Is it possible to end world hunger? If so what is the simplest way to do it? Is it possible that it is only a matter of dietary choice and economics? Is switching to a worldwide vegetarian diet really going to help poor people who just plain cannot afford food? Can it be done?
"Every day, more than 16,000 children die from hunger related causes--one child every five second" (Bread for the World Institute, 2005). Starvation though is not age discriminate and many adults suffer also. It is harder for agreement on the number of adults that die from starvation as it is often reported as another disease which is caused by malnutrition. With such insurmountable statistics it is easy to feel as if there is nothing an individual person can do to fix the situation; however that may not be true fortunately.
"There is more than enough food in the world to feed the entire human population. So why are more than 840 million people still going hungry" (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, none). One reason people may be going hungry is that so much food we produce is going to feed cattle and not people. In a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency they tell us that 80% of corn and 20% of wheat grown on United States soil goes to feed livestock. Along with all that, the US farmer produces "Over 30 million tons of soybean meal, are consumed as livestock feed in a year" (Environmental Protection Agency, 2004). Much of that food could be used to feed humans.
To grow food a farmer needs water. Water goes into producing everything we eat, be it vegetable or meat. Startling facts listed on Vegsource reveal that one pound of potatoes takes an average of sixty gallons of water to produce as opposed to 12,009 gallons of water for a pound of beef. There are some crops that take more water than potatoes to produce such as 108 gallons to one pound of wheat, 168 for one pound of corn, 229 for a pound of rice and 240 for one pound of soybeans. (See the chart below to see how drastic these differences are, smaller numbers virtually disappear.) These numbers are derived by figuring out for the vegetable growth and processing for the grown vegetable. To ascertain the estimate of water for beef, the animals-- needed water to live, water to grow the cow's feed, and processing are all factored into it (Vegsource, 2001). Such drastic differences in water consumption sheds some light on world hunger, but someone may ask even if we had more water and more food would that really make a difference because not all land is plantable for food crops.
"Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and to grow the grain to feed them -- that's almost half the total land mass in the lower 48 states"(PETA, ND). Of course it is not only land in the United States being affected by the lust for a meat based diet, rainforests are being destroyed in other places also. "Cattle ranching is a major cause of rainforest destruction in Central and South America. Ranchers slash and burn rainforests to grow grass pasture for cattle. Once the cattle have grazed sufficiently, they are slaughtered and exported to industrialized countries, including the United States, to be made into fast food hamburgers and frozen meat products. It has been estimated that for every quarter pound hamburger made from rainforest cattle, fifty-five square feet of rainforest was cleared-an area equal to the size of a small kitchen"(Rainforestweb.org 2001).
While it is gut reaction to think how much beef could come from the rainforest, the answer is simple. "In both 1993 and 1994 the U. S. imported over 200 million pounds of fresh and frozen beef from Central American countries" (Rainforest Action Network, 2005). Soil depletion caused by grazing in areas leaves nothing but barren dirt this can also be problematic. Often the soil is so damaged nothing can grow there so the soil needs to be repaired. This is not an easy or cheap process as shown by a study done by Rene Bernier and Jim Myers of Chevron Texaco along with Jerry Hall of Entrix, Inc.
It is done basically in three steps which take well over a year to complete. In the first step you add compost and calcium which you till into the soil and water. Also in phase one you grow salt resistant plants.
In phase two you basically repeat phase one over again except now you have some fresh vegetation to till under with additions like the previous phase. In phase three you begin to get higher survival rates but it is considered successful but needs care even after that. (Bernier, 2002).
From these facts we can see how taxing a meat based diet can be for the planet. While switching to a vegetarian diet may work how much does it cost? Could people in underdeveloped countries afford to eat a vegetarian based diet? Could meat farmers make a switch to raising vegetables instead of animals?
The basics of marketing are simple. Prices are controlled by the demand for a product no matter what it is from food, clothing, cars or a home. A hot market is a market where there are more buyers than sellers so prices go up. A buyers' market is when there are too many sellers and not enough buyers so prices fall.
For arguments sake let's say a pound of dry beans sells for $0.99. Now let's pretend the demand for beans skyrockets initially the price will spike so the farmer can hire more workers to produce more beans. That would translate to more employed people as the meat farmers would convert to vegetable farmers so they could keep up a viable income and the current vegetable farmers would hire more workers and more people would be having a viable income. With more people employed and more people earning money more people would buy food and there would be much less starvation, even an end with time and proper management.
How could a farmer in short term survive a major shift in dietary consumption financially when so many are dependent on slaughtering animals for a living? Farm subsidies are no secret and were $11,487,297,826 in 2003. (Environmental Working Group, 2005). The system for awarding these subsidies would need to be reworked so farmers not only could have money to help reshape their business but be assured they and their families do not go hungry while being the ones depended upon for providing food for all. Instead of only supplying subsidies for certain crops, stipends would have to be doled out by need similar to business loan and dependent on how much the farmer would need to help the farmer transform his or her business. Of course as all government subsidies would not be expected to be paid back, which if they were would place another unneeded burden on the farmer.
What about nutrition? People may be fed, but would they get proper nutrition form an all vegetable diet? In 1996 USDA finally said "vegetarian diets are healthy" (United States Department of Agriculture, 1996). "It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases"(American Dietetic Association, 2003).
What exactly is a healthy well planned vegetarian diet? An internet article by the Mayo clinic points out that, "The key to a healthy vegetarian diet, or any diet, is to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Since no single food provides all of the nutrients that your body needs" (Mayo Clinic, 2005). While a switch would take some getting used to for some it is easily possible and there are many resources online, at a bookstore, or at a local library to get adequate knowledge to ensure a persons health. Even doctors could be of help to advise people on nutritional needs of a new vegetarian diet.
Terrific now mathematically everyone has food and is healthy, but what about all the surplus animals already being raised for food, wouldn't they still need to be fed?
Many of these animals would still need to be slaughtered and used for either temporary food while farmers are making the switch to growing vegetables or they could be slaughtered for animal food. Breeding programs in existence would obviously cease or be greatly diminished so as not to cause perpetual overpopulation. Ethically this may sound cruel however; in the long run destroying these animals would benefit farmers by not putting a burden on them to care for these animals. Some farmers would still raise meat, but it would be greatly reduced as people would still have pets and need to nourish them.
One more possible problem arises. Transportation, how do we get the fresh vegetables to remote areas from the farms? If farms are far away and a disaster was to strike how could we transport vegetables in the amounts needed to people? Right now we are dependent upon infrastructures of our roads and highways to get food to us. If we all switched to a vegetarian diet and roads collapsed what would happen to people in the cities? Of course that same question could be asked for a meat based diet as very little if any agriculture of meat is raised in cities.
One option open to us is to change some of the cities area to agriculture. It would be much less taxing for people to eat locally grown produce than produce shipped from a remote area. This would also help in disaster situations as making some food available closer so people would in a crisis not suffer as bad as we have seen in some disasters. We do have some emergency transport operations in place such Federal Emergency Management Agency referred to as FEMA and also the Red Cross. However these agencies at times may be unable to access areas immediately, so the closer the food is to you the better. In emergency situations nothing is guaranteed.
With all of these things in mind it is easier to see how a simple dietary change could end world hunger. Socio-economics while possible to change would be a bit harder to do, but it is still possible. Now we are faced with a two questions we cannot answer. Can we truly take the fight to end hunger to heart when not pushing for a new world vision like this? When will people stop dying simply out of people's lust for a hamburger?
Bernier, Rene. Myers, Jim. Hall, Jerry. (2002?) Re-vegetation of brine
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Mayo Clinic. (2004). Vegetarian diet: a healthy alternative.
Nelson, Jeff. (2001). How much water to make one pound of beef?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. (None). Meat means misery for
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Rainforest Action Network. (2005). 7 things you can do to save the
RainforestWeb.org. (2001). Cattle ranching.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. (None). Factory farming:
United States Department of Agriculture. (ND). USDA -- National agriculture
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