Studies have repeatedly proven that plant-based diets are more sustainable and more equitable than diets heavy in meat and dairy. The widespread adoption of a vegan diet would have enormous positive implications for the globe, freeing up large quantities of land and producing more food with fewer resources. This could help the fight against world hunger in several ways, which is especially helpful because the UN predicts that starvation deaths could double during the pandemic.
Veganism is often painted as a super diet. It will make you healthier and live longer, it’s reduces the suffering of millions of animals, it is much better for the environment and the number of food products that can be made from a can of chickpeas is quite frankly astounding. But could it, as it’s often claimed, end world hunger?
One of the top causes of world hunger is the focus on the production of animal-based foods. A breathtaking 925 million people all over the world, mostly in the underdeveloped and poor countries of Africa and Asia, are suffering from hunger. Out of those, 870 million are suffering from malnutrition. The 925 million hungry outnumber the current population of the European Union, United States, and Canada, combined.
The world contains so many people plagued by hunger to almost fill up two continents. On a yearly basis, more than 2.5 million children under five years old lose their lives due to starvation.
Nonetheless, it is a fact that the Earth can provide enough food to nourish every last person on the planet. But, if that is so, how is it that people around the globe keep starving? A big part of the answer has to do with the production of food that is based on animals, such as dairy, meat, and eggs. Although there exists enough plant-based food to nourish the entire human population, most of the crops are fed to livestock for rich nations – not excluding the crops grown in starving countries. Add the fact that it takes a lot more plant food to produce animal-based foods causes a compromise of the food supply chain, ultimately leading humans to starvation.
The production of soybeans and corn globally accounts for millions of tons. Approximately 40 to 50 percent of the corn and 80 percent of the soybeans are directed towards feeding animals that are to become human food.
In a study conducted by researchers from the Institute on the Environment and the University of Minnesota, scientists investigated agricultural resources and the problem of world hunger. It was found that if humans consumed the crops instead of feeding them to animals, the world supply would be enriched by approximately 70 percent more food, which would adequately support another 4 billion people. The surplus alone would be sufficient to feed more than half the Earth’s population, many times more than the 925 million hungry people of our time.
Livestock is doing a poor job converting the food they eat into muscle and energy, which is evident from the need to feed 13-20 pounds of grain in order to increase a cow’s muscle mass by 1 pound. The direct consequence is that 13 to 20 times more people could be nourished if those grains were simply consumed by them directly. In the same manner, approximately 7 pounds of grain are required for one pound of pork, and 4.5 pounds of grain are needed to grow one pound of chicken. The animal agricultural system is even more flawed if you think that cows and other grazing animals, which provide dairy, meat, and leather, were never evolved to eat so much grain as the farming industry feeds them. They were meant to consume grass instead. But since current demands for animal products are so high, and farmers are compelled to increase their production quota and speed, they feed the animals immense amounts of grain like corn. That’s why industrial farming only needs 18 to 24 months to get a cow to the desired weight and then kill it. A constant grain diet (that could have fed many more humans instead), and growth hormones, make this possible.
Do We Have Enough Food to End World Hunger?
In terms of sheer volume, the answer is yes—the world already produces enough food to feed over 10 billion people, which is the projected human population of the world by the year 2050. So there is enough to go around, it is just unevenly distributed. Within the current agricultural paradigm, this will mean more pollution, more deforestation, and a rapid and potentially fatal acceleration of the climate crisis and ecological destruction.
Where Is All the Food Going?
If we already produce more than enough foods to end world hunger, then where is it all going? There are several major sectors that consume food:
A huge amount crops grown on the planet go towards feeding animals raised for meat, dairy, and eggs. This is a poor use of resources, as many plant calories are lost in raising animals. We feed 36 percent of crop calories to animals, yet only 12 percent of those calories make it to humans when they eat animal products.
At present, around 55 percent of food crop calories are directly consumed by people, with 36 percent consumed by animals and 9 percent being used as biofuel. However, there is also massive waste on the consumer end, particularly in the wealthy, developed parts of the world. For example, 53 percent of all food waste in the EU comes from households. It is therefore warranted to suggest that consumers should only purchase the food they eat, try and scale back on animal products, which require far more energy to produce than plants, and try and advocate for the creation of food recycling systems wherever possible.
Global hunger isn’t about a lack of food. Right now, the world produces enough food to nourish every man, woman and child on the planet. But nearly one-third of all food produced each year is squandered or spoiled before it can be consumed. Specific challenges exist in countries that suffer from hunger, which may also have a weak infrastructure. For example, India loses about 40 percent of its food production due to a lack of cold storage amongst retailers and wholesalers.
Adopting a vegan diet certainly does stop world hunger from getting worse, as global heating and climate change put unprecedented pressure on international agriculture on top of a growing population.
A vegan world could provide a future where hunger could be more robustly addressed. More food would be available for humans than ever before, and it is possible that an atmosphere of abundance could facilitate cooperative attitudes towards funnelling more food to combat hunger. Although veganism is not a golden solution for the issue of world hunger, it would create a healthier, more abundant, and more sustainable food supply. Now, it is up to humanity and our better natures to build, support, and reinforce the institutions needed to consign hunger to the dustbin of history.