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The Fate of Food

What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World

By Amanda Little
12-minute read
Audio available
The Fate of Food by Amanda Little

The Fate of Food (2019) looks at a rapidly changing world and the question of how we’ll feed our ever-growing population. Is it possible to produce a clean, climate-resilient food supply that’s adequate to meet our needs? The Fate of Food examines the technological and sociological demands of feeding the world. 

  • People concerned with the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment
  • Food lovers fascinated by the farm-to-table journey
  • Science buffs wanting to keep up with the latest trends in agricultural science

Amanda Little is an award-winning environmental journalist whose writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Wired, and Vanity Fair, among many others. She is a professor of investigative journalism and science writing at Vanderbilt University and the author of Power Trip: The Story of America’s Love Affair with Energy.

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The Fate of Food

What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World

By Amanda Little
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Fate of Food by Amanda Little
Synopsis

The Fate of Food (2019) looks at a rapidly changing world and the question of how we’ll feed our ever-growing population. Is it possible to produce a clean, climate-resilient food supply that’s adequate to meet our needs? The Fate of Food examines the technological and sociological demands of feeding the world. 

Key idea 1 of 7

Modern farming techniques are a major contributor to our current ecological crisis.

There’s no doubt about it, agriculture today is more productive than at any time in human history. Modern machinery, improved pesticides and even the seeds we use have dramatically increased the amount of food humanity can grow.

Yet this improved productivity has come at a cost.

The key message here is: Modern farming techniques are a major contributor to our current ecological crisis.

Since humans first sowed seeds, every agricultural innovation has been the result of a common goal: producing larger, more reliable crops with less effort.

Over the centuries, farming transformed from self-sufficiency – only growing enough to meet the immediate need – to a profit-driven industrial giant. This long history of innovation culminated in the Green Revolution in the years following World War II. New pesticides, irrigation techniques, and hybrid seeds combined to increase the global food supply 200 percent.

The Green Revolution was long heralded as a milestone for humanity. But for all of its achievements, the Green Revolution had some unintended consequences.

Excess fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides have caused damage to aquatic life, topsoil and useful, productive insects like bees. The insects that actually damage crops, meanwhile, have become resistant to existing pesticides. Farmers are forced to use ever-stronger chemicals to fight them off. Then there’s climate change. The carbon footprint of industrial agriculture is enormous. Food production accounts for a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions annually, more than any other single contributor.

But perhaps the Green Revolution’s greatest failure has been its inability to solve the problem of food distribution. Food is now produced on a massive scale. And yet, more than 800 million people are undernourished. Supply chains remain inefficient, and so approximately a third of the food produced around the world goes to waste.

Because of the downsides to the Green Revolution, some sustainable food advocates argue we should dismantle the entire structure and go back to basics. They want us to reject chemicals and genetic modification in favor of simpler agrarian practices. While this may sound idyllic in theory, it isn’t entirely feasible. Technology has dramatically cut the costs associated with farming, resulting in considerably more affordable food. If we stopped using technology, we’d end up with more expensive food. And it’d be the poorest communities who’d lose out.

The way forward requires a combination of efforts, with technology and tradition working together to feed a more crowded planet.

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