Global Food Consumption

What is your favourite food? Do you wish you could eat it every day? With the rise in global food consumption around the world, you probably can. With growing populations, the need for food is rising, and so too, is the consumption of food globally. What are the reasons for the growth in food consumption? What kind of impact is this having on the population and the planet? Let's see if we can answer these questions!

Global Food Consumption Global Food Consumption

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Table of contents

    What is the definition of global food consumption?

    Global food consumption is growing rapidly. However, this growth is uneven, with more developed countries having higher rates of food consumption than developing countries. Let's explore the reasons for this a little later on. Firstly, let's define global food consumption.

    Global food consumption is, quite simply, the amount of food and calories that are consumed by people. Calories measure the energy within foods.

    Food consumption is needed for survival; the average number of calories needed for a male human being per day is around 2500, for women, 2000. In 2018, the top three calorie consumption countries were Ireland, the United States, and Belgium, all of which, consumed more than 3500 calories per day, which is more than necessary. Comparatively, countries such as the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar were all consuming below 2000 calories per day. This clearly shows that there are higher rates of food consumption in the developed world than in the developing world.

    Take a look at the map below. Much of the developed world consumes over 3000 calories per day, leaving behind developing countries.

    Some foods are more calorie-dense than others. For example, in more developed countries, diets are usually richer in proteins and dairy, which are higher in calories. Comparatively, developing countries consume more cereal and plant-based foods, which are less calorie-dense.

    Global food production vs consumption

    There is enough food being produced around the world for everyone to lead a healthy and comfortable life. However, consumption rates vary due to unequal access to food. Higher consumption rates are typically found in more developed countries. But why is this the case? Let's have a look at some of the factors that could affect rates of food production, and why the developed world may have better access to food products than the developing world.

    Global Food Consumption Figure 2 Tractor StudySmarterFig 2. - well-developed countries have greater access to technology for food production

    What are some factors affecting food production?

    Food production rates vary around the world and can be impacted by several factors. These factors can have a knock-on effect on the amount of food that is consumed.

    Climate

    Climate Change is causing increasing temperatures, as well as a rise in droughts and flooding. This can make it difficult for crops to grow. In instances like this, food production reduces globally, which can increase food prices. Why? When there is less of something that lots of people want, it becomes more valuable. This pushes up the price. This impacts developing countries even more, as food becomes unaffordable.

    Pests and disease

    Pests and diseases can cause significant damage to crops, reducing the amount of food that can be produced. In many developing countries, farmers may not be able to afford pesticides or fertilisers that help to reduce disease damage, compared to developed countries.

    Conflict

    War and conflict can cause damage to land, or farmers may flee their land to safety, leaving their farming livelihoods behind, and therefore reducing food production. Conflicts can also increase food prices globally, as production is reduced.

    Lack of water

    Some countries may have limited access to water, due to warm climates or water pollution. The Impacts of Water Insecurity can impact agriculture significantly, as water is essential for crop growth and animal rearing.

    Water insecurity is the lack of access to a sustainable amount of safe water.

    More developed countries have better access to agricultural technologies, which means production rates are often higher. Some technologies can help to increase water supply, such as irrigation systems, which help to water the soil in more effective ways (take a look at the image below). Developing countries are often lacking in such technologies, as they are typically very expensive.

    Global Food Consumption Figure 3 Irrigation StudySmarterFig. 3 - only some countries have access to irrigation systems to water crops

    Imports and exports

    Developing countries typically export higher amounts of the food they produce, meaning they send food to other countries. Because of the higher levels of exports, there is less food available for consumption in that country. This can result in food insecurities.

    Food Insecurity is the lack of access to nutritious and affordable food.

    With smaller economies, importing food is difficult; developing countries often can't afford to bring food in from other countries. This will leave developing countries with a smaller consumption of food in comparison to their food production levels. More developed countries are often much more powerful than developing or lower-income countries, therefore they typically will be able to afford and receive more food imports. This inequality demonstrates the unequal power relations between poor and rich countries around the world.

    Take a look at the Impacts of Food Insecurity explanation to understand more about the causes and impacts of global food insecurity.

    Factors affecting the growth of global food consumption

    Food consumption has been increasing globally, but what is causing this? Let's look at some of the reasons for the increased consumption of food.

    Economic development

    There are differences in levels of wealth all around the world, and some countries are more economically developed than others. This can be because of lower education rates, high unemployment, or poor governance, for example. Our Uneven Development explanation can help to understand why some countries may be more economically developed than others.

    Economic development is the improvement of economies and economic growth.

    Over time, development levels have been changing. As countries and their populations increase their wealth, food consumption may increase. If people can afford more food, then consumption rates will rise. People will not only be able to afford more food, but also more expensive food that may be more calorie-dense, like meat, or foods from fast food companies.

    In China, meat consumption has increased rapidly, due to the fast-growing economy. Rising incomes have meant that more people are able to afford meat. Historically named 'millionaire's meat', due to its luxury, China now is responsible for roughly 28% of the world's meat consumption1.

    Population rise

    Our population has been slowly increasing over many years, reaching 7.95 billion in 2022. A rise in population will consequently cause a rise in the demand for food. This will affect things like water and land supply, as more food is being required to feed the global population.

    Birth rates tend to be much higher in developing countries compared to developed countries. This may be due to a lack of contraception or fertility education. With higher populations, food demand will increase.

    Transport

    The world is becoming more and more connected because of globalisation. Food is now transported and traded all over the world, resulting in greater access to food.

    Globalisation is how the world is becoming more connected with increases in trade and flows of money, goods, and people.

    Trade is when products are sold or bought between countries.

    People also may now have more access to different types of foods, that weren't available before globalisation. Demands for more exotic foods can bring plentiful benefits.

    The demand for quinoa is rising, especially in the developed world. This demand has meant that local farmers, for example, in Peru, are receiving more money, and therefore economic benefits.

    With globalisation, technologies and agricultural practices can be shared to efficiently produce more food. With rising populations, producing large amounts of food efficiently is becoming ever more important, to deal with the rising demand for food and to reduce the effects of food insecurities.

    Impacts of global food consumption

    The rise of global food consumption, as a result of economic development, increased population and better transportation, has had many impacts. Let's discuss a few.

    Food security vs food insecurity

    As previously discussed, global food consumption differs around the world. There is a global imbalance of food consumption, where some countries suffer from higher amounts of food insecurity, whilst others are much more food secure. This is a surplus-deficit issue. In some countries, more commonly, the developed world, there is over-production of food, or surplus, which can result in food waste. Climate disaster, conflict, higher exports or lack of access to technologies, can mean that some countries have less access to food, resulting in insecurity and therefore have lower rates of food consumption. This is commonly seen in the developing world.

    Surplus can be understood as having more of something than necessary. Deficit implies the opposite, not having enough of something.

    Food security is having access to nutritious and affordable food, entirely the opposite of food insecurity.

    Make sure to read the Impacts of Food Insecurity explanation!

    Environmental impacts

    Food production has negative impacts on the environment; crop growth can damage soils, pesticides can cause local water pollution and animal rearing can increase dangerous greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Our Sustainable Food Production article discusses how food production causes environmental degradation, as well as how it contributes to climate change, in much more detail.

    To reach the global food demand, foods are imported and exported around the world. This increases food miles.

    Food miles are the distance that food has made on its journey for consumption.

    The rise in food miles significantly impacts the environment, by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide into the environment, contributing to Climate Change.

    With the rise in the demand for food, more sustainable methods of food production are going to become vital for the preservation of the planet. Take a look at our Sustainable Food Production explanation for more information on how we can move to more sustainable methods of feeding the population of the world.

    Health

    Health can be significantly affected by global food consumption. With rising food consumption in developed countries, there are increasing levels of obesity and malnourishment. In countries where food insecurity is an issue, reduced food consumption can have detrimental effects on health, such as undernourishment and famines.

    Malnourishment is when a person doesn't get the right nutrients, either by eating poor quality foods, or not eating enough.

    Undernourishment occurs when a person lacks the correct nutrients to maintain their health.

    Famine occurs when people are unable to access food, which can result in death.

    Global Food Consumption - Key takeaways

    • Global food consumption is rising globally, however, this consumption is unequal.

    • There is enough food globally, however, there are reasons why there is uneven access to food, such as climate, pests and disease, water inequality, conflict, technology access, importing/exporting of products and levels of wealth.

    • Global food consumption has increased because of population rise, increased economic development, and the rise in transport and globalisation.

    • There are many impacts of global food consumption, such as food (in)security, environmental issues, and impacts on health.


    References

    1. Marcello Rossi, The Chinese Are Eating More Meat Than Ever Before and the Planet Can’t Keep Up, https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/07/the-chinese-are-eating-more-meat-than-ever-before-and-the-planet-cant-keep-up/
    2. Figure 3 Irrigation system (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Irrigation_system_%22Perrot%22_in_action.jpg) by Alupus (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Alupus) License type CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Global Food Consumption

    How does food consumption impact the global environment?

    Food production harms the environment in many ways, from environmental degradation of land and water, to greenhouse gas emissions. With higher rates of food consumption, these issues will worsen. Food miles also contribute to climate change. 

    Why is global food consumption increasing?

    Global food consumption is increasing due to rising populations, an increase in economic development, and a rise in transport and globalisation. 

    What is global pattern of food consumption?

    Global patterns of food consumption show the amount of food or calories that people consume around the world. More food is consumed in the developed world than in the developing world. 

    What are the factors that influence food consumption?

    The factors affecting food consumption include rates of food production, the amount of money that people may have, and food insecurity/security. 

    Why is food consumption important?

    Food is important for survival. Men require around 2500 calories to stay healthy, whilst women require 2000. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    In 2022, how many children were food insecure in the UK?

    True or false: the most prominent cause of food insecurity is poverty, or low income.

    True or False: Famine is deadly.

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