Our Daily Bread


In a remarkable program titled "Earth 2100" that was featured by ABC on June 2nd, scientists Jared Diamond and O. E. Wilson warned that practically every major civilization in the history of the human race has eventually collapsed when its consumption outstripped its resources. Instead, famine, disease, or political and social chaos inevitably took over.


In the same vein, the April issue of National Geographic magazine was largely devoted to analyzing the causes of the major food shortages and the soaring food prices that are already afflicting a good part of the world. Among the major causes are climate change, population growth, and last but not least, wasteful eating and other resource consumption habits. Already large parts of the world's upland agricultural lands are becoming drier, while at the same time, low-lying costal plains and river deltas, among the most productive areas on earth, are in increasing danger of being flooded out by rising sea levels. Add to the above the fact that the world's population, already numbered at six billion, will probably reach nine billion by mid-century. These two trends alone are almost guaranteed to produce a major crisis if not a total disaster for human civilization.


While industrialization generally leads to smaller families, still, unless agricultural production can be increased, famine and disease will eventually take over, with the scientists on ABC predicting a die-off of approximately two-thirds of the world's population by the end of this century.


As for climate change, while some may debate whether it is principally the result of natural cycles or of human activity, there is a general consensus among scientists that global warming (even if another ice age may eventually follow) is already a proven fact and that at most all we can do is a combination of trying to slow it down and at the same time adjusting to it.


But as for warding off starvation itself, there is a great deal more that we can do, right now, if -- and only if -- we are willing to take a hard look at our wasteful eating and other resource consumption habits. This is where the National Geographic article presents some hard facts. The production of meat consumes five (as in the case of poultry) to ten (as in the case of corn fed beef) times as much food energy as will the same amount of grain (such as wheat, corn, rice, etc.) would produce if eaten directly in the form of bread or cereal or other vegetarian dishes by humans.  Instead, large tracts of the Amazon rain forest (which produces about 1/5 of the world's oxygen) are being destroyed to grow soybeans that are mostly shipped to China's huge new American- style pork factories, while in the USA massive amounts of corn are grown, thanks partly to huge subsidies, not to feed people, but primarily to fatten cattle, not naturally on grass, in highly unsanitary feed lots. Likewise, substituting agriculturally produced alcohol fuel to take the place of petroleum based fuels may temporarily give OPEC cause to worry, but we should think twice as well when faced with the estimate that the amount of corn necessary to produce one SUV tank full of ethanol could feed a human being for an entire year!


It has been noted, time and time again, by historians and anthropologists, that the advent of major civilizations only took place as a result of the development of agriculture. Strictly hunting or gathering societies by necessity remain scattered and sparsely populated. So it now seems that when agriculture is being primarily diverted to produce meat we, in the end, no matter how fancy our table settings, are in danger of reverting to the state of primitives gnawing on bones around their campfires. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that the Lord's prayer has us asking for "our daily bread" instead of "the fatted calf" or even "the paschal lamb." It could just be that one major way of living the Christian faith, especially now, should become more evident in our diet.


R W Kropf    6/9/09                                                     Bread.doc  09-06-09.html