Towards the beginning of “Interstellar,” a character tells Cooper, “we didn’t run out of televisions or planes, we ran out of food.” This is a spoiler alert. Spoiler in so far as it reveals the ending, not of “Interstellar,” but of mankind, and an alert because this is where we are headed.
The Nov. 10, 2014 issue of “The Christian Science Monitor” remarked in their weekly data column that 60 percent is “the amount the food supply must increase by 2050.” The number is true, but it’s not as simple as the sentence seems to indicate. Cooper may be speaking about the future when he says, “the sacrifice is being made by millions of people who will die, because his arrogance declared their case hopeless.” Yet I can’t help but apply those words to the people who will die in 2050 if we do nothing and declare their case hopeless.
The fact of the matter is whether or not there is enough food in the world today or 35 years from now is largely up to us. In 2006, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) observed that meat production contributes 18 percent of all greenhouse gases and uses 33 percent of all the land we could be growing food on. It also noted that a meat-based diet uses two times the amount of water of a vegetarian diet.
Unsurprisingly, none of the suggestions of the FAO, which has by and large declared the case of millions of people hopeless, even talk about cutting down on eating meat. This is because meat is literally a sacred cow. When only 60 percent of the food is meant for humans, while using 38 percent of the worlds land, there is clear disconnect and something’s got to give. By 2050, there will not be enough water to support the world’s population and food production if diets don’t change. Never mind that it takes an inefficient amount of grain to produce one pound of meat or that foregoing meat would increase the food supply by 50 percent.
If giving up meat isn’t an option, then maybe not wasting food is. The United Nations World Food Program notes that one in eight people is at a critical risk of hunger and one-third of the food supply is wasted every year. This is mind boggling to me and points out the central problem, which is not food production, but food distribution. Which is to say that even if food production increases by 60 percent by 2050, that doesn’t mean that it will ever reach the people who need it.
“Interstellar” is right about our production priorities. We have more TVs and planes than we know what to do with (see the e-waste from the movie “Samsara”), but the subtext of the film points out the even bigger colonial problem. Even if we had enough food, that doesn’t mean we would distribute it evenly, because there are people whose cases have been declared hopeless.
To paraphrase Vonnegut, it is not the future we must fear, but the past (and present). Running out of food isn’t something that will happen in some theoretical future, it is something happening every day. It’s not because we don’t eat everything on our plates. It’s because food never reaches plates. It’s because we consume meat at the cost of food for others. There will come a day where we will have to choose between eating meat and the death of unseen millions. It’s only a few decades away. Before the start of “Interstellar,” NASA refuses to drop a bomb on the starving masses. The question is, then, can we stop eating meat to prevent this future from forcing them to make this choice?