Paul Foot

Why the world is eating less

(21 July 1990)

From Socialist Worker, 21 July 1990.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000, pp. 274–276.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the Independent newspaper I read the following headline: World Appetite For Grain Still Fading. I expected the article under it to be about diet; about the shifting food fads of the kind of people who read the Independent.

Perhaps some homeopathic doctor has been working on the consciences of the rich and persuading them to eat less grain so that there can be more for the poor.

Indeed, I recall as a child in a rich home being persuaded by a stern nurse to eat everything on my plate. ‘Think of the starving millions,’ she would say, as though they benefited from my full stomach, or were insulted in some way by my leaving bits of gristle on the side of the plate.

But no, this is not an article about diet. This is written by Lisa Vaughan, the Independent’s financial correspondent. Her main point is that ‘growth in world grain consumption may continue to slow this decade’.

She produces figures from the International Wheat Council to show that the amount of bread consumed by the world’s population has hardly grown at all during the Glorious Eighties. Indeed, wheat consumption since 1982 has gone up by only 2.4 percent a year, while world population in the same period has gone up by just under 2 percent.


Consumption of coarse grain (maize, barley, rye, oats, etc.) has risen even slower than population – 1.3 percent to 1.9 percent.

Now let’s go back to that headline, World Appetite For Grain Still Fading. Can it be that all over the world people are sick and tired of eating bread and are turning to a more tasty substitute?

In the tortured language of the financial correspondent, Lisa Vaughan gives us the answer: ‘Instead of being driven by demographics, grain use is now primarily determined by financial restraints facing governments.’

She quotes directly from the report of the International Wheat Council:

Financial and economic factors are likely to remain the chief influence on grain usage for many years to come. Because of debt repayment or foreign exchange obstacles, many countries have been obliged to restrain grain imports even when prices are low.

In plain English, what does this mean? It means that people are eating less because they are poor. It is not, as the Independent so coyly puts it, people’s appetite which is fading – on the contrary their appetite is growing.

More and more people, especially children under the age of five, are dying of starvation. Their appetite is growing as rapidly as the capacity of the rich farmers of the world to produce the food they need to keep them alive. It is not their appetite but their ability to pay for the grain which is fading.


Their governments, even when food prices are low, are so stuffed up with debt imposed on them by multinational companies and bankers that they cannot buy the food to feed their people. And if they have the good fortune to produce any home-grown food, for the same reason, they must sell that to the rich!

Over the last few weeks there has been a flood of reports and statistics about the widening gap between rich and poor. Like Lisa Vaughan, the authors all seem surprised; as though they have come across something which is clearly wrong and must instantly be put right. They dare not draw the conclusion which stares them in the face, namely that the cause of all this totally unnecessary distress and absurdity is their beloved market system.

If ‘money talks’, as all these commentators insist it must, then the logic of a society cut into classes will drive all production towards the rich and away from the ever multiplying poor.

It used to be fashionable to describe the result of all this as Doomsday. But when we discover the results already – when we discover, for instance, that 72 percent of the babies born in Peru last year are stunted or deformed because of the malnutrition of their parents – we realise that, for four fifths of the world’s population, Doomsday came long ago.

Last updated on 30 June 2014