Recently, my agriculture pursuits allowed me a venture into pop culture, as I made time to read The Hunger Games. Now the movie has been released and it prompted me to compare the author’s theme with the future of agriculture.
If you are not familiar with the fictional novel, it takes place in a nation known as Panem, established in North America after the destruction of civilization by some unknown event.
As punishment for rebellion, each district annually selects one boy and one girl (called tributes) to participate in the Hunger Games. The event stages the participant in a game of survival and they must fight to the death in an outdoor arena until one individual remains. The district who hosts the winner is awarded with favor and food.
The story is narrated by a 16-year-old tribute named Katniss. For years, she has already dealt with the struggle of all in Panem (and her home district) with self preservation prompted by starvation and the need for resources.
Animals are perceived as a lifeline for survival, but Katniss’ younger sister also has a special relationship with a pet cat.
Her deceased father gifted her with knowledge of how to skillfully use the bow and arrow and she used the talent to hunt and provide for her family’s food. This necessity will now become extremely useful as she competes in the games.
Is this novel science fiction or possibly a glimpse into our future? There is a difference between being hungry and actual hunger. By 2050, the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion which is 34 percent higher than today. It is predicted that nearly all of this population will occur in developing countries.
Urbanization will continue at an accelerated pace and about 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban as compared to 49 percent today. In order to feed the larger, more urban and richer population, food production must increase by 70 percent.
That increase must take place amidst a greater demand for food security and safety, a move towards a global trading system, and a consuming public far removed the experiences and realities of production agriculture.
“An army marches on its stomach.” This is a quote from Napoleon which indicates the power that food has as a resource.
To date, hunger is not a feeling that I have experienced, but the pictures of it are enough to cure my appetite.
In my childhood, food was supplied three times a day for my physical needs but it also set the emotional stage for the gathering of our family. It was not prepared from a cardboard box, but it was my mother’s magic that combined just the proper amount a several ingredients to an end product that sat on our table.
Cakes, pies, biscuits, roasts, mashed potatoes were all balanced with physical activity. Refusal to sample all foods on the plate could transform into a means of discipline as we were taught to waste nothing and appreciate the bounty that starving children in India did not have.
One time I made the mistake of curtly asking my father to name one of those children. The response taught me quickly to never again question his parental judgment.
Back then, a trip to the grocery store was a weekly chore and a budget was carefully followed. Today, that same event is filled with over 38,000 choices of items on display to keep up with wide array of consumer needs, taste palates and curiosity.
On occasion, we ate out. It was a time when manners were taught and it was a genuine experience that created much anticipation as we tasted a cuisine other than Mom’s.
Soda pop was not available in our home unless my mother splurged on some root beer for a float. What a treat it was!
Today the uncommon is ordinary, or business as usual, and our taste for flavorful food can find immediate gratification with restaurants on every street corner in America, if you are willing to pay the price.
One can only imagine that amount of food waste in our homes and in extravagant proportion sizes at these establishments. Plus it is showing up on our waistlines when we do not find the time to balance caloric intake with physical activity.
In our home I take pride in those early values and we still find the time for a family meal at the table without television in the background. Maybe cows have inadvertently forced us into the routine, but it is a good one.
An agriculture background has often led to core values that are passed from generation to generation and perhaps that is our greatest product. American farmers have worked hard to feed the public and that path has led us to create more and more types on food from soil that was once barren and a transit system to deliver fresh goods to all whether the selection takes place in a store or a farmers market.
Land of plenty
The ingenuity of food is based upon the American dream as we live in the land of plenty where less than 10 percent of our income (the lowest of any country) is spent on our food purchases and a large percentage of that is devoted to eating out.
Let us not forget that much of the farm bill budget is devoted to food dollars to those less fortunate.
I realize I usually write about concerns for youth. Will the events portrayed in The Hunger Games become somewhat real for them as they are challenged to meet the food demands of the future? How will we educate and prepare for such debates that food will present? What will happen to the economics of supply and demand?
It would be fun to peek through some crystal ball to see what will take place, but at my tenured age I will defer most of that to those I have taught, and maybe influenced as an educator. I just hope I was a part of the solution and not the problem.
Bon appetit America, but every bite was conceived and created by a farmer who took pride in producing it. May the games of the future be focused around the sports we traditionally understand and enjoy.