Until about 1900, large proportions of the world population endured hunger and poverty. The 20th century saw world population increase from 1.6 to 6.1 billion, accompanied and to some extent made possible by rapid improvements in health standards and food supply, with associated advances in agricultural and nutrition sciences. In this paper, I use the application of linear programming (LP) in preparation of rations for farm animals to illustrate a method of calculating the lowest cost of a human diet selected from locally available food items, constrained to provide recommended levels of food energy and nutrients; then, to find a realistic minimum cost, I apply the further constraint that the main sources of food energy in the costed diet are weighted in proportion to the actual reported consumption of food items in that area. Worldwide variations in dietary preferences raise the issue as to the sustainability of popular dietary regimes, and the paper reviews the factors associated with satisfying requirements for adequate nutrition within those regimes. The ultimate physical constraints on food supply are described, together with the ways in which climate change may affect those constraints. During the 20th century, food supply increased sufficiently in most areas to keep pace with the rapid increase in world population. Many challenges will need to be overcome if food supply is to continue to meet demand, and those challenges are made more severe by rising expectations of quality of life in the developing world, as well as by the impacts of climate change on agriculture and aquaculture.
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