New Book Reviews

W.O.N. Book review: The End of Plenty — Joel K. Bourne Jr

The End of Plenty -- Joel K. Bourne Jr

Author, journalist and agronomist Joel K. Bourne Jr refuses to mince words in his eye-opening book “The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World” (Scribe 2015). He argues coherently that the world is running out of food and that we must meet this challenge to avoid the accompanying social and environmental disaster such a policy failure will bring.

Part warning and part survival manual, the book begins by examining the reasons behind the 1943 Bengal famine. In doing so the author revisits the controversial views of the Reverend T. R. Malthus on population and demographics; a recurring reference throughout the book. By showing how we are “locked in a never-ending two-step” between our population growth and what we can produce to sustain us, Mr Bourne discusses Malthusian views in a more mature light, emphasising the Reverend’s espousal of “balance” of population vs sustenance.

This intricately researched book has Mr Bourne travelling the world to point out the increasing deficiencies of the planet’s food supply. He goes to the Punjab, Ukraine and Egypt to demonstrate how yields gains from the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s have failed to keep up with population growth, expected to be around 10 billion for the world by 2050. While obviously a great admirer of the work of Norman Borlaug (the “Father of the Green Revolution”), the author isn’t afraid to document the health horrors of excessive pesticide use that has accompanied the revolution.

However while underlining the dreadful consequences of failure to feed the world, this remains an optimistic book. Mr Bourne advocates education, equal rights for women, organic farming and access to capital and land as just some of the changes needed to avert catastrophe. One of the key strengths of the book is the way the author blends differing views at various points of the book, showing that there are a number of ways to improve food productivity.

However he pulls no punches, berating the Western-style diet, advocating behavioural change, pointing out that our excessive reliance on meat has put enormous pressure on the world’s food productivity. The book is full of extraordinary food consumption facts to back up these claims. One is that, of the 50,000 edible plants on the planet, 80-90 percent of our food comes from three crops: wheat, rice and maize. This either directly, or indirectly through the meat we eat.

At once disturbing and hopeful this is a magnificent, almost utopian, book advocating equal rights for women, natural farming, voluntary family planning and access to funding and land as the keys to staving off the nightmare of excessive food shortages. As relevant to the household as it is to students of food production, NGOs and farmers, The End of Plenty is a fascinating call to action to save our planet.

Rich Bowden is owner of Rich Bowden Writing and specialises in writing about food, renewable energy, small business and organic products. He loves a coffee and a yarn, preferably at the same time!