“The crop failure in Ireland affected only the potato—during the worst famine years, other food production was robust. Michael Pollan notes in The Botany of Desire, ‘Ireland’s was surely the biggest experiment in monoculture ever attempted and surely the most convincing proof of its folly.’ But if only this one variety of potato, the Lumper, failed, and other crops thrived, why did people starve? Thomas Gallagher points out in Paddy’s Lament, that during the first winter of famine, 1846-47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry—food that could have prevented those deaths. Throughout the famine, as Gallagher notes, there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.”
I teach my students that famines reflect a lack of power (political and economic) more so than they are indicative of an absence of food in that region. The Irish potato famine exemplifies the three main causes of food insecurity:
1. Redirection of food
2. Destruction of capacity to grow food
3. neglect of the starving
Tags: Ireland, food, economic, food production, poverty.