A Well Fed World – Interview

Dawn Moncrief - Executive Director of A Well-Fed World

Dawn Moncrief – Executive Director of A Well-Fed World

While giving thanks for all that we have over the upcoming holidays, many of us like to remember all those in the world who do not have enough to eat.  One organization which is working hard to promote a plant-based diet as a solution to global hunger is A Well-Fed World.  We contacted Dawn Moncrief, the executive director, to learn more about what they’re doing.

Tell us about A Well-Fed World.

A Well-Fed World is a hunger relief and animal protection organization based in Washington, DC. We chip away at two of the world’s most immense, unnecessary and unconscionable forms of suffering… the suffering of people from lack of food and the suffering of animals used as food.

We have a positive, practical and action-led approach that produces immediate assistance for those in need and structural change for lasting results.  Most directly, we raise funds for, partner with, and promote innovative, highly-effective projects that strengthen: (1) vegan feeding & farming programs, (2) farm animal care & rescue, and (3) pro-veg advocacy & community-building.  For the funding, our Sustainable Keys Global Grants program provides about 50 grants a year to projects in the U.S. and internationally.

We also produce and disseminate research that demonstrates the negative consequences of using animals for food on issues of global hunger and global warming. We’re developing new materials on the harm caused by Heifer International and “humane” meat.

I’m most excited about our Plants-4-Hunger campaign. It’s a direct alternative to Heifer International. It’s great for vegetarians/vegans to give AND receive. We choose four incredible vegan feeding programs and send 100% of all gift-donations to those groups. Details are at www.AWFW.org/gifts.

Finally, we have a couple of fun grassroots campaigns. The PB&J Campaign encourages people to eat more peanut butter and less meat. The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale raises more than $50,000 a year for a wide variety of vegan/animal organizations.

What motivated you to get involved with A Well-Fed World?

I was vegetarian since 19 because I cared about animals. I didn’t know the issues, just that eating animals hurt them, obviously enough. While I was in grad school for international relations, to work on global poverty issues, a friend introduced me to the concept of veganism.

You can imagine that I wasn’t very happy to have my pizza and ice cream threatened, so I was definitely going to research the issues. As I did, it became very clear that, in addition to the unconscionable animal suffering, the consumption and production of animal-based foods has dire consequences for the environment and food security.

Think tanks and policymakers would express concerns about the negative consequences of “livestock” on resource scarcity, pollution, land degradation and a host of other environmental problems (and now we have greenhouse gases too). But they wouldn’t advocate reducing meat consumption, even though it’s the most obvious and relatively easy way to reduce the pressure on the system.

Instead they would say that the problem is “demand-driven” and we must therefore figure out the best way to meet that demand and minimize the inherent harm in the system. Their “solutions” of choice are to increase technology and slow population growth. There are pros and cons to those areas, but regardless reducing consumption is a must for any viable solution. It’s not enough on its own, but it must be part of the equation.

So, that’s what I decided to focus on. I wrote my master’s thesis: “Rethinking Meat – Re-centering World Hunger Paradigms.”  Since about 2000, I worked on the hunger-meat connections as a part-time, information campaign. I was fortunate to spend some time on it while working as program director, then executive director, at the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM). In 2009, I founded A Well-Fed World as a spin-off, to work on the issues full-time and to add a program component to the information aspect.

Can you give us an overview of the size and scope of the global hunger problem?

The complexity, longevity, and immensity of global hunger is staggering. The numbers are unimaginably high. More than 24,000 people (mostly children) die EVERY day of hunger and hunger-related causes. That’s more than 1,000 EVERY hour.  This is just the norm. You don’t hear about this on the news because it is not “new.” This is the accepted baseline. When you hear news, it’s because there is a crisis, like in 2008, that increases the numbers and causes civil unrest.

Around 2000, when our population was around 5 billion, common numbers would be 1.2 billion people in extreme poverty, and other 1.2 billion in over-consuming “consumer” classes (the U.S., Europe, and other wealthy countries). The Worldwatch Institute had a publication about the “over-fed” and “under-fed.” It is actually the inspiration for a “well-fed” world.

Numbers today are touted as a great improvement, ONLY 868 million. But these are deceptively undercounted. The methods of counting have changed and then some people (mostly in China) have crossed the international poverty line of $1.25/day. Some have significantly improved, but others are just barely over the line. Still others (especially in Sub-Sahara Africa) have seen an increase in poverty. The successes have been very regional.

In regards to the $1.25 international poverty line, it’s not what a U.S. dollar could buy in a low-income country. As expected, the purchase power of the dollar is quite high in some areas. The poverty line is international, thus it is the equivalent of what $1.25 could buy in America. So, think about someone in America trying to pay for rent, utilities, medical care, and food on a $1.25/day. It’s impossible. Now factor in children.

If the poverty line was increased to the absurdly low $2/day, about half the global population (more than 3 billion people) would fall under it. That’s about 10x the population of the U.S. (about 314 million).

Remember, even with all the poverty in the U.S., we are still one of the wealthiest countries in the world and our population is relatively small. This makes it even more difficult for us to imagine the numbers. China has more than 1.3 billion, India more than 1.2 billion and the combined countries of Africa more than 1 billion. When the majority of their populations are impoverished, it’s a big deal globally.

Please explain the advantages a plant-strong diet for alleviation of global hunger.

In cold terms, animals are highly inefficient “converters” of food, energy, and natural resources. That is, animals consume much more food than they produce.  For example, eating 1,000 calories of meat can easily use more than 7,000 calories of protein-packed plant-based foods, plus the immense amount of natural resources used. This matters because by using more than their “fair share,” animal-based foods are a form of overconsumption and redistribution that exacerbate food scarcity, especially in low-income countries.  Live animals and animal-based foods are not only exported directly from low-income countries, vast amounts of staple foods are exported to be used as animal feed.

To be clear, we’re not saying if Americans eat 10% less meat, that food will somehow appear to feed hungry people in poor countries. Hunger is extremely complex, but the connections are tangible. High demand for resource- and food-intensive meat, increases the prices of staple foods more generally. Food is literally bid away from the poor because wealthy populations can pay more for it to be used as animal feed. It’s obviously more complicated, but the basic supply-and-demand principles are sound.

There are obvious differences in the amount of food consumed in low-, middle- and high-income countries. But the quantity in terms of “direct calories” consumed is far less important than the types of food when the “true caloric’ values are calculated. When staples foods are used as animal feed (so that 1,000 calories of meat equals 7,000 “true calories” of staples), the disparities are shockingly large.

Eating less meat and other animal-based products, takes pressure off the economic food system. It reduces demand for food in general, which allows for lower prices, thus increasing availability for the poorest of the poor. It also sets a positive example and provides moral authority to seek reductions in other countries.

Do you think that some of the global hunger organizations are starting to get the message? Are you optimistic for the future?

I don’t think big changes in food policy will stem from hunger relief organizations. We are starting to make some inroads with environmental groups, because of the extreme impact that raising animals for food has on the natural resources and even more so because of climate change.  With international institutions and think tanks, we see some positive movements, then fall backs. It’s very non-linear and it’s not clear that it’s an upward trend.

As far as actual consumption, global meat consumption is skyrocketing. It’s on trend to double over 50 years. With the year 2000 as a starting point of 5 billion people and 50 billion animals killed for food globally, we’re now at 7 billion people and 70 billion animals. Predictions are that we will need 60-70% more food for 2050 and 9 billion people.

On the upside, America is doing a little better. We decreased our consumption of animals from 10 billion a year to 9 billion. But we consume more meat per person than any other country, so there is much more we can do, and much more we need to do. If the U.S. public and policymakers were to make meat reduction a priority, it would have immense ripple effects globally.

My prediction is that we will not hit the expected numbers of meat consumption in 2050. Unfortunately, that’s because of environmental limitations and climate disruptions, not proactive diet change.