See Inside September 2007

A Question of Sustenance

Globalization ushered in a world in which more than a billion are overfed. Yet hundreds of millions still suffer from hunger's persistent scourge

 In 1963 some 200,000 Indians in West Bengal and Assam faced imminent starvation. A few years later drought caused severe food shortages in the nearby state of Bihar. Against a backdrop of such reports, biologist Paul Ehrlich speculated in his 1968 book The Population Bomb that, within just a few years, hundreds of millions would starve to death, as inexorable population growth outstripped limited resources.

This neo-Malthusian scenario never came to pass. For India, the green revolution in agriculture averted a “ship to mouth” existence in which foreign food aid would be needed indefinitely to stave off Ehrlich’s worst-case prognostications. In the ensuing 40 years, India has undergone a radical makeover and now graces magazine covers as an emerging economic giant. The turn-of-the-century developing world now often confronts more of a problem with fat than it does with famine—a sociological spin-off of globalization known as the nutrition transition. The millennium marked the first time that the overweight equaled the number of the undernourished worldwide, and, as a demographic, the overnourished 1.3 billion now surpass the hungry by several hundred million.

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