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?
Unfortunately to work it out we’re going to have to do some serious maths so you might want to grab a brownie (incidentally one of the many things you can make out of chickpeas) before this one.
Could Veganism Actually End World Hunger?
According to a 2013 study, every year 9.46 quadrillion calories worth of plants are produced by crops globally. To put that into perspective 1 quadrillion is 1 million multiplied by 1 billion. That’s a lot of plants.
Feeding the 7.5 billion humans currently alive on earth 2700 calories a day, would require 7.4 quadrillion calories.
Unfortunately only 55% of the calories currently provided by crops go directly to humans in plant form. 9% are used industrially for things like bio fuels and 36% go on feeding livestock.
The problem is that only 378 trillion calories are available to humans via animals. In other words 89% of calories are lost when we consume them via animal products.
This means only 5.6 quadrillion calories are available to humans annually, 1.8 quadrillion short of the number required to feed everyone a 2700 calorie per day diet.
Obviously this calculation is working on a calorie average that might not be entirely accurate if everyone in the world were be allowed to choose what and how much they ate every day. What this study does prove, however, is that consuming animals simply isn’t an efficient way of humans getting the calories that they need. In fact, according to the calculations in this study, a purely animal product based diet would require 909% more crop growth in comparison to a purely plant-based diet.
It’s unlikely the world will switch to a diet consisting only of animal products but it’s predicted that the demand for crops globally will increase 60-120% by the year 2050 (in comparison to 2005) due to the increase in population, income and a move towards a diet higher in animal products.
So where are we going to grow all these crops?
Already 4 billion hectares of the world’s land mass is dedicated to agriculture and 70% of this land is used to rear animals. However, if everyone were to switch to a plant based diet, it’s estimated that the land mass required for food could be reduce to between 0.6 billion and 1.2 billion hectares worldwide, even with the predicted 30% increase in world population.
Unfortunately, despite calculations painting a brighter future should the world go vegan, numbers aren’t everything. There are other roadblocks to consider on the way to ending world hunger.
Firstly, food waste. In America, 40% of all food products are thrown away each year and largely consumerism is to blame. Vegetables and fruits are often rejected for their appearance, regardless of the fact that they’re perfectly fine to eat, as are fruits that are considered overripe. Supermarkets routinely throw away food that’s fit for human consumption simply because it’s the end of day. In order for hungry people to be fed the world needs to change the way it views food.
Another issue is the fact that people who don’t have money don’t have access to food that is right in front of them. Regardless of the amount of food in the world, that’s not going to change. Increasingly in the UK families are relying on food banks and homelessness is on the rise. There is not a food shortage in the UK and yet these people don’t have access to food because governments and world leaders aren’t doing enough to prevent hunger. It’s unlikely, then, that an abundance of food will lead to people in Ethiopa, Namibia and Bolivia, countries with incredibly high rates of malnourishment, receiving the food they need. There are many other complex issues at play.
These problems don’t counteract the important role that a plant based diet can play in the fight against world hunger.
Veganism itself challenges the way in which individuals view the world on a daily basis. In order for any problem to be solved an intersectional approach is completely necessary and world hunger isn’t exempt from this.
Perhaps if vegans can change the way that people see the food on their plate, they can also change the way they view people in third world countries or people who are victims of homelessness.
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