Engel’s law and Bennett’s law are two economically related theses that have to do with trends in food consumption among populations across the world. Engel’s law states that as the income of a household rises, the amount of money spent on food decreases while money spent on other expenses (leisure, luxury items, etc.) rises. Bennett’s law, on the other hand, theorizes that as people earn more income, they move away from starchy plant-filled diets to one with more variety, especially with more meat.
What do these two laws have to do with future food production? As the global population rises and household incomes grow, these laws can guide producers recognize patterns in future consumers’ spending and consumption habits. In the wake of a potential food shortage, it helps producers gain more accurate insight into the trends that consumers will take in purchasing food in the future.
According to Bennett’s law, wealthier people tend to eat foods that require more resources to produce. Since people with higher incomes gravitate towards diets higher in meat, it could be more environmentally detrimental, as meat production produces more damaging effects than the output of produce. In previous decades, food producers have increased yields by developing technology in fertilizers and irrigation and expanded land-based agriculture.
An example of Bennett’s law in action is a 2009 study conducted by the United Nations Environmental Programme. Between 1965 and 2008, the consumption of wheat rose 2%, and rice 1.7%. On the other hand, the use of meat per person nearly doubled, from 25 kg in 1965 to 40 kilograms in 2004.
However, the distribution in food growth was not equal in all parts of the world, and some populations continued to see hunger and food insecurity. Riots in Egypt, Haiti, Cameroon, Mexico, and other countries over the skyrocketing price of food in 2008 has led concerns regarding food production that producers have yet to solve.
The events leading up to the riots over outrageous food costs are consistent with Engel’s law. That is, prices rise as overall income increases, though for those whose wealth remains stagnant, the effects are felt the worst. And if the demand for food cannot meet the level needed to sustain the estimated population of 9 billion, there is a risk that producers and stores will drive up prices.
Engel’s Law and Bennett’s Law are useful for predicting patterns in food consumption according to income. However, it is up to producers to pay attention to these patterns so that food can be distributed where it is needed. Not only that, but there also needs to be an awareness of what could happen if food–one of the barest necessities for survival–is not made accessible to populations through affordability and supply.