Nautilus

A Seven-Month Wait for Lunch

Last fall, the United States government bought lunch for some hungry schoolchildren in Mozambique. Though the students lived in their country’s best farming region, where deep green hills cover rich, red soil, their benefactors didn’t buy the food nearby—nor even from their wealthier neighbors in South Africa. Nor did they turn to the children’s farmer parents to grow their own. Instead they followed a culinary tradition any American can relate to: They had it delivered.

On the surface, that type of giving makes sense. The U.S. is not only one of the richest countries on the planet, but also a preeminent food producer. Even as the U.S. has shipped scores of non-farm jobs overseas, it continues to enjoy a $32.4 billion agricultural trade surplus. A recent study in the journal Food Policy estimated that the amount of food Americans throw away without eating totals more than $165 billion every year—equal to one-seventh of the combined economies of all 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, for the past 60 years, we have followed that logic to its apparent conclusion: relying on transportation to get food from the bountiful U.S. to countries where hunger is widespread. Those food giveaway programs, organized primarily under the U.S. government’s “Food for Peace” initiative, have developed into a $1.4 billion-a-year industry.  

Yet something is clearly

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