Bringing an End to World Hunger
by Keith Akers
Vegetarians have long pointed out that a meat-based food system is wasteful.
In the United States, over 90% of all agricultural land is devoted to livestock
agriculture in some form. That includes two-thirds of the cropland and all of
the grazing land. Most water consumption in the United States and the rest of
the world goes to livestock agriculture; and agriculture is the leading form of
water use everywhere, as water needs continue to expand in the face of dwindling
supplies. The United States uses twice the energy per capita on food production
than the less developed countries use per capita for all purposes. Meat
production typically uses 5, 20, or even 100 times the land, water, and energy
that plant food production does. Meat production is a very resource intensive
form of agriculture.
There is not the slightest possibility that the rest of the world will ever
be brought "up" to the United States’ destructive standard of diet;
the resources simply aren’t there. Even if 100% of all the land on the six
inhabited continents were used for agriculture (including the Sahara desert,
Greenland, etc.), and even if that land were as productive as U. S. agricultural
land, there would still not be enough land to feed the world population the
typical U. S. diet.
Even maintaining a small minority of the world’s citizens on the U. S. diet
will not be possible for very much longer. Meat consumption does not merely use
resources, it depletes them. Deforestation throughout Central and South America
— as well as in the United States — is largely the consequence of clearing
forests to create grazing land for cattle. Soil erosion is over 2 billion tons
each year in the United States (90% due to livestock agriculture) and is rampant
throughout much of Africa. The increase of carbon dioxide due to forest
clearing, as well as the tremendous methane production of huge herds of cattle,
contributes a great deal to the greenhouse effect and to global warming.
The most glaring social consequence of these facts is world hunger. Many
complexities surround the problem of world hunger, and the "hunger
movement" is now hopeless entangled in a number of them. Considerable
attention is given to the details of the problem: whether roads are being built
to deliver the food, whether money is available to feed the victims of the
latest famine, or whether corrupt politicians are benefitting from the various
aid arrangements. Of course these issues need to be addressed. But we tend to
lose sight of the single most important fact, without which nothing else really
matters: incredible wastefulness lies at the base of a food system centered on
Overgrazing by livestock is the leading cause of desertification worldwide.
Eventually the grasses are consumed by the livestock, the soil erodes and the
land becomes a desert. In Africa, this has been going on for centuries. During
Roman times, northern Africa was the granary of the Empire, much as Kansas and
Nebraska are for the United States today. But after northern Africa was
devastated by pastoral nomads and their herds of cattle in the sixth century, it
gradually became a barren wasteland. The march of the desert southward has been
amply documented — always preceded, curiously enough, by herds of cattle and
other livestock. Many countries in the third world are being encouraged by the
west to "modernize" their system of agriculture in order to promote
meat consumption even more. This is to ignore the realities of history.
Social injustice is also a factor in world hunger. Food is sometimes exported
to make profits for the rich while the poor are starving. But even perfect
social equality will not save us from disaster if the wastefulness of meat
consumption continues. If resources are not conserved, everyone in the long run
may be equal but starve. And in fact, what promotes social injustice in the
first place? Owners of large tracts of land who are using that land to promote
meat consumption for the elite. Regardless of social system, any country —
rich or poor — that emphasizes meat production is making its food situation,
and that of the world, substantially worse.
Some may be concerned about whether a vegetarian diet can be healthful. In
fact, a good vegetarian diet is actually more healthful than a meat-oriented
diet. Vegetarians suffer less from heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and
a variety of the other of the "diseases of civilization" which now
cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Total
vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists live longer than either meat-eating Adventists
or the general population.
Awareness of the social consequences of meat consumption creates an ethical
imperative to become vegetarian and to work for a vegetarian world. People must
be educated about the real sources of world hunger. In the long run, if we are
to survive as a species, we are all going to be vegetarians.
This was written in the early 1990's.