The human mind has problems with big numbers and vast geographies. Yet a glimmer of understanding of both is necessary to begin to appreciate what it takes to feed a city, even a relatively small one such as Birmingham.
The trick is to start with something familiar.
For example, a baked bean tin label. Here, as with many processed foodstuffs, you’ll find nutritional information about what’s inside the packaging. The GDA, guideline daily amounts.
Take the GDA for one person (as on the label), and multiply by one million. We then have a figure for how much the city needs of any particular nutrient in its food supply — see the image above.
Let’s just consider calories. The label states we each need 2000kcal per day. Multiply 2000 by one million and we get the GDA for Birmingham. Two billion calories a day. Today. Tomorrow and every day — more if we’re over-eating here, which we are.
A reminder: Birmingham is a small city in global terms. So now think of London, Manila, Tokyo, Beijing, Dhaka, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Cairo, Delhi, Jakarta . . . the seven billion of us alive today (so 14 trillion calories a day), and the nine to ten billion people that, barring cataclysm of some kind, will be on the planet in 2050.
note: This is an excerpt from Part Two of The New Optimists Birmingham 2050 Scenarios Project Report. This Project (2011-13) was about possible food futures for Birmingham.