Currently, there are more than 7 billion living humans on Earth, meaning that more than 7 billion mouths need to be fed. More than 800 million people, or about one in nine people, don’t have enough to eat. Someone will speculate that this problem is caused by a disproportionate relation between the food production and the population growth. However, for the past two decades, the rate of the production has increased faster than they need. The world produces enough to feed 12 to 15 billion people, that represents more than 1 ½ times the entire population. If we have the resources and we produce enough food to feed the entire population, how is it possible that many people don’t have access to food? World hunger is a problem that affects people around the world. Eradicating it is a worldwide objective that many organizations try to help in the process. Even so, the answer could be in the hands of the entire population. In this paper, I will explain how our ability to feed the global population can depend on our daily choices.
Hunger is not caused by scarcity, but by inequality. Ninety-eight percent of the people that don’t have access to food are in developing countries. Curiously, they are the producers of most of the world’s food stocks. Different diets will control the destination of the food. For example, to produce animal products more resources are required compared to produce plant-based foods.
FAO Hunger Map for 2015
Food Production by value 2006
A study in the journal Nature looked at humanity’s food supply with the worldwide adoption of different diets. It includes a vegan diet, based on plants and free of all animal based foods, a vegetarian diet, which rejects meat, but includes other animal products, a meat diet, where the whole world follows the dietary guidelines, a business as usual scenario (BAU) based on the FAO forecast for changes and diets for 2050, a rich diet, also known as the Western diet, and a 2000 diet, continuing to eat what the entire world ate in the year 2000. They put those diets against several different scenarios of cropland expansion and crop yields that estimate our total future food supply. After comparing all the diets with the different variables, they end up with a total of 500 different scenarios and quote that “More than 40% of all scenarios are not feasible. 18% of all scenarios are limited by cropland availability, 16% by limits to grazing intensity and 7% by a concomitance of both constraints”. Meaning that we fail to feed ourselves and most stunningly, 85% of the scenarios with typical western diets also are not feasible. The vegetarian diet was 94% feasible, but even if we all adopt a vegetarian diet there is a chance that we will run out of cropland in the coming decades, although it is very unlikely. Whereas all the vegan scenarios are 100% feasible. If we all adopt a vegan diet, there is no chance of running out of food in their model.
According to the FAO2, we currently feed one half of the world’s grains to animals, which only make up a small portion of our food supply. Also, because raising livestock requires more resources than a plant based diet, without giving more produce.On 1 acre of land, a cattle can be raised and supply 20 lbs of meat, or by using the same acre of land, 365 pounds of soybean can be ground and feed 17 times more people. The entire human population drinks 5.2 billion gallons of water and eat 21 billion pounds of food everyday. Meanwhile, 1.5 billion cows drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food everyday. Even today, the 800 000 hungry people can be fed with the grain that we feed to animals in North America alone since most of the field is going to animals that are eaten directly.
One optimistic shortcoming of the first study is that it analyzed the future where there is no further deforestation but, as many studies have found, animal agriculture is a major driving factor of deforestation across the world, and the leading cause of amazon deforestation being responsible of 70 to 91% of it3. This means that the vegan scenarios would have even more advantages that the study described. In fact, an Oxford study showed that widespread adoption of a vegan diet would save 8 million lives by 20504. It also showed that a vegan diet is the best in all areas in terms of saving money in health care, from environmental benefits, having the lowest greenhouse (specifically reducing 70% of food related emissions). Regarding the world hunger, even with efficiency and other improvements to meet global food demand, a vegan diet “would be required”. However, their data show that they are not fully aware of the health benefits of this. It has been shown that a vegan diet can reverse heart diseases, which kills seventeen million people per year, and that it helps prevent the majority of the fifteen leading killing diseases (cancer, strokes, kidney failures, among others). In consequence, the “eight million” number will increase.
By looking to how they analyze their emissions, the study mentioned that a quarter of all gas emissions are food related, and since a vegan diet cuts out 70% of all food-related emissions. It’s fair to say that animal agriculture is responsible for about 18% of all total greenhouse emissions. However, a World Watch Report examined the full effects of methane released by cows and said that animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions.
The production of food has to respect people as much as the environment, in order to be sustainable in the long term. Like previously mentioned, the production of meat requires a vast quantity of resources. In terms of the water use, raising livestock in the United States consumes thirty four trillion gallons of water, a year and the methane emissions are equal to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (that uses even less water, being 100 billion gallons per year in the United States). To produce ¼ pound of beef, 660 gallons of water are required. This is the equivalent to shower for 2 months. Domestic water use is just 5% of the water consumed by the United States while, it is 55% for animal agriculture. A plant based diet reduces half as much as an american omnivore, 1/11 of the amount of fossil fuel, 1/13 of the amount of water and 1/18 of the amount of land. Everyday a vegan diet saves 1100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grains, 30 square feet of forest, the equivalent of 20 pounds of carbon and 1 animal’s life6.
We can conclude that whatever challenges that humanity is going to face in the future, a vegan diet will yield the best outcome. Unfortunately, the world is heading towards the adoption of a Western diet. For example, China’s meat consumption by six times in the last forty years and Latin America has doubled in the same period of time. We can either head in the 85% failure rate direction or we can go towards the 100% success rate of feeding the word with a vegan diet. By doing that we will prevent many of the food scarcity related wars, climate disasters and starvation that we will otherwise see.
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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2008. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 (Rome: FAO, p. 6).
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