This post, in which I talk about one of the richest ironies of the modern-day food industry, is a bit more pointy-headed and academic than the typical Casual Kitchen article. I thought I'd better warn readers in advance. As always, please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section.
In a typical economy, things like wealth and income are nearly always unevenly distributed. It's unavoidable in a free society to have a wide range of wealth levels, and even in relatively egalitarian cultures it's not uncommon to find a small number of Bill Gates- or Warren Buffet-type people who possess vast sums of wealth.
However, societies also have an important obligation to address the let them eat cake* problem: the risk that great wealth in just a few hands could skew the prices and supply of basic needs like food, shelter and clothing, pushing them out of the reach of ordinary people.
Keep in mind, this was a serious issue hundreds of years ago. Go back and re-read your history from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries and you'll see how, even in the world's most "modern" societies, food was often scarce, and only the wealthiest people had the resources to secure a balanced and truly healthy diet. The rest of us were living in the mud.
Fortunately, things have changed. Radically. Today, the diversified economies of the modern era have food industries that are so flexible, so widely distributed, and so quick to respond to consumer demand, that the average citizen of the average developed economy now gets too much food. In fact, in many of the world's developed economies, the let them eat cake problem has morphed into a don't let them eat cake problem! One problem (and some might say one form of elitism) simply replaced another.
However, in a distributed and diversified modern economy, we can at least say that control over our food supply is no longer in the hands of a few inbred aristocrats. Even a preposterously wealthy guy like Bill Gates, whose personal net worth is nearly 500,000 times the USA's national median, can't even begin to skew things. If Bill Gates' food consumption were actually commensurate with his wealth, he would have to eat more than 1 million calories per day.
The image stuck in my mind is Mr. Burns crossed with Homer Simpson.
So, riddle me this: why was it so difficult--centuries ago--for the average person to get enough food, and yet today the average person gets too much food, and even the world's richest guy can't even begin to skew the food supply?
It puts a whole new perspective on wealth and power, doesn't it?
Readers, stay tuned: tomorrow I'll discuss who really holds the power over our food industry.
* For those of you interested in the origins of the expression "Let them eat cake!", the quote is widely (and probably wrongly) attributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of France's King Louis the 16th, in response to being told that her subjects had no bread. This was shortly before the French Revolution of 1789. The phrase essentially signifies how easy it can be for the elite of any society to be totally oblivious to the circumstances of the common person. Today, the phrase carries extra irony when applied to our media and (yes, at times) our political elites.
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