Consumers are in an unprecedented dilemma over food. On the one hand, they have never had it so good. Supermarkets have spread worldwide and are awash with food. On the other hand the rate that over-consumption of food is growing globally is unsustainable – and its effect on the environment are already being felt.
For the consumer, it’s a rosy picture – food expenditure as a percentage of total domestic spending has fallen since World War II and farm output has increased sufficiently to be able to feed growing populations, if only problems of distribution were sorted out.
This new food system is generally seen as a triumph of modernity and efficiency. It liberated consumer tastes – true, this was mostly first experienced by the urban mass market and in the West, but thanks to the internet and better communications, the luxury (and inclination) for people to eat what they want, and when they want it, is now present even in deepest rural areas and is spreading worldwide. It is no wonder that, almost everywhere, politicians are content to leave food matters to the mighty food industries – confident they will drive progress, lower costs and keep consumers happy. This has been the consumerist food deal of the past half century.