WHEN did food become the enemy? Or, if not the enemy per se, at least something to be conquered, its eating often considered a sport as many competitions attest? I can't put a date on it but I'm pretty sure the transmogrification of food from fuel to epicurean indulgence and the stuff of celebrity happened around the same time that being overweight became as much a global concern as starving.

Food Network has some exceptional programming but it also has Outrageous Food in which Tom Pizzica "is on a quest to unearth the most jaw-dropping, eye-popping, occasionally heart-stopping foods in the country - dishes that give 'outrageous' a whole new meaning". If outrageous now means sickening, he has succeeded. He attempts to eat a nearly 2,5kg meatball sandwich in one sitting and overpower the 3,5kg breakfast they call The Suicide Stack.

On TLC we have Man v Food in which "food enthusiast Adam Richman explores the 'big food' offerings . before facing off against a pre-existing eating challenge". At least in this second show the host isn't always victorious: 15 dozen oysters (winner: man); Ultimate Destroyer Challenge, a 2,5kg smoked meat hoagie with 700g of fries (winner: food).

Man v Food is too much for even some US foodies, with one describing it as being "about gluttony.... Think about people that are starving to death and think about that show. I think it's an embarrassment."

There is as much media hysteria about obesity as there is eating disorders. The endless baying about fashion magazines portraying the "ideal" woman as being too thin competes with alarming reports of obesity and its many accompanying ailments. Recent research puts the adult human population's combined weight at 287-million tons, 15 of which is due to being overweight and 3,5 due to obesity. Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines say "overweight people are a threat to future food security . increasing obesity could have the same impact on global resources as an extra billion people living on the planet".

But has this stopped the human race doing its damnedest not only to overeat but to overpopulate the planet, knowing it has finite resources? The hell it has.

Almost every charity and philanthropist cites food shortages as the biggest problem we face now and will face in the future, with global population expected to pass 8-billion by 2030. I don't know of any group campaigning to sensibly and safely curb population growth. We have known how to do this for half a century, but to suggest it as a way to help (that most hackneyed of modern phrases) "save the planet" is considered fascist by do-gooders who prefer crisis control to prevention.

Ask a Somali woman, her hanging breasts dessicated by more pregnancies than her body can cope with, let alone her "lifestyle" support, if she'd like free and medically sound sterilisation and my guess is she'll jump at the chance. If she has the energy. But religion and women's rights in controlling the extraordinary fecundity of humans - no other animal breeds itself into such dire food and resources corners - are not good bedfellows.

Too many cultures still see offspring as a form of wealth and the rabidly religious still maintain procreation is a divinely bestowed right (and thus mandatory) for this pretty obvious obstacle to a healthier future to be honestly addressed.

Watching people gorge themselves into ill-health of their own volition in the name of entertainment is distasteful in the extreme; watching people starve is even more nauseating. And still people send food to the famished instead of looking for a more logical long-term solution.

It will be a very brave philanthropic group (or, even less likely, government) that offers free and safe sterilisation (for men or women), or financial and social support for citizens who limit their own procreation, despite the formula of less people meaning more food being a planetary no-brainer.

But for as long as people in the West delude themselves into thinking it's okay for them to have children because they are educated and the middle-class will always have work (they already don't) and thus food; and people (women) in the East - whether due to poverty or religious restraints- having no say about their child bearing, I expect nothing to change. Until the hungry really are allowed to eat the homeless, the world will continue as always, alternating between feast and famine.

chancek@bdfm.co.za