One quick counter argument is that supply will simply increase as a result of increased prices and we will soon get back to a long run, cheap food equilibrium.
Quotes like this are also like golden nuggets to an economist.
The world seemed to have been liberated from a Malthusian “long night of hunger and drudgery.”
Our current food predicament resembles a Malthusian scenario—misery and famine—but one largely created by overproduction rather than underproduction.
But let us given Malthus his moment in the sun. This is a long 4 page article that is well worth reading in full. Excellent writing and referencing.
H/T: Environmental and Urban Economics
The Last Bite: Is the world’s food system collapsing? [New Yorker]
In his “Essay on the Principle of Population,” of 1798, the English parson Thomas Malthus insisted that human populations would always be “checked” (a polite word for mass starvation) by the failure of food supplies to keep pace with population growth. For a long time, it looked as if what Malthus called the “dark tints” of his argument were unduly, even absurdly, pessimistic. As Paul Roberts writes in “The End of Food” (Houghton Mifflin; $26), “Until late in the twentieth century, the modern food system was celebrated as a monument to humanity’s greatest triumph. We were producing more food—more grain, more meat, more fruits and vegetables—than ever before, more cheaply than ever before, and with a degree of variety, safety, quality and convenience that preceding generations would have found bewildering.” The world seemed to have been liberated from a Malthusian “long night of hunger and drudgery.”
As of 2006, there were eight hundred million people on the planet who were hungry, but they were outnumbered by the billion who were overweight. Our current food predicament resembles a Malthusian scenario—misery and famine—but one largely created by overproduction rather than underproduction. Our ability to produce vastly too many calories for our basic needs has skewed the concept of demand, and generated a wildly dysfunctional market.
Now we turn to a fine example of an environmental externality that also employs a fine turn of phrase.
By contrast, the mainstream food economy is now dominated by monocultures in which crops and animals are kept apart. This system of farming has little use for poop, despite churning it out in ever-increasing volumes. The San Joaquin Valley has air quality as poor as Los Angeles, the result of twenty-seven million tons of manure produced every year by California’s cows. “And cows are relatively benign crappers,” Roberts points out; hogs—mass-produced to meet the demand for bacon on everything—are more prolific. On June 21, 1995, Roberts tells us, a hog lagoon burst into a river in North Carolina, destroying aquatic life for seventeen miles.