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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 meat production.

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.  

 

 

 
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