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Choose now: a “depopulation explosion” or a doubling of earth’s population by 2040

Movie poster for SOYLENT GREEN (1973)

There’s a very worthy front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Simplicity Becomes a Selling Point“) about the current scramble among mass-produced food companies to slant their advertising campaigns to cater to the swelling public desire for greater simplicity and “naturalness” in food products, and also the desire for more locally produced foods.

Near the end it features this choice paragraph that serves as a useful gauge for current attitudes toward and levels of (un)awareness about where we’re headed in our resource-constrained future:

“Processed food — whatever that means — is not all terrible,” says analyst [Phil] Lempert [a food and consumer behavior analyst who calls himself the Supermarket Guru]. “The reality is that in the next 20 to 30 years we’re going to double the number of people on the planet. We need to figure out how to feed people in a good, affordable way.”

To which I respond, “NOT!” Double the planet’s population by 2030 or 2040? If I live a normal life span — normal for current population levels, that is — I’ll still be alive in this postulated future scenario. And it’s not one that I want to see. Can you say Soylent Green?

This is where I find the reality of peak oil and other resource constraints to be a positive comfort. Insane as it may sound, I’ll take a massive population crash — John Michael Greer’s “depopulation explosion” — and a return to more healthful and sustainable numbers and ways any day over the possibility of a dystopian earth that’s struggling to sustain 13 or 14 billion people. And I mean this even if I should happen to number among the hordes that are culled as Mother Earth and the laws of ecological reality begin to set things straight.

On a completely different note, the Post article is also good reading for its featuring of Michael Pollan, who continues to prove himself the best food journalist on the planet, not least because of his casual willingness to “tell it like it is.” His 2007 New York Times essay “Unhappy Meals” introduced me to him and simply blew me away. What he says in his recent books (which I have only skimmed in bookstores) and, as quoted below, in today’s Post only confirms the necessity of his voice and presence in America’s collective media consciousness.

“It is better that the food be simpler than more complex,” Pollan said in an interview. “On the other hand, this is another case of food manufacturers reformulating to reflect whatever the latest critique of their food is and turning what is a criticism into a marketing strategy to sell more food.”

….Will such products help Americans to eat more healthfully? Pollan is not optimistic. Successful marketing campaigns have led many to feel virtuous about eating large quantities of low-fat cookies or low-carb pastas, even as obesity among U.S. adults continued to rise.

….For Pollan, a local pedigree and fewer ingredients may be better. But ultimately, he says [of Frito-Lay products, Snapple Beverages, Haagen-Dazs, and more], “It’s still junk food.”