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This introduction to a series of essays on the global challenges of food and water security, commissioned as part of the International Year of Global Understanding, provides a definition of key terms and an historical context to these contemporary issues. It discusses the human right to adequate food and water, outlining some of the political struggles that have arisen over accessing these vital resources. Patterns of ‘under-’ and ‘over-consumption’ are discussed and analyzed, measured against the targets set in the Millennium Development and Sustainable Development Goals. The essays share a common approach, linking global challenges to the realities of everyday life and emphasizing the connections between biophysical and socio-cultural processes. The essays also address a number of cross-cutting themes including gender, ethnic and religious diversity, and the emotional and affective dimensions of life, going beyond questions of survival to incorporate the more qualitative dimensions of human well-being and quality of life.
The full definition can be consulted at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4671e/y4671e06.htm (accessed 20 April 2016). As might be imagined, each clause in the definition has been fought over since the initial formulation was advanced at the World Food Summit in 1996. See Midgley ( 2013) for a genealogy of this complex process.
Malnutrition is considered the greatest risk to public health (greater than HIV-AIDS, malaria and TB combined).
For further details of how obesity and overweight are defined, see http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ (accessed 20 April 2016). For a critical account of the obesity ‘epidemic’, see Guthman ( 2011).
For a discussion of First World food poverty, see Riches and Silvasti ( 2014).
The right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, was affirmed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a multilateral treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966. Several countries, including the US, have not yet ratified the Covenant.
For an assessment of progress in achieving the MDGs, see http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20PC%20final.pdf (accessed 20 April 2016).
For further information on the Sustainable Development Goals, see https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 (accessed 20 April 2016).
For further information, see http://www.worldmapper.org (accessed 20 April 2016).
Following a recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK, the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food ( 2002) argued that the current agri-food system was ‘dysfunctional’ because farming had become detached from the rest of the economy and the environment. Emphasising the need for reconnection along the supply chain, the report’s authors argued that consumers no longer knew enough about what they eat and how it is produced.
A recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME 2013) estimated that between 30 and 50 % of food produced globally never reaches a human stomach because of wastage on farm, during harvesting, processing and transportation, or in store and at home.
Beddington, J. (2010). Food, energy, water and the climate: A perfect storm of global events?. London: Government Office for Science.
De Vault, M. L. (1991). Feeding the family: The social organization of caring as gendered work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Foresight. (2011). The future of food and farming: Final report. London: Government Office for Science.
Garnett, T., Appleby, M. C., Balmford, A., Bateman, I. J., Benton, T. G., Bloomer, P., et al. (2013). Sustainable intensification in agriculture: Premises and policies. Science, 341, 33–34. CrossRef
Guthman, J. (2011). Weighing in: Obesity, food justice and the limits of capitalism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
IME. (2013). Global food: Waste not, want not. London: Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
Jackson, P. (2006). Thinking geographically. Geography, 91, 199–204.
Kjaernes, U., Harvey, M., & Warde, A. (2007). Trust in food: A comparative and institutional analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossRef
Malthus, T. R. (1798/2008). An essay on the principle of population. Oxford: Oxford University Press (World Classics).
Midgley, J. L. (2013). Food (in)security in the global ‘north’ and ‘south’. In A. Murcott, W. Belasco, & P. Jackson (Eds.), The handbook of food research (pp. 425–438). London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food. (2002). Farming and food: A sustainable future. London: Cabinet Office.
Riches, G., & Silvasti, T. (Eds.). (2014). First world hunger revisited: Food charity or the right to food?. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Simms, A. (2008). Nine meals from anarchy. London: New Economics Foundation.
Sultana, F., & Loftus, A. (2012). The right to water: Politics, governance and social struggles. London and New York: Routledge.
UN. (2013). World population prospects: The 2012 revision. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
- Introduction: Understanding the Complexities of Eating, Drinking, and Surviving
Walter E. L. Spiess