Bowdoin Economist Finds Globalization Has Not Varied Our Diets

Assistant Professor of Economics Erik Nelson

Assistant Professor of Economics Erik Nelson

Although one might assume, after strolling the aisles of a supermarket in the US, that globalization has increased the diversity of our food choices in North America, our diets are actually less varied than those of people living in tropical regions.

Erik Nelson, assistant professor of economics, is the lead author of new study that finds the impact of globalization is less than expected when it comes to the food we grow and eat.

For this research, he collaborated with biologists and economists associated with University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

Nelson said he was surprised by the results—he expected global trade to have led to countries increasingly specializing in certain crops and to consumers buying more diverse foods. Yet, food does not appear to be following the trend of specialization seen in other sectors, such as manufacturing, finance, and technology.

He suggested that perhaps the cultural importance of local food, government subsidies that don’t incentivize crop specialization, and farmers’ lack of transportation and capital in developing countries may be contributing to this phenomenon.

The lack of specialization has implications for the global food supply. “While some redundancy in crop production is a safeguard against losses from devastating weather and pests, it is also a source of inefficiency, and a growing concern as the world population continues to climb and food security becomes an even more pressing issue,” explains an article published by the University of Minnesota, where Nelson earned his Ph.D.

“We need to become more efficient in agriculture to meet demand,” Nelson said. “But food may be different than other commodities as it turns out, so we should think about the implications and whether it a good or bad thing in terms of food security.”

Read the paper, “Commercial Plant Production and Consumption Still Follow the Latitudinal Gradient in Species Diversity despite Economic Globalization.”

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