10/29/2006

When I am King: Squash World Hunger

When I am King...

No more yucky food will be grown.

I have a solution for world hunger; let's stop growing food that noone likes.

We've heard for years that the real problem behind world hunger is not availability, but distribution. (I happen to think that ready cash probably figures in there somewhere). But here's a different theory: maybe we're just not growing food that people actually want to eat.

Here's a good example. It's Halloween, and once again everyone's porch is decorated with inedible vegetables. It may seem like the porch is a natural place for these items because we are decorating the public entrances to our homes, but the real reason the things are there is that nobody wants them inside their house. There are gourds, which noone is quite sure what to do with. There is multi-colored corn, which looks simultaneously interesting and completely unappetizing. And then there are the pumpkins everywhere; carcasses of these massive vegetables so confound us that all we can think to do is to carve them up, in some sort of virtual homicide or ritual sacrifice.

Sure, we use some of the pumpkin innards. Occasionally. Somewhere, there is a factory that converts one part pumpkin, 10 parts cream, and 20 parts sugar into a gloppy substance that is then slorped into pie dishes and called “pumpkin pie”. Also, many people try (and fail) to convert the huge pumpkin seeds into something tasty (one part seeds, 10 parts butter or oil, 20 parts salt), but most of the inedible results end up in the trash can instead. A typical response is, “Hmm, honey (crunch, chew, crunch). Much better this year (crunch, chew),” followed by placing the rest of the handful quietly back in the bowl.

Pumpkins, gourds, and multi-color corn are all members of the Decoration food group. This food group is not found inside the classic “food pyramid”, but if you look closely you can see these foods on the pyramid's front porch.

The Decoration food group has many other members. Pomegranates, for example, have a grand history of being only partially consumed. The goddess Persephone could eat only a few seeds before giving up, and went to Hell for eating just that many. But who could blame her? The pomegranate is a parody of something edible, having more seed than actual fruit. Eating it is more a hobby than an act of consumption; it is about as productive as biting your nails, but substantially less filling.

So why do we continue to grow these things? Wouldn't we be better off growing things that people actually wanted to eat? Maybe if we just had more edible food in the world, it would somehow magically make its way into the hands and stomachs of people that had nothing. As it is, it seems like we have about the right amount of food for some number of people (less than the population of the planet) and then we have whole landfills and front porches full of these other bizarre foods. Sure, we might be able to ship this stuff around the planet in a desperate attempt to stave off hunger, but the recipients wouldn't want these things either. We could take our entire crop of pumpkins, figure out how to send them somewhere else (a quandary in and of itself), and would merely get a thank-you card back with a picture of all lots of carved pumpkins and a note inside; “We thank you for the festive decorations; do you have any food?”

I propose a new system of growing and manufacturing foods that people will actually eat, thereby filling the world with more edible options. On the organic side, we could grow more fruits like watermelons and oranges, or vegetables like, er, well, some vegetables that people like. On the manufacturing side, we could produce foods that have little dependence on nature. Pop-Tarts come to mind; they're tasty, filling, and people will eat them, but they appear to have no natural products in them.

I am heartened by this project so far, and have begun working on other planetary problems as well. There are plans to reduce global warming by getting enough people to run air conditioners while their windows are open. And droughts may be solved by simply turning on the faucets in a house and channeling the water to the outside. I'm still researching solutions to the global oil shortage, but the top contender involves teenagers and acne.
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