts.

Gordon said he is currently comparing the ecosystems from the healthy Bangladeshi children cited in this study with the gut bug populations of healthy infants and toddlers in Malawi, South Africa, India, Peru, and the United States. Early indications suggest there are common patterns of development around the world, he said.

A child’s gut bugs, immune system, and brain appear to develop simultaneously, Gordon said. Once researchers know what normal, healthy gut bug populations are supposed to look like as a child develops, they can better understand—and treat—what goes wrong in conditions like malnutrition, and maybe even autism, he said.

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Related news: FAO and National Geographic announce collaboration exploring future of food.

The National Geographic Society and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have teamed up to raise awareness on food and agriculture issues as National Geographic embarks on an eight-month, in-depth report on food issues in National Geographic magazine and online at NatGeoFood.com. Among the themes that will be addressed are food and agricultural statistics and trends, feeding megacities in a world of changing demographics, reducing food loss and waste, the role of animal and insect protein in diets, and global forestry issues.  ”Combining FAO’s specialized expertise with National Geographic’s 126 years of award-winning photography and reporting is very exciting, and this agreement will help bring up-to-date information about hunger and  nutrition challenges and solutions to a very wide public audience,” said Mehdi Drissi, FAO Chief of Media Relations.


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