National Geographic : 1916 Jan
HOW THE WORLD IS FED muscles of meats, the casein of milk, the gluten of flour, and the nitrogenous fats. It may also happen that as a result of the war will come the utilization of other plant products than those now entering into direct use as human food. There are approximately half a million species of plants in the world, and yet only a few thousand of them are used at all for food, while only a few hundred of these are used to any important extent. Some of the plants which we now grow are ex pensive food - producers, some produce food that is difficult to digest, and some give a small yield per acre. DEVELOPING NEW FOODS We are constantly developing new foods. It is only little more than half a century since the tomato was a curiosity of the South, known as the "love apple," and used to scare the slaves, who thought it poisonous. Corn came to us from the Indians, and has become one of the lead ing cereal crops of the world. It is less than a century ago that the lima bean came to us from South America, and the potato was unknown to civilization be fore the white man went to Peru and Colombia (see page 42). Today representatives of all of the leading nations are scouring the remote places of the earth for crops which prom ise to increase the world's total yield of food, as well as its per-acre production. In our own Department of Agriculture we have a division which has brought perhaps 40,000 different kinds of plants into the United States, many of them to be placed on trial as food-producers. The Mission Fathers of our Southwest who brought the olive and the date from the Mediterranean region, gave to Cali fornia some of the richest olive and date orchards in the world, while a woman missionary, traveling in Brazil, sent us cuttings from which the great orange growing industry of our country has been developed (see page 71). FRUITS AND VEGETABLES HAVE BEEN WONDERFULLY IMPROVED Not only is mankind gradually increas ing the possible acreage for the growing of foodstuffs-and statistics indicate that only the most fertile third of the world's potential food - producing acreage is under cultivation today-but the crops themselves are being constantly improved and their natural per-acre yield increased. It is a far cry from the little old knotted and gnarled apples of a few cen turies ago to the magnificent Stayman winesaps, York imperials, and Albemarle pippins of today; and it is also a far cry from the unimproved, small and hard peach of the olden days to the big, lus cious Alberta of the present; nor is the change that has come over the potato since Burbank begun his experiments any less noted. Both in the animal and in the vegetable world a marked improvement is constantly taking place. Whether there will be further improvements as a result of the war in Europe remains to be seen WHAT OF THE FUTURE? Many men are inclined to sound a pes simistic note as to the adequacy of the world's food supply for future genera tions, and, like Malthus a hundred years ago, are inclined to predict that the day has at last come when the human race must cease to expand its numbers, or else face inevitable hunger. And when we consider how many mouths there are in this world to feed, and how much food it takes to satisfy them, little room is there to wonder at this note of pessimism. The earth's population today reaches a grand total of about 1,700,000,000 souls. If they were all set down at a banquet it would require sixteen tables reaching around the globe to seat them. For every ounce of food they ate, the dinner-giver would have to provide 53,000 tons of pro visions, and if the dinner were no more than a democratic dollar-a -plate affair, it would cost, in the aggregate, as much as it costs to run the United States govern ment a year and a half. Expressed in terms of annual con sumption, the world's market basket is one that defies portrayal in weight and size. One is forced to cast around for new units of measurement to give a proper idea of its proportions. Assum ing that the average inhabitant of the earth uses two pounds of provisions a.