Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rosamond L. Naylor's "The Evolving Sphere of Food Security"

Rosamond Naylor is the Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, Professor of Environmental Earth System Science, and Associate Professor of Economics (by courtesy) at Stanford University. She is also the William Wrigley Senior Fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Naylor applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book she edited, The Evolving Sphere of Food Security, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls within Chapter 4, "Institutions, Interests, and Incentives in American Food and Agriculture Policy." The four co-authors of this chapter - Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, David Lazarus, Walter P. Falcon and myself - explore the history of U.S. agricultural policy (particularly the "Farm Bill"), including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As we write on page 99:
In 2012, the U.S. thrifty food budget resulted in a poverty line of about $24,000 for a family of four. That year, some 47 million Americans - about 15 percent of the entire nation - received SNAP payments. Support was restricted to those families with net incomes less than the poverty line, with the actual amount of support increasing the further below that line income levels fell. If a hypothetical family of four had zero net income, they would have received $8,000 in SNAP payments for the year; if their net income was $12,000, they would have received payments of $4,000. Overall, payments averaged approximately $1,600 per person for the year.

As a consequence mainly of these four factors, the SNAP portion of the Farm Bill budget totaled $73 billion in 2012. In addition, the budget provided for $19 billion for school lunches; $8 billion in assistance for nursing and pregnant women, infants and children; and $12 billion in supplemental assistance for new nutrition initiatives. The $112 billion consumer package now constitutes the core of USDA's budget, and not surprisingly, its size and prominence are making the traditional farm constituencies extremely nervous. As discussed subsequently, nutritional costs now seriously threaten the rural-urban political coalition that has been necessary to pass recent Farm Bills.
The Evolving Sphere of Food Security is global in scope - the 19 contributing authors from Stanford University bring decades of collective field research experience in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America. Although Chapter 4, from which the above passage is quoted, is the only chapter that focuses on the United States, it remains an apt representation of the book for two reasons.

First, because it underscores the fact that despite being the wealthiest economy in the world, the U.S. still grapples with alarming rates of food insecurity. As we write in this passage, about 15% of Americans receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits because they cannot otherwise afford sufficient, nutritious food.

Second, this passage represents the book well because it demonstrates the many challenges faced by governments in addressing food insecurity. Policymakers in the U.S. - as in every country - struggle to respond to the root causes of hunger within their borders: mainly poverty, but also problems with food production, distribution, price and quality. They also face a delicate and often elusive balance between the interests of consumers, who prefer cheap food, and the interests of farmers, whose incomes rise with food prices.

In the remainder of this chapter, we delve into the history of U.S. agricultural policy, and highlight the political and economic complexities of the current U.S. Farm Bill. We examine how biofuels policy affects food prices and food availability in the United States and overseas. We explore the domestic political structure that shapes agricultural policy, as well as how U.S. farm and nutrition subsidies compare with other countries. And we look at how the Farm Bill itself - originally a rural poverty-reduction program born out of the Great Depression - has shifted the average American diet and fueled rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other symptoms of "overnutrition."

As I write in the book's opening, "Hunger is an intensely human experience" that knows no geographic boundaries. The book's other 13 chapters (plus a foreword by Kofi Annan) explore the many faces and facets of food insecurity around the globe. Drawing on a multidisciplinary team of Stanford authors from fields as diverse as law, medicine, economics, earth science and international security, The Evolving Sphere of Food Security aims to illuminate a deeply complex issue and guide readers in how to craft sustainable solutions.
Learn more about The Evolving Sphere of Food Security at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue