Inspired by the excellent piece by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World: But what if the experts are wrong?
Development theory is founded on simplification and quantification, resulting in the assumption of direct simple machine-like relationships between inputs and outputs. Hence the long held belief that famines are caused by lack of food, rather than the inability of some sections of society to be able to acquire food for economic or political reasons.
Hence also the puzzle that widespread hunger represents in the modern world alongside food subsidy programmes even in many poor countries. What these authors show is that when you look closely at how poor people live you see that they do not spend their money 'efficiently' buying the cheapest most nutritious food available. Poor people are not calorie maximising machines. Instead they spend a significant chunk of their tiny budgets on treats - like tasty calories, tvs, mobile phones, festivals, tobacco, alcohol - and go hungry as a result. Because, you know, life in poor places like rural India is really boring and poor people feel that just like real people do.