Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment

By Paul R. Ehrlich; Anne H. Ehrlich et al. | Go to book overview

APPENDIX 2
Food and Nutrition

Despite the emphasis on the need for a balanced diet that has been a part of school curricula and general public information in the United States since the 1920s and 1930s, some Americans are still convinced that a typical Asian can live happily and healthily on one bowl of rice per day. The truth is that an Asian's nutritional requirements are just the same as those of an American, although the total amounts an Asian may need of some nutrients may be less, because of the Asian's smaller size (itself doubtless the result of poorer nutrition during the years of growth). The Asian, however, meets his or her nutritional needs through a quite different assortment of foods from those an American would choose.

The traditional diets of various peoples of the world differ tremendously, from the East African Masai diet of berries, grain, vegetables, milk, blood from cattle, and some sheep or goat meat, to the Polynesian diet of coconut, fish, breadfruit, taro, tropical fruits, and occasional pork or poultry. American and European diets -- once based on relatively few foods, such as beef, mutton, poultry, dairy products, eggs, wheat and other cereals, potatoes (more recently), pulses, vegetables, and fruits -- have grown in the past generation to include a fantastic array of foods from all parts of the world. Nevertheless, the relatively limited traditional diets of most of the people in less developed countries, where undernutrition and malnutrition are today very widespread, could be basically adequate to meet their needs.

The existing nutritional deficiencies result mainly from insufficient supplies of some or all of those foods. Lack of sufficient food may be a result of being too poor to buy it or ignorance of the best choices, or both. (The inexcusably poor diets of many Americans are more often due to ignorance of nutrition or to indifference than to poverty.) Table A2-1 shows available food energy and protein supplies per capita in the world averaged over 1969 through 1971. Diets of lower- income groups in less developed countries are often seriously deficient in kilocalories (and, accordingly, in other nutrients as well). Surveys in several LDCs have shown very clearly the discrepancies in food intake per person between highest and lowest income families (Tables A2-2 and A2-3).

As rapid population growth in LDCs has strained efforts to maintain food supplies, demand for imported food has increased dramatically, especially since 1972. This trend is shown in Table A2-4, comparing the quantities of grain exported (traded between countries) with total production and consumption. The bulk of exported grain goes to developed countries, but the share exported to LDCs has been rising rapidly in recent years. Table A2-5 shows United Nation's projections of expected increases in worldwide demand for various kinds of food between 1970 and 1985.

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