I have read for you: “Feeding mankind” of Louis Malassis

nourrir-les-hommes-louis-malassisLet’s inaugurate a new type of article, the ” I have read/watched for you “. Indeed, it’s been 4 months since our blog is online and almost nine months since Laura, Juliette and I had the idea to create it, and yet thanks to the people we were able to meet or simply the circumstances, we happened (and we will in the future) to read books or to see movies or reports on the food and agriculture which made an impression on us and what we would like to share with you in the prospect of the 2015 Universal Exposition. Today, let’s start with “Feeding manking” written by the engineer and French professor, Louis Malassis.
Have a nice reading and don’t hesitate to comment!


To sum up

Only with 128 pages (which can be read really quickly and easily), the author managed to summarize and explain the complex history of how mankind faced the challenge of feeding itself and the many challenges that still remain.

1) Food history: the three food ages

Louis Malassis, who focused his analysis on the European territory, distinguished three big periods in the history of mankind: the pre-agricultural age,  the agricultural age and the agro-industrial age.

” If  mankind appeared on January 1st, agriculture would arise only in the last fifteen days of December and the agro-industry on December 31st “

Ages alimentaires

” While trying to feed, humanity invented the world, made its weapons and his tools, organized the society ” Maguelonne Toussaint Samat


Pre-agricultural Age

Agricultural Age


Agro-industrial Age


From the beginning of humanity, that is  approximately 3M of year ago (in Europe from – 500 000 BC), to -10 000 BC

In Europe, from 5 000 BC to the end of XVIIIth century

Started with the industrial revolution from XVIII, developed during the XIX, affirmation during the XXth

Main features of human society - Men feed by going hunting and by picking

- Very fine knowledge of natural resources

- Low density of population and numerous population movements

- The man became farmer: farmers represent about 80 % of the population

- Phenomenon of settlement to organize the harvests.

- Movement of domestication of species

- 7 basis cereals: wheat, barley, pea, chickpea, lens, vetch, linen

- Urban areas development which remains limited: maximum 20 % of the population  

- Period marked by «the growing role of science in the food-processing development” , the ” generalization of the market food economy, the participation of the industry in the process of agricultural and food production “.

- Growing urbanization

- Improvement of the farmers’ social status  

« Needs and pleasure are the engine of food history: once needs are satisfied, the search for pleasure grows”

chevalier apocalypse

So, it become clear that agriculture and agro-industry are recent phenomena which engraves in the  long history of humanity since its appearance approximately 3 million years ago up to now. According to Louis Malassis, the agricultural age has never allowed the society to overcome the “three Horsemen of the Apocalypse» which were threatening it - starvation, epidemics and wars – and this for three main reasons:

  • Wars which annihilates stocks and harvests
  • A limited agricultural productivity
  • Social systems unfavourable to the farmers: often fallen in servitude. A minority, less than 5 % of the population owns the land

« The agriculture represents a fundamental break in the cultural development of mankind »

The transition to agro-industrial age is characterized by many social changes: farmers become landowners and are more and more educated. Technology revolutionizes the way to produce – the first chemical fertilizer are used from the XIX, increasing mechanization – and to eat food (cold chain, conservation). The industrial revolution triggered the significant decrease of the farmers’ share in the working population. The author quote the example of the United Kingdom where the “farming population went from 47% in 1830 to 9% in 1950”.  The twentieth century truly marked the beginning of the motorized agriculture. 

“The social status of farmer is the main explanation of food history. Food history is a social story”

 2) The unfinished fight

« Plants and animals canvassed and domesticated to produce our food. The development of a scientific rationality full of hopes. The experience of three million years! And nevertheless an unfinished fight: scarcities and famines remain in certain areas of the world”

In this book, Louis Malassis insists on the fact that food history failed until now to fill the ” world imbalance” in terms of food consumption in spite of the increase of the agricultural productivity. One of the explanations is that the way we eat is fundamentally inequitable. Louis Malassis distinguishes 3 agro-nutritional models: the western model (final 3500 calories a day and inhabitant), intermediary (2800) and poor (2000).

To solve the food equation, Louis Malassis underlines that the population and the demographic evolution remain “strategic playing variables” playing a “central role in the food balance”.

“In the long term, the food satisfaction depends essentially on the outcome of the race between population and production”

Besides, It is necessary to keep in mind besides the fact that “men eat not only to feed but also for his pleasure “.

3. Feeding mankind

“And tomorrow? Will the hunger be eradicated? Will the protected nature produce in a sustainable way the bread of the man? Can humanity become wise? We need to want it and to be able to make it happen! “

In his last chapter, Louis Malassis wonders and questions us: how shall we manage to feed people in the future? He asks besides an essential question: what kind of man shall we have to feed? ” the one who consumes equivalent 1,5 kg cereal or 3 kg ” (cf. Importance of the consumption of meat)?

«The accumulation of the wealth and the overconsumption in the North and on the other side of the poverty and under consumption in the South questions the whole humanity “

According to the author “to feed the humanity at a satisfactory level would imply to reduce the consumption in the North and to increase it in the South, and to use globalization as an efficient way to reach a better world food balance”.  Louis Malassis distinguishes 5 factors to answer the food equation:

  • Food consumption
  • Improvement of the productivity of the production factors
  • Intensification of the agricultural production
  • Possibility of producing commodities by other ways
  • International exchange

Louis Malassis underlines in his conclusion the necessity “to create a new agriculture which would insure the preservation and the renewal of the resources. Its basis would be the integration of the agronomic and ecological sciences “. And to this end, each one of us can do something because “eat is also a political act”.

My opinion

I choose this book at the library because its title strongly reminded me the theme of the 2015 world Expo: “Feed the planet: energy for life”, and I have to say that its reading made an impression on me, in particular its historic part, and my only regret was to learn that the author had died in 2007. Indeed, we could never meet him and ask him: are we heading towards the fourth food age – the one that will allow “to feed mankind” and “to feed the planet “?


 If you want to know more, just read the book ;)

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