Ok, I know, that’s a silly justification for talking about something other than yesterday’s election. But something’s been weighing on this geek’s mind since I posted about the nation’s corn harvest last week: I think I overestimated how many calories actually come from corn in the US. (The horror!)
You see, based on the most recent US harvest projections for 2006, and a relatively conservative estimate of the calorie content of corn, the US corn crop provides about 5 times as many calories as the entire human population of the nation needs to survive—not 7 times, as I said last week. Sorry, y’all.
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I still think it’s a pretty incredible statistic, though; it certainly suggests that the agricultural system is out of whack, and—to me, anyway—calls into question whether we need to spend so much on corn subsidies.
On the plus side, though, there’s always this: if an energy crisis were to push up the cost of fertilizer, pesticides, tractor fuel and such—and the corn harvest were to fall as a result—there’s still a lot of slack in the food system. Sure, if corn gets expensive, meat and dairy will get more expensive as well. Still, harvests would have to fall by 80 percent or more before corn—a single crop, occupying a fraction of the nation’s cropland—would fail to provide us with enough calories to squeak by. Whether things would work out that way in practice is an open question—but in theory at least, things would have to get really messed up before there’s an actual shortage of food calories in the US system.