Ramen To The Rescue: How Instant Noodles Fight Global Hunger

08/21/2013 10:12 am ET
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Ask about the foods that have conquered the world and you're likely to hear about Coca-Cola and McDonald's Big Macs.

But the most successful industrial food ever produced flies far under the radar. And it has finally been outed by three anthropologists in a fascinating new book The Noodle Narratives, which analyzes the precipitous rise — or "brilliant career," as the authors say -- of instant ramen, from its birth in postwar Japan to its sales of just over 100 billion servings worldwide in 2012.

Take a moment to digest that figure: It's about 14 servings for every single person on Earth, at a cost of just a few cents apiece. That's an astonishing quantity, especially to American consumers, who don't tend to think of the stiff, wavy blocks of noodles as an important staple (though they are for some college students, inmates and low-income Americans). And while our foodie culture currently has a fling with ramen (think ramen bars and the ramen burger), we're only the world's sixth-biggest market for the noodles, according to the World Instant Noodles Association. Our consumption is dwarfed by that of China and India -- and even Vietnam.

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