Though families committed to the survivalist movement do their best, no one can live their entire lives preparing for the worst. For most people, it is a nightmare of significant fancy to imagine that the grocery stores – now stocked to the roof with every type of food that a civilized society should ever want – could one day stand barren and empty. So far have we come from the days of early agriculture, we view food like any other commodity you buy at the store. Many of us have cabinets stocked with cans of old soup and boxes of forgotten experiments, there to collect dust until we decide it’s time to finally make those whole wheat apple muffins.
Famine might not happen overnight, but it may not be a slow, gradual change well anticipated by government scientists in advance of disaster, either. And if it is, it’s possible that some of those early signs are already upon us. To prepare ourselves for disaster on a national or even global scale, we look backwards to trends that have reliably foretold breakdown in the past. But that only works if we listen to the warnings. After the economic collapse of 2007, thousands of talking heads emerged to tell us about all of the obvious signs and missed omens that could have – if only heeded – prevented certain doom. If you’ll recall, a similar wave of experts came out to squawk following Katrina, and they were there on the TV after 9/11 as well. Hindsight and all that.
Is a widespread American famine possible within our lifetimes? Certainly. Is it likely? That answer, given the enormous resources of the U.S. government, the ingenuity of the world’s top scientists, and the sheer will of 300 million countrymen with insatiable appetites, would have to be a resounding no. But a lack of probability does not mean a lack of possibility, as anyone who watched a Boeing 767 slam into the side of the World Trade Center on the morning news knows all too well. There were signs and warnings in advance of that fateful day, and there are signs and warnings of an impending food shortage as well.
According to the American Farmland Trust, we have been losing farmland at an astonishing rate of more than an acre a minute. This farmland is lost to overeager development, crops turned into parking lots at a wasteful rate that far exceeds the country’s population growth. In the 25-year span from 1982 to 2007, more than 41 million acres of rural land were converted to uses in urban development.
The threat is hardly tied strictly to development, much of which is necessary to prepare for the economic future. But farming itself is readying itself for a future that looks none too bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, farming is an aging industry with 40% of those tending the crops now over the age of 55. If there is no young generation of farmers to replenish the loss, we’d better hope that mechanized farming comes a long way in a few short years.
Finally, there is population growth. Estimates indicate that the U.S. population could explode to as much as 420 million by 2050. David Pimentel, a professor at Cornell is just one of many food and nutrition experts who claim that the population cannot retain a stable and sustainable economy with any more than 200 million people. If you take his research as true, we’re already living beyond our capabilities. We’re boosted beyond that number by the burning of non- renewable fossil fuels, but that enormous question looms over our daily lives: what happens when they’re all gone?