Foodstuffs that form the largest part of our diet are called our staple foods. They are plentiful and a good source of energy. People in Europe, northern Asia, North America and Australia eat a lot of potatoes and bread or pasta made from wheat or other cereal crops. These are their staple foods. In most of India, central and southern China and South East Asia rice is the staple food. In Central and South America the staple food is maize (sweetcorn). In many African countries root crops (such as cassava, yams and sweet potatoes) are the staple foods. They are hard to dig up and heavy to carry, so they are not often transported to other parts of the world. Plantains, which are cooking bananas, are the staple food in parts of East Africa and the West Indies. But in the Arctic, where it is too cold to grow food, the Inuit have lived for centuries on fish, and the meat from seals and other sea creatures they can catch.
WHAT GROWS WHERE?
The food that grows best in an area will depend on the climate and soil. We can divide the world’s food crops into six major areas, although varieties of some important crops grow in more than one area.
Cool temperate lands, with cool or cold winters, can grow cereal crops such as wheat, barley, oats and rye, as long as the cold winters do not last too long. Wheat for our bread often comes from Canada. Root crops such as potatoes, turnips and carrots like cool, damp conditions—potatoes originally came from high in the Andes mountains in South America. Oilseed rape and linseed have become the main crops for vegetable oil in these lands. Fruit such as apples and pears also thrive.
Warm temperate lands have longer, hotter summers with some rain. Maize grows well, and some other cereal crops are also grown. Sunflower seeds provide vegetable oil. Fruit such as peaches, apricots and cherries ripen.
Mediterranean lands are special because summers are hot and dry, yet winters are warm and wet. As well as areas near the Mediterranean Sea, this is the climate of central Chile, California and parts of South Africa and southern Australia. The weather is ideal for growing grapes. These are used for making wine and are also dried to produce currants and sultanas. Olives are picked to make olive oil. Lots of different vegetables and citrus fruits grow well—melons and aubergines, oranges and lemons.
Hot deserts can only grow foodstuffs where there is water. Dates come from palm trees that grow in oases.
The hot, wet tropical lands are where rice grows. Rice is one of the most important crops in the world. It is hot all year in these areas, though most parts have a dry season and a wet season. If there is enough water from rain or irrigation, farmers may be able to grow two or three crops on the same plot of land. Sugar cane (a giant grass), cocoa and many spices grow here. Exotic fruits (such as pineapples, bananas and mangoes) and root crops (such as sweet potatoes and cassava) will grow where the soil is right. Oil palms are grown for vegetable oil in areas with plenty of rain, and groundnuts (peanuts) are planted where it is much drier.
Finally, the tropical highland areas, with cool nights, are the only places where tea and coffee grow well.
TRADE IN FOODSTUFFS
Because different kinds of crops grow in different parts of the world, they are sent from countries where they grow well to countries where they are needed. Sometimes crops from different parts of the world compete with each other, such as sugar cane from tropical countries and sugar beet from temperate countries. Some crops are grown on huge farms, called plantations, privately owned or owned by big foreign companies. Plantations can usually grow and sell a crop more cheaply than a farmer with only a small amount of land who needs to sell some of his crops to feed and clothe his family. The prices farmers receive for some crops, such as coffee, sugar, cocoa and bananas, has gone down. People who grow and harvest the crops get very little money—although the price in the shops rarely goes down. This is because most of the cost we pay goes for transport, processing, advertising and profit for companies and shops.
Enough food is grown to feed everyone in the world, but not everyone can grow or buy enough to keep themselves alive and healthy. Children who do not eat enough of the right sort of food will not grow properly—they will be undernourished. But in some parts of the world people eat more food than they need. Then they become overweight, or fat is stored in their arteries which causes heart disease.