Indians Say Americans Eat Too Much

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First we had the arguments over global warming. China asserts that it has the right to produce as much carbon per person as we do. In theory that’s fine, in practice that means a rather unpleasant planet in a hundred years or less. But those who created the mess won’t be around to suffer the consequences.

We’ve pointed out before that Americans need to start eating lower down on the food chain (meaning less animal proteins and dairy products) for some time (although if you must eat meat, chickens and eggs are best, since they turn grain into protein most efficiently). Even though people need little animal or dairy protein to have a healthy diet, telling Americans to cut back on meat no doubt sounds naive.

US eating habits are now getting international scrutiny. Just as we are profligate with energy, so to we are with food (as if our spreading middles weren’t proof enough).

A New York Times article cites a UN study, based on 2001-2003 research, that the US uses or wastes 3.770 calories a day per capita versu 2,440 in India. (I’ve seen a more recent factoid, but can’t recall the source, that said 4,000 calories day per American. And remember that includes children). That doesn’t allow for our much higher consumption of meat, which is far more costly to produce (FYI tuna is a top predator, so high on the food chain also).

When I was a kid, I was told, “Clean your plate, think of the starving children in India.” That formula needs updating.

From the New York Times:

Instead of blaming India and other developing nations for the rise in food prices, Americans should rethink their energy policy — and go on a diet

That has been the response, basically, of a growing number of politicians, economists and academics in this country, who are angry at statements by top United States officials that India’s rising prosperity is to blame for food inflation….

For instance, Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary general of the center for international trade, economics and the environment of CUTS International, an independent research institute based here, said that if Americans slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates.”

He added, archly, that the money spent in the United States on liposuction to get rid of fat from excess consumption could be funneled to feed famine victims.

Mr. Mehta’s comments may sound like the macroeconomic equivalent of “so’s your old man,” but they reflect genuine outrage — and ballooning criticism — toward the United States in particular, over recent remarks by President Bush.

After a news conference in Missouri on May 2, he was quoted as saying of India’s burgeoning middle class, “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 Asian Age, a newspaper based here, argued in an editorial last week that Mr. Bush’s “ignorance on most matters is widely known and openly acknowledged by his own countrymen,” and that he must not be allowed to “get away” with an effort to “divert global attention from the truth by passing the buck on to India.”…..

Indians from the prime minister’s office on down frequently point out that per capita, India uses far lower quantities of commodities and pollutes far less than nations in the West, particularly the United States.

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  1. Anonymous

    Indians from the prime minister’s office on down frequently point out that per capita, India uses far lower quantities of commodities and pollutes far less than nations in the West, particularly the United States.

    But not for lack of trying…

  2. Jojo

    “Mr. Mehta said that if Americans slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates.” He added, archly, that the money spent in the United States on liposuction to get rid of fat from excess consumption could be funneled to feed famine victims.”

    And if 3rd world countries would stop breeding like rabbits, if they got their birth rate down to that of the developed 1st world countries, then they would have MUCH more food to feed their masses and perhaps not be in need of donations.

    It’s unfortunate that the NY Times and many other big media companies appear to consider writing about population control as a sort of 3rd rail, untouchable and unmentionable in polite conversation. The bottom line is that until population control is implemented, there will always be hungry people. The Earth can only produce so much…

    btw: Pradeep S. Mehta homepage is

  3. Yves Smith


    Agreed, but then we have at least three other conundrums no one wants to face:

    1. Lousy care for the aged. Ultimately, having kids that survive you gives you the best shot at having decent quality care in your old age (and not necessarily because they take care of you directly, but make sure other people/institutions don’t slack off)

    2. We are addicted to growth. Probably has to do with giving alpha males new worlds to conquer rather than kill people. Hard to do that with a shrinking population. I agree it can be handled, but it runs badly against the grain

    3. Even if we put draconian measures in place now, it will be a generation before we see the impact. And having children is romanticized, not having them is a very hard sell.

  4. Jojo


    Your points are of course valid, but it is past time that we have a new paradigm. Resources are limited. As to it taking a generation or more to implement, well, it is always that way. Our reluctance to embrace non-instant solutions is the root of many of our problems such as the climate and energy.

    Speaking of India, the below article shows that those in glass houses should beware of throwing stones.


    Girls Pay Price for India’s Preference for Boys
    By Steve Herman
    New Delhi
    05 March 2007

    In India – the world’s second most populous nation (after China) – there is a shortage of girls. A large part of the problem is a perception that girls are a financial burden. This preference for boys has led to the abortion of millions of female fetuses, or in some cases, even the murder of girl babies. VOA’s Steve Herman in New Delhi reports.

    The girls of India are disappearing. On average there are only about 930 girls for every 1,000 boys.

    Boys tend to be preferred because they carry on the family name. But families here also fear the financial burden of girls – when it comes time to pay huge traditional dowries to their daughters’ future husbands upon marriage.

  5. foesskewered

    When that story first appeared , knew that I had to blog on that. The Indian government brought out statsw which shoiwed that average percapita consumption of grain (per annum) in India was about 120% of the same figure in the USA.


    Thought the WW2 showed what the instanteous solution was in human terms, what next? A Malthusian event along the lines of the Nazis? As for consumption, the USA consumes 25% of the resources on earth, perhaps consumption control is more practical?

  6. Jojo

    @foesskewered – Cutting consumption in the USA by say 5% (arbitrary number) to say 20% of the world isn’t going to feed the seeming ever growing and starving hordes of the 3rd world, is it?

    I’m not sure what the Nazi’s did would be best termed a Malthusian event. There is an interesting article titled Malthusian catastrophe here –

    “A Malthusian catastrophe (sometimes called a Malthusian check, Malthusian crisis, Malthusian dilemma, Malthusian disaster, Malthusian trap, Malthusian controls or Malthusian limit) is a return to subsistence-level conditions as a result of population growth outpacing agricultural production.”

    In any case, if the developed world would stop sending food & medicine to to 3rd world countries, then Nature would solve the over-population problem in due course, as it does in the animal world. Tough love? Yes, but maybe necessary and perhaps the only really viable solution since years of attempted education and instruction in birth control do not seem to be having much effect.

  7. Lord

    People, other than economists, want to see per capita growth, not growth alone. Reducing people works fine for that and is why population is stable of falling in the developed world. Limiting immigration is an important consideration.

  8. Anonymous

    I thought there were some smart comments on this, couldnt find one.

    Some of the real reasons of increased food prices in the recent months are due to the following. In recent months, Asians have not started eating more than what they ate before. I can give additional statistics about consumption per capita if you dont feel convinced. It will only defeat your argument.

    ” We have seen a dramatic price rise in oil as well as various food related commodities. The primary driving forces behind the price rise in oil has been the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve. Inflation is also driving the rise in food prices but that is also being compounded by government mandated biofuels in which food that would otherwise be used to feed people is being turned into fuel. This is indirectly reducing the supply of food which is driving the price of these commodities even higher. The biofuel mandates are a scam because there is no definitive proof that global warming is a real threat or if man made carbon emissions are contributing to this so called threat. Biofuel mandates were implemented under the guise of fighting man made carbon emissions that supposedly cause global warming. It is all lies designed to bring in the eventual phony solution of a carbon tax. If you don’t believe me, read Senate Bill 2191 which will give the EPA draconian police powers to regulate and enforce the carbon footprint levels of individuals and businesses.

    The one thing that both oil and food related commodities have in common is the fact that they are rising in U.S. Dollar denominated terms.”


  9. Jojo

    Good Outside The Box post from John Mauldin this week:

    In this post, mention is made that Afghan farmers are converting from growing Opium poppies to wheat! Also supposedly a story in the FT last week said that China is buying farmland in Africa while building railroads and infrastructure there to get grains to market!

    Now that would be interesting. China grows food in Africa (by virtue of owning the farms) and ships it back to China, leaving the African’s still starving. That should go over real well…

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