How to Feed the World: The Scale of Food

A Plan for 8 Billion People and Beyond — Part 9

Marjan Krebelj


Photo by Thomas Thompson on Unsplash

The premier and the president took a group of children on a school trip.

“Look, children,” the president said, pointing ahead to a railway, where a long freight train was stopped on a single track, a line of cars stretching off in an enormous arc that bent around the foot of a hill with no end in sight.
“Wow, that’s a long train!” Huahua exclaimed.
The premier said, “Eleven trains in all, each with twenty cars.”

Kids were then encouraged to examine what’s on those trains. The first train was filled with MSG. After that children inspected more trains, ten in total, each of them just as long and filled with bags of kitchen salt.

The president and premier exchanged a look and a trace of a smile. The premier said, “Here’s our question for you. How long would it take the country’s population to consume all of that MSG and salt?”

“At least a year,” Specs said at once.

The premier shook his head, as did Huahua, who said “It won’t be gone in a year. Five, at least.”

Again, Premier shook his head.


“Children, all of it is only enough for one day.”

“One day?” The three children stood wide-eyed in shock for a moment, until Huahua laughed awkwardly at the premier. “You’re joking…right?”

The president said, “At one gram of MSG and ten grams of salt per person per day, it’s a simple matter of arithmetic; those train cars hold sixty tons, and there are one-point-two billion people in the country. You do the math.”

Xiaomeng said, “But that is just salt and MSG. What about oil? And grain?”

“The oil would fill the pond over there. Grain would pile into the hills around us.”

From Cixin Liu: The Supernova Era

How Much do We Eat?

Most of us are familiar with food only in small quantities we use in a kitchen or grow in our vegetable gardens. But if you ever took a peek into a hotel’s kitchen or a big company (see this), the scale becomes almost unappetizing to watch. The…



Marjan Krebelj

Once an architect, now a freelance photographer/filmmaker with passion for words.