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How the Development of Nations Makes World Hunger Worse

As the developing nations progress toward full development, the lives of their citizens improve in many ways. The progress that nations make toward full development is beneficial and necessary. But there are also some detriments. As a nation becomes developed, more and more of its citizens adopt a Western pattern diet.

And this happens in nations in every region of the world. So it turns out that the Western-pattern diet is not really a product of Western culture. The 2012 FAO Hunger Report examines developing nations around the world and the eating choices of their populations. Even in the least developed regions, the top quintile (top 20%) of the population tends to have a Western-pattern diet: high consumption of fat, protein, refined foods, and animal-source foods. This economic diet pattern holds true in Asia, Latin American, the Caribbean, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. [FAO 2012 Hunger Report, p. 21, 22, tables 10, 11.]

The “Western-pattern” diet is really an affluent-pattern diet. As nations develop, their citizens have more income to spend. Sufficient income tends to lead to a diet pattern that is unhealthy, due to excessive consumption of protein, fat, and refined foods. People on a Western pattern diet eat about twice as much protein and fat as they need. This increases the amount of agricultural land needed per person, making the world hunger problem worse.

And the same dietary pattern is also too high in animal-source foods, which are produced by a very inefficient use of land and other agricultural resources. The Western-pattern diet consumed excess protein and fat, far more than is needed for a healthy diet, thereby taking away fat and protein from the hungry. The same diet also demands the very foods that use agricultural land most inefficiently: animal-source foods (beef, poultry, dairy).

As developing nations gradually become developed, the middle and upper classes increase in number and more persons adopt a Western (or affluent) pattern diet. The amount of land being used to produce food in the world is not keeping pace with the continual increase in the world population. And as more nations become more developed, an increasing the number of persons adopt a diet that demands more protein and fat than needed, and also uses agricultural resources less efficiently.

What Can Be Done?

A move from animal-source protein and fat toward plant sources is necessary to break the stranglehold that the Western pattern diet has on the world food economy.

If you would like to free yourself from the Western pattern diet — for the sake of health or for the sake of the hungry — eat less animal-source foods. Eat more whole grains, tubers (potato, sweet potato, yams, etc.), legumes, vegetables and fruits. Reduce your overall fat and protein intake to recommended levels for good health. It turns out that a healthy diet and a diet that will help reduce world hunger are about the same.

You might decide to eat wild-caught seafood once a week. Enough seafood is produced by the world for one serving per person per week worldwide. Some of the farmed seafood is fed on a corn/soy feed similar to that used by livestock. This approach has the same problem of using an excess amount of fertile agricultural land to produce any given amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and calories. That is why I recommend that you prefer wild-caught over farmed seafood.

Changing the Western pattern diet is one of the solutions to world hunger that works well at the level of the individual. But small organizations can help to change the culture by educating populations in every nation about healthy eating and about the connection between unhealthy eating and hunger. The unhealthy eating choices of the most affluent people in the world are a major cause of chronic undernourishment among the least affluent people in the world.

Restaurants are among the top “enablers” of the Western pattern diet. Many restaurants attract customers by offering huge portions and meals that are high in fat, protein, and animal source foods. A small commercial organization might try to establish a chain of restaurants that offers only healthy meals. Customers would be attracted by good tasting food that is lower in calories and better for health. And it is conceivable that even a fast-food restaurant might develop a menu that is healthy and low in fat. Healthier menu items have begun to make their way into fast-food restaurants in some of the top franchises. But as long as the culture demands food excess, there will be companies that make a profit meeting that unreasonable demand. So culture change is a high priority.

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