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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 2: Is scarcity the problem?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Diet diary
View the documentActivity 2: How much food is there?
View the documentActivity 3: Where does the food go?
View the documentActivity 4: Hunger in the midst of plenty


COMMON ASSUMPTION: There is not enough food to feed everyone.


Many people believe that scarcity is the cause of hunger. This lesson asks students to investigate the assumption that hunger persists because there is not enough food.


Diet Diary introduces the concepts of calories, proteins, and malnutrition by having the students examine their own diet and learn about the diets of people who do not get enough to eat.


How Much Food Is There? asks students to investigate whether there really is a shortage of food in the world and to think about why food is not getting to hungry people.


Where Does the Food Go? takes a deeper look at ways the global food system moves food away from areas where people are hungry, by studying the lives of some people who produce food. In this activity, students will use graphics, artwork, or writing to explain and understand why people who grow food go hungry.


Hunger in the Midst of Plenty introduces hunger in the United States through three stories about people who are hungry. Playwriting, peer teaching, and panel discussions are used to help students develop their ideas about why people in industrialized countries go hungry.

Is scarcity the problem


The world food supply is best described as abundant, not scarce. In the last twenty-five years, food production has grown at a rate 16 percent greater than population growth. Farmers in many parts of the world are faced with declining prices due to crop surpluses. Food spoils while waiting to be sold for higher prices.

United Nations statistics show that enough grain is currently grown worldwide to provide every person on earth with 3,600 calories per day (adult average daily requirements fall between 2,000 and 2,700) and ample protein. This does not even include the added calories and protein from the great variety of nongrain foods that are grown.

More startling, enough food is grown even in many countries where a high percentage of the population goes hungry. Bangladesh produces enough in grain alone to provide every person with about 2,000 calories each day. With some of the world's most fertile agricultural soil, Bangladesh's potential production is much greater still. Yet the average daily intake of the poorest third of the population is only 1,500 calories per person, dangerously below what is needed for a healthy life. Comparing food supply in eleven countries in 1983, we find that even in those countries regarded as hunger "basket cases" food production is not the reason why people are receiving less than 1,500 calories (see bar graph below).

Barraged by images of starving Africans, many people are surprised to learn that sub-Saharan African countries are actually net exporters of agricultural commodities. Ethiopia, the African country most associated with hunger, exported four times as much agricultural produce as it imported in 1983, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Grain Production in Calories per Person per Day (1983)

The story is the same on other continents. In India, home of more hungry people than any other country in the world, government officials worry about how to deal with more than 24 million tons of surplus grain - that's twice as much as all the food aid shipped in the world in 1985. Brazil is the world's second largest food exporter (after the United States), but it is estimated that 86 million Brazilians do not get enough to eat.

While the World Bank estimates that over 700 million of the world's people are hungry, over 40 percent of the grain produced and 40 to 60 percent of the fish caught are fed to livestock. Animals raised on this grain and fish rarely go to feed the hungry, who are too poor to buy meat. While beef production in Central America has leapt severalfold since 1960, beef consumption by local people has declined. Additionally, large amounts of land and other resources in underdeveloped countries are used for producing coffee, cocoa, fruits, flowers, and luxury foods for a local minority who can afford them and for higher-paying consumers in industrialized countries. Poor farmers growing food for their families are forced onto infertile land or off the land altogether. The UN's Fifth World Food Survey(1985) points out that rural people, people who grow food, suffer greater malnutrition than urban people.

To understand that hunger is not caused by scarcity, we need only look at the United States itself. As many as 20 million Americans don't get enough to eat. More children live in poverty today than at any other time in U.S. history. The Physician Task Force on Hunger in America reports that between 1983 and 1984 there was a 65-percent increase in the use of emergency free-food programs - during the supposed economic recovery. Over half of the recipients were children.

Who would say that people go hungry because of a shortage of food in the United States? Surely not U.S. farmers who, because of high production, cannot get good prices for their grain. Nor the U.S. government, which must store mountains of grain and enough surplus cheese, milk, and butter to provide every single American with almost fifty pounds.

We cannot assume that people go hungry because there is not enough food in the world. Only by going beyond this myth of scarcity can we begin to understand the true causes of hunger.

Food warehouse


1. How much food is produced in the world? Is there enough food to feed everyone?
2. If there is enough food, why doesn't it get to hungry people?
3. Are there hungry people in countries that produce large "surpluses" of food? What is it like to be hungry in a "rich" country?