Discover more from The Simple Heart
Is the food system about to collapse? (Podcast with Noah Smith)
The invasion of Ukraine threatens 25% of the world’s wheat exports. This could lead to skyrocketing food prices, bread riots, and political instability across the globe.
A few weeks ago, Noah Smith, an economist who writes for Bloomberg and on Substack, wrote one of the most important blogs I’ve read about the crisis in Ukraine. And it was all about food.
You see, Ukraine and Russia make up a whopping 25% of all wheat exports in the world. And while most of the world has been talking about guns and gas prices, Noah has pointed out the obvious: while we can do without gas (and might prefer to have fewer guns), the world can’t go without food. Yet that may be what the war in Ukraine forces some nations to do. And if people can’t eat, they will revolt.
Noah explains why this crisis will drive the price of food up, and what we can do about it. But the conversation also goes in an unexpected direction. Because when we start discussing how we can solve the problems of the food system – including shifting people away from the ecological and ethical destruction of the “meat” industry – we come to what seems like an irreconcilable disagreement.
Noah believes that activists, even ones as prominent as Greta Thunberg, have failed. Their inability to (a) recognize the struggles of ordinary people, and (b) focus on converting the elites who drive most policy, has made their efforts mostly useless. I, in contrast, believe that we live in an age where activists and grassroots movements are ascendent, precisely because movements have ignored the power of so-called elites and focused on mobilizing masses of ordinary people.
Who’s right? And what does the data show? If you’re interested in questions of not just food policy, but wealth and poverty, or war and peace, this conversation will hopefully lend some insight. And, by the end, I think we reached a synthesis of sorts. Perhaps elites are the vehicle through which systemic change must be driven. But perhaps activism is the only way for us to convince the elites to give an issue – whether it’s food prices or animal rights – the importance it deserves.