Timmer C defined food crisis as an event that “...occurs when rates of hunger and malnutrition rise sharply at local, national, or global levels. This definition distinguishes a food crisis from chronic hunger, although food crises are far more likely among populations already suffering from prolonged hunger and malnutrition...” .
The average man needs to consume 2500 calories a day and the average woman needs 2000 calories per day, excluding the numerous macronutrients and micronutrients required. (Pickering, Ron. 2010.) According to the World Food Programme, around 795 million people do not have this level of optimal nutrition today. This number translates to one in nine people. Scientists believe that by the year 2050 the world will need to depend on sources besides food for nutrition.
Though the result of many factors, one significant cause of malnutrition and hunger is climate change. Climate change affects the growth and harvest cycles of certain crops, resulting in inadequate quantities of food grains being produced or impacting the quality of the harvest. In either case, this results in less food being sold in markets, leading to increased prices and fewer people being able to afford it. The varying supply of crops also decrease food security and ability to access as well as utilise it. Furthermore, harvests of low quality may lead to conditions such as fungi ingestion leading to illnesses and disease.
There are numerous solutions and steps being considered towards solving this problem, such as genetically modifying organisms or artificially growing meat. While these have gained some credence, another innovative concept under consideration is the food replacement pill.
The food pill is a simple concept and can be brought into market relatively easily. It is also simple to produce and is an effective way to replace food without the complicated procedures required for other solutions.
There are four main types of tablets being proposed as part of this solution, for each macronutrient (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) group as well as one for vitamins and minerals.
Today, there are already several food replacement products, some of them being Huel (which is a flavourless powdered food containing all necessary nutrition groups) ("Nutritionally Complete Food." Huel. N.p., n.d. ) and Soylent (which is similar to Huel, but is in a liquid form) ("Soylent." Soylent. N.p., n.d.). This is indicative of the food pill being a feasible solution.
However, given the average calorie requirements discussed, a person needs 2250 calories per day. (BrainStuffShow. "How Many Daily Calories Does A Person Need?") The macronutrient ratio to be ingested as part of this calorie composition comprises: 50 percent as carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), 30 percent proteins (4 calories per gram) and 20 percent fats (9 calories per gram). (Hand, Becky. 2005.)
Assuming that each type of tablet will contribute about one gram of the nutrient requirements, the average person would need to take around 500 tablets per day: 281 carbohydrate tablets, 169 protein tablets, 50 fat tablets as well as tablets for vitamins and minerals. This simple calculation indicates that the food pill as a solution may be an impractical one, given the current state of technology and pharmacology.
In addition, replacing food with pills does have certain economic implications. Today, the food and beverage industry represents around 20% of the global economy ("What Portion of the Global Economy Is Represented by the Food and Beverage Sector?", 2015.) and replacing food with pills will result in it’s slowing down. This is a direct consequence of the millions of people working in the food production industry being made redundant. This will in turn result in less money being circulated and consequently less money being generated.
Another scientific factor that may potentially impact the economy is the reaction of the human body system. The human body not accustomed to taking pills in place of food, will cause serious health issues. As a simple example, the stomach continuously produces hydrochloric acid (which is corrosive) and its secretion into the stomach without the presence of food results in severe acidity, leading to chronic stomach conditions such as acidity, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, at the very least. This and health issues affecting other parts of the body will significantly demand an increase on healthcare spending. With huge gaps between the have and the have nots, not everyone might be able to afford the same quality of healthcare, leading to a diminished workforce, decreased productivity, lesser profits and lower wages - in effect a vicious cycle of economic imbalances adding fuel to the fire.
There are several points of view and varied opinions concerning the replacement of food with tablets, such as but not limited to an environmental perspective, a scientific perspective as well as a general public’s perspective documented in the table below.
Naturally, the use of pills to replace food would result in the abandonment of all agriculture, which will have significant implications on the environment.
As said by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), agriculture “provide(s) important habitats for many wild animals and plants” and “can help preserve and restore critical habitats, protect watersheds, and improve soil health and water quality.”
The elimination of farming can result in the extinction of entire ecosystem and food chains dependent on agricultural lands. Furthermore, the elimination of agriculture will result in fewer trees, plants and greenery which will undoubtedly have negative repercussions. This is due to the fact that plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, while animals take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide as a byproduct of respiration. Thus, these two organisms are interdependent and must coexist. The absence of plants will result in mass extinction of several species, causing disruption to the food chain.
In addition, photosynthesis conducted by plants majorly contributes to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and fewer plants will result in an interruption of the carbon cycle.
The article mentions that although food pills are scientifically possible to make, they are not the best solution. Humans generally eat for nutrition as well as to satisfy their sense of taste. According to this article, “A few years ago a man actually spent a week eating nothing but monkey chow and recorded the experience on YouTube. Not even halfway through he was almost manic with cravings for hot food. The repetitious, barely satisfying nature of the diet made him depressed and irritable”.
This is a clear indication of how food as known to humans today, greatly influences their mental and emotional well-being. The absence of food therefore might lead to entire swathes of population reeling under depression, manic tendencies and other mental disorders.
Today, food is used as a focal point for relaxing.. Many public forums and trending food blogs, show that a majority of people engage in “recreational eating” and describe the comfort and enjoyment they get from it. (D'Arpino, Adam. "If You Were given the Opportunity to Take a Food Replacement Pill Instead of Eating, Would You?")
Replacing food with tablets results in the elimination of a whole lifestyle aspect resulting in a negative social quotient for the general public.
Based on the factors discussed above, food pills remains a work in progress solution for food shortage issues of the future world. As of today, it is clear that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. It does not appear that food can be totally replaced with hands full of pills. However, there may be wisdom in driving pills during certain scenarios or for specific purposes - for example, encouraging the usage of pills for a few meals a week.
To elevate this from a possible to a plausible solution, the world must work together on several levels - economic, scientific, social and cultural - to inform, educate and progressively earn the buy-in of global citizens towards at least a partial adoption of the food pill solution.