Food Price Kerfluffle: “Why Do Americans Get to Eat More than Indians?”

On May 2, George W. Bush explained that the current spike in food prices worldwide is primarily a consequence of rising demand from China and India: “when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.” The quote was widely seen in the English-language Indian media as “blaming” Chindia for the problem, and was met with outrage.

Some of that outrage is collected in a recent IHT article on the President’s controversial statement. Some of the best, most snarky comments are by Pradeep Mehta, who works for a private economic research organization in India:

The food problem has “clearly” been created by Americans, who are eating 50 percent more calories than the average person in India, said Pradeep Mehta, the secretary general of CUTS Center for International Trade, Economics and Environment, a private economic research organization based in India with offices in Kenya, Zambia, Vietnam and Britain.

If Americans were to slim down to even the middle-class weight in India, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates,” Mehta said. The money Americans spend on liposuction to get rid of their excess fat could be funneled to famine victims instead, he added. (link)

And somewhat more measured comments, along with some more statistics on caloric consumption, are here:

Americans eat an average of 3,770 calories per capita a day, the highest amount in the world, according to data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, compared to 2,440 calories in India. They are also the largest per capita consumers in any major economy of beef, the most energy-intensive common food source, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The United States and Canada top the world in oil consumption per person, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“George Bush has never been known for his knowledge of economics,” Jairam Ramesh, the minister of state for commerce, told The Press Trust of India after Bush’s remarks, which he said proved again how “comprehensively wrong” Bush is.

“To say that demand for food in India is causing increase in global food prices is completely wrong,” Ramesh said.

Politicians and academics in India cite various other reasons: diversion of arable land in the United States and Europe into ethanol production; trade subsidies by the United States and Europe; and the dollar’s decline. (link)

Those latter factors (ethanol production, trade subsidies, dollar’s decline) have also been cited by a number of economists in the west. Still, the President and Condoleezza Rice (who made a similar statement a couple of weeks ago) are presumably right when they say that there has been a rise in global demand, though I have a strong feeling that that demand started to rise more than a decade ago. It’s those other factors that, as I understand it, have really converged this year to drive up prices. (Does anyone really know? Is this an economics problem that can be solved?)

Consumption-wise, I admittedly look like an ordinary American: my own caloric intake is probably closer to 3000 than 2000 (though I’ve admittedly never been able to count it out… how many calories in roti? rajma-chaval? chicken biryani?). Still, on this issue, I can’t help but see things from the Indian point of view: “Why do Americans think they deserve to eat more than Indians?”

119 thoughts on “Food Price Kerfluffle: “Why Do Americans Get to Eat More than Indians?”

  1. “Yeah, the burgers, frites, candy aid recipients would all be dead. Problem solved.”

    uh, that’s my point. Countries have to produce their own food and the Asian green revolution has proved that is possible. Most east Asian countries haven’t been starving recently (North Korea being a notable exception.) The “think of the hungry kids in China” routine American parents used to get kids to eat their dinner hasn’t worked in years. There’s a plenitude of Americans who need to clean up their nutritional act and they may need their own produce for that.

  2. “The successful country is looking to blame the problems on other people, with decades of driving gas guzzling cars.” I agree sort of. What kind of car do you drive? Recommend?

  3. Vivekananda = Vyasa = Prem/Dhoni/etc = troll?

    GWB’s actual comment seemed far less offensive to me than the reaction made it out to be, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t understand how some American Desi’s support the Republican Party. But it’s true that the West blames the developing countries for a lot of problems that were caused by themselves, most notably global warming. Though I definitely don’t welcome more cars in India.

    American food portions are nightmarishly huge. Seriously, a ‘large’ coke in a movie theater here is the smallest version available in the States! And the meals are often so greasy as well! Though I’ve seen an increase in all-you-can eats in my country as well, and obesity is on the rise.

  4. The greatest thing about America is that your neighbors have a life too and therefore actually mind their own business instead of your’s!

  5. 81 · DesiInNJ said

    Rahul, I can’t believe that you like D’Souza, he is a Desi Uncle Tom.

    Naw. That’s Bobby Jindal. Haha. D’souza seems to be the rebel type.

  6. 104 · Cross Culture Vulture said

    herefore actually mind their own business instead of your’s!

    and also Britney Spears’. That keeps them from poking into my affairs( which are rather spicy, cuz I’m so desi. and the only non-vegetarian consumption i do, because i’m into ahimsa and all that carnadicktic).

  7. only non-vegetarian consumption i do, because i’m into ahimsa and all that carnadick

    There you go, blowing the 2440 calorie daily intake.

  8. The free-market fundamentalism that the American and EU dominated World Bank and IMF imposed on hapless third world nations in exchange for loans is ultimately responsible for the current food crisis. The obscene hypocrisy here is that both America and the EU heavily subsidize their own farmers but demand the exact opposite from much poorer and vulnerable nations living barely above sustenance levels. Its unforgivable how the greedy and gluttonous West keeps enriching and fattening itself at the expense of the world’s poorest peoples.

    “There’s another reason for the food riots in Haiti — highly subsidized US rice that flooded the country in exchange for loans from the International Monetary Fund. The US cereal put Haitian rice farmers out of business and destroyed the ability of the poor country to feed itself with domestically grown food……………the United States and other international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major market for the heavily subsidized rice from US farmers……………….in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff protections for rice and other agricultural products and some industries to open up its markets to foreign competition. The United States has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF…………Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened. “Within less than two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with what they called ‘Miami rice.’ The whole local rice market in Haiti fell apart as cheap, US-subsidized rice, some of it in the form of ‘food aid,’ flooded the market. There was violence, ‘rice wars’ and lives were lost.” “American rice invaded the country,” recalled Charles Suffrard, a leading rice grower in Haiti in an interview with the Washington Post in 2000. By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country that many stopped working the land………..And it is not only the Haitian rice farmers who have been hurt. Paul Farmer saw it happen to the sugar growers as well. “Haiti, once the world’s largest exporter of sugar and other tropical produce to Europe, began importing even sugar—from US-controlled sugar production in the Dominican Republic and Florida. It was terrible to see Haitian farmers put out of work. All this sped up the downward spiral that led to last month’s food riots.”…………Haiti is far from alone in this crisis. The Economist reports a billion people worldwide live on $1 a day. The US-backed Voice of America reported that about 850 million people were suffering from hunger worldwide before the latest round of price increases………..In the United States, people are feeling the worldwide problems at the gas pump and in the grocery. Middle-class people may cut back on extra trips or on high-priced cuts of meat. The number of people on food stamps in the United States is at an all-time high……….But in poor countries, where malnutrition and hunger were widespread before the rise in prices, there is nothing to cut back on except eating. That leads to hunger riots……….US citizens know very little about the role of their government in helping create the hunger problems in Haiti or in other countries………”


    “Humanity is undergoing in the post-Cold War era an economic and social crisis of unprecedented scale leading to the rapid impoverishment of large sectors of the World population. National economies are collapsing, unemployment is rampant. Local level famines have erupted in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America. This “globalization of poverty” –which has largely reversed the achievements of post-war decolonization– was initiated in the Third World coinciding with the debt crisis of the early 1980s and the imposition of the IMF’s deadly economic reforms…………………This Worldwide crisis is more devastating than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has far-reaching geo-political implications; economic dislocation has also been accompanied by the outbreak of regional wars, the fracturing of national societies and in some cases the destruction of entire countries. By far this is the most serious economic crisis in modern history………………The World Bank and the IMF have come forth with an emergency plan, to boost agriculture in response to the “food crisis”. The causes of this crisis, however, are not addressed………..IMF/World Bank “economic medicine” is not the “solution” but in large part the “cause” of famine in developing countries. More IMF-World Bank lending “to boost agriculture” will serve to increase levels of indebtedness and exacerbate rather alleviate poverty. World Bank “policy based loans” are granted on condition the countries abide by the neoliberal policy agenda which, since the early 1980s, has been conducive to the collapse of local level food agriculture. “Macro-economic stabilization” and structural adjustment programs imposed by the IMF and the World Bank on developing countries (as a condition for the renegotiation of their external debt) have led to the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people. The harsh economic and social realities underlying IMF intervention are soaring food prices, local-level famines, massive lay-offs of urban workers and civil servants and the destruction of social programs………….Since the 1980s, grain markets have been deregulated under the supervision of the World Bank and US/EU grain surpluses are used systematically to destroy the peasantry and destabilize national food agriculture. In this regard, World Bank lending requires the lifting of trade barriers on imported agricultural staples, leading to the dumping of US/EU grain surpluses onto local market. These and other measures have spearheaded local agricultural producers into bankruptcy. A “free market” in grain –imposed by the IMF and the World Bank– destroys the peasant economy and undermines “food security”. Malawi and Zimbabwe were once prosperous grain surplus countries, Rwanda was virtually self-sufficient in food until 1990 when the IMF ordered the dumping of EU and US grain surpluses on the domestic market precipitating small farmers into bankruptcy. In 1991-92, famine had hit Kenya, East Africa’s most successful bread-basket economy. The Nairobi government had been previously placed on a black list for not having obeyed IMF prescriptions. The deregulation of the grain market had been demanded as one of the conditions for the rescheduling of Nairobi’s external debt with the Paris Club of official creditors…………Agricultural producers were encouraged to abandon food farming and switch into “high value” export crops. often to the detriment of food self-sufficiency. The high value products as well as the cash crops for export were supported by World Bank loans. Famines in the age of globalization are the result of policy. Famine is not the consequence of a scarcity of food but in fact quite the opposite: global food surpluses are used to destabilize agricultural production in developing countries…….”


    “The UN’s new top advisor on food blamed two decades of wrong-headed policies by world powers for the food crisis sweeping the globe, in a stinging interview published on his first day in office………Schutter said the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had “gravely underestimated the need to invest in agriculture,” and accused the IMF of forcing indebted developing countries to invest in export cash crops at the expense of food self-sufficiency.”


    “Honduran farmers like Alvarez can’t compete in a global marketplace where the costs of fuel and fertilizer soared and rice prices doubled in the past year. The former breadbasket of Central America now imports 83 percent of the rice it consumes — a dependency triggered almost two decades ago when it adopted free-market policies pushed by the World Bank and other lenders. The country was $3.6 billion in debt in 1990. In return for loans from the World Bank, Honduras became one of dozens of developing nations that abandoned policies designed to protect farmers and citizens from volatile food prices………Governments from Ghana to the Philippines were pressured to cut protective tariffs and farm supports and to grow more high-value crops for export…………In the Philippines, the World Bank encouraged the country, the world’s biggest importer of rice, to stop striving for self- sufficiency and instead to diversify into crops like tropical fruits which have greater export value…………..Philippine President Gloria Arroyo now says the country has to change course toward being able to feed itself………..African nations including Ghana and Mali similarly followed World Bank advice. In 1992, the bank required Ghana to cut tariffs on rice to 20 percent from 100 percent,……..In 2004, the bank advised Ethiopia to stop providing fertilizer and credit to small farmers as part of a debt relief package, and it persuaded Indonesia to dismantle its rice marketing board”

  12. Nuking the Chinese – ironically, the most sensible thing for meat eaters to do My call to nuke the Chinese is an ironic device. Unfortunately, it is actually the most sane thing to do given our current situation, which is an indication of how insane our current situation is. With the consumption of the Chinese rising to meet Australian standards the global economic and environmental situation is untenable. The only result of this can be the inevitable clash of the Americans and the Australians with the Chinese, and the Indians, and the Russians, and the Africans, and every other group who wants to live like we do. Unless the Australians and Americans reduce their consumption and model a more responsible sustainable lifestyle, war with the Chinese, eventually an overt military one, caused by an economic one over the dwindling resources, is the near future of the human race. If we are unwilling to reduce consumption then we should man up and launch a preemptive strike now. The alternative – “go vego


  13. iam fully agree with mr. raj patel because he told a good environment of food production.(iam from humber college)

  14. “If Americans were to slim down to even the middle-class weight in India, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates,” Mehta said. The money Americans spend on liposuction to get rid of their excess fat could be funneled to famine victims instead, he added. (link)”

    I highly doubt that ANY american debating om wether or not to get lipo would consider NOT getting it so they could feed the world-that is ridiculous.What I do with MY money is no concern of india.I personally dont care enough to give 5 thousand dollars to “India” so that “someone” can feed thier family.I work very hard for my money So I can do what I want with it.Not so someone in India can decide I should give it away.

  15. African American consume large amout of fats in their regular food, but the percentage affected due to hyperlipidemia is low compared to others. Becuase their body (liver) for generation learns to handle fat with out any harm.

    Similarly diabetes or blood sugar are not only directly related with sugar or carbohydrate that we consume. There is some thing above all this may be very good working of pancreas, liver or sensitive muscular tissues.

  16. The amount of calories consumed by an american is much higher than the one consumed by indian. They belong to very different cultures with completely different eating habits and body consumes. Going further into this the type of food are more complex than a balance diet nutrition.