Mark Bittman, who writes the no-fun food column "The Minimalist" for the Times, on Wednesday reviewed "The Coming Famine - The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It," by Australian science journalist Julian Cribb, and makes a turn into standard Malthusian worries about a planet with dwindling resources, relaying the sort of bleak visions about the world's future that have never come to pass.
Mr. Cribb is reporting on the fate of a planet whose resources have, in the last 200 years, been carelessly, even ruthlessly exploited for the benefit of the minority. Now that the majority is beginning to demand - or at least crave - the same kind of existence, it's clear that, population boom or not, there simply isn't enough of the Euro-American way of life to go around.
Bittman signed on to Cribbs' scary vision of the future of food in an overpopulated world:
We also need more land, as much as "two more North Americas" to produce the fodder needed to meet projected demand. Yet existing land is being degraded by a variety of factors. (Mr. Cribb provides a nicely horrifying quote from some older Chinese farmers: "When we were young, we had trouble seeing the cattle in the grassland. Now we can see the mice.")
After plugging several of Cribbs' big-government ideas, like mandating the villainous food companies ("Big Food," to use Bittman's subtle phrasing) to finance research for new technology, Bittman forwarded his standard solution to everything (borrowed from Michael Pollan): "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Few experts without vested interests in corporate agriculture would disagree with any of this, though little progress is being made. Individuals, however, can make helpful changes more quickly. Dietary change is primary, and can be as simple as eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger and an apple instead of a bag of chips. Waste less food. Compost. Garden, even if (or especially if) you live in a city. Choose sustainable food, including fish. And so on.
Bittman previously expounded on the dubious joys of vegetarianism in the name of resource-saving in a 2008 Week in Review article: "...just as surely as the S.U.V. will yield to the hybrid, the half-pound-a-day meat era will end."