At the U.N.'s big World Food Summit in Rome this week, Pope Benedict gave voice to a way of thinking about food that is both seemingly obvious and undervalued in development circles. You hear about the mismatch between the world's sustenance needs and the amount of readily available food attacked from the market angle -- treating food as products that would flow where they need to be if not for subsidies and other protectionist schemes. And you hear food security talked about from the structural-inefficiencies angle -- countries where there is food insecurity suffer from either underdeveloped agricultural industries or malevolent governments. Applying new biotech innovations or focusing on eliminating political bottlenecks thus becomes the goal.
Benedict sees food security differently. Without ignoring the damage done by protectionism and corruption, or the promise of a new green revolution, Benedict is trying to reframe the debate from the bottom up. And at the base is the premise that we should assume that people have secure food, and then muster up outrage when it becomes glaringly clear that they don't. Food insecurity where it exists is not an inefficiency. It's a disgrace. Thus, says Benedict:
[T]he need to oppose those forms of aid that do grave damage to the agricultural sector, those approaches to food production that are geared solely towards consumption and lack a wider perspective, and especially greed, which causes speculation to rear its head even in the marketing of cereals, as if food were to be treated just like any other commodity.
Again, it isn't exactly non-obvious that a billion or so humans being food insecure should be considered a moral question. But Benedict's appeal failed to resonate with the attendees at the U.N. summit, as the countries in attendance -- which included only Italy's Silvio Berlusconi among the G-8 leaders -- issued a squishy statement that failed to set concrete targets for addressing food security, either in terms of economic commitment or goals for a timeline for drawing the global food insecurity crisis to a close.