Category Archives: Global Hunger

We show the UW the way

population-health-initiativeVegetarians of Washington has submitted a population-health-initiative-proposal to the University of Washington Population Health Initiative, which aims to bring together the research and resources of the UW and partners around the Puget Sound and beyond to improve the health and well-being of people around the world.

Funded by a gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Initiative will focus on three key areas: human health, environmental resiliency, and social and economic equity.

Our proposal outlines the benefits to human health, the environment, global hunger and other social justice aspects. We proposed that the Initiative look for ways to educate the medical profession, NGOs, policy makers, teachers, farmers and the general public about the importance of a plant-based diet, and how to go about making the necessary changes. Our key conclusion states:

The potential for improving health and saving human lives by encouraging the world to shift to a plant-based diet is enormous. The costs of this project are small, in comparison to the potential huge global savings in healthcare costs, not to mention the potential for saving the planet from climate change and many other environmental crises, and freeing up vast quantities of land and water for an ever-increasing population.

They will be considering all proposals in January 2017. We hope they step up to the plate!

Help the Hungry by Going Veg

Say No to Meat Book CoverThe following is an excerpt from our book, Say No to Meat, by Amanda Strombom and Stewart Rose, published by Healthy Living Publications.  This book includes answers to all the questions you may have about becoming a vegetarian, and is invaluable to new and existing vegetarians alike!

How can following a vegetarian diet help the hungry people of the world?

Let’s start with the agricultural facts of life. Farm animals function, in effect, as food factories in reverse; that is they give us less nutrition than they are fed. For instance, a cow will give us as beef only 10% of the protein and 4% of the calories it consumes. The rest is used by the cow to enable it to live and breathe throughout its lifetime. With 56 billion farm animals raised globally each year, you can see just how much food is being wasted. Wasting food by feeding it to farm animals fuels the global hunger crisis. With developing countries quickly changing from their traditional plant-centered diet to a western-style, meat-centered diet, it’s easy to see how hunger and malnutrition can spread. Many of these people live in countries which could feed themselves, but farmers, policy makers, and governments choose to feed crops to farm animals instead of people. The result is that they often need to import grain to feed their human population. This is expensive and drives up prices. A rising global population makes wasting food this way even more harmful.

Microsoft Word - Global Hunger additional illustrationRaising meat is just plain crazy. Growing crops to feed farm animals not only replaces inexpensive nutritional protein with expensive nutrition, but also reduces the total amount available for human consumption because so much is wasted by the animal.

America is addicted to meat. Our own meat habit is so prominent that, in America, 70 percent of all the corn and 80 percent of all the soybeans grown go to feed farm animals. Even one third of the fish caught in the world’s oceans are fed to farm animals. It’s so wasteful. If we want to feed the hungry in other lands, what sense does it make to waste it at home?

Vegetarian diets are the solution to global hunger, or at the very least the biggest part of it. With few exceptions, those countries with chronic hunger and malnutrition problems could feed themselves, if they would only stop taking their crops and feeding them to animals, and make them available for people instead. These countries would also save a lot of money since they would no longer need to pay for imported food.

Yes, the world’s population is rising quickly, and that puts pressure on global food supplies, but a vegetarian diet could easily support a world population much larger than today’s. With a rising population, the only sustainable way out of the global hunger crisis is by reducing meat consumption or becoming vegetarians.

Food for 3 Billion More!

africa 2006A new landmark study by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment looks into how to feed another 3 billion people, the expected increase in global population before it levels out. The food necessary for the extra 3 billion is “the diet gap” facing humanity.  As their report says, “Sustainably feeding people today and in the future is one of humanity’s grand challenges. Agriculture is the main source of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and habitat loss, yet we need to grow more food.”

Many people are surprised to learn that most of the food we grow in America, and a substantial portion grown in other parts of the world, is used to feed farm animals instead of people. There are a lot of farm animals to feed too. In fact every year we raise 60 billion animals just for food. Then consider that cows, for instance, give us only 4% of all the calories they eat in the form of beef.

But what if we took the food currently fed to farm animals, and used it to feed people instead? This report shows that not only could we feed 3 billion more, we could actually feed 4 billion more people by using food in this more efficient way. The food for the extra billion would serve as a “safety net” when weather or pests create shortages. Raising food in this way would also have the least environmental impact. The report shows that while other measures would be helpful, nothing other than the vegetarian option even comes close to freeing up the extra amount of food needed. So, as with several other global challenges, the best solution is again a vegetarian solution.

Many people are interested in adopting a plant based diet in order to alleviate global hunger.  To learn more about the connection between raising animals and global hunger, please see our Global Hunger posting.

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.

Gates Gets It!

Bill GatesAdd Microsoft founder and noted philanthropist, Bill Gates, to the list of leaders who understand that we can’t feed a growing and hungry population, in an environmentally sustainable way, on a meat-centered diet, especially when diet-related diseases now top the list worldwide.

According to Bill Gates, “meat consumption worldwide has doubled in the last 20 years. By 2030, the world will need millions of tons more meat than it does today. But raising meat takes a great deal of land and water and has a substantial environmental impact.” Gates cites the UN figures on the expected growth of meat (see chart).

Chart of Growth in Production to 2030 - side by side, new labels

So what’s his solution? Companies that produce vegan meats. Products that are delicious but that don’t use any animal products. Gates writes, “Put simply, there’s no way to produce enough meat for 9 billion people. We need more options for producing meat without depleting our resources. Over the past few years, I’ve come across a few companies that are doing pioneering work on innovations that give a glimpse into possible solutions. To be sure, it’s still very early, but the work these companies are doing makes me optimistic. I wanted to share with you a look at their work on creating alternatives to meat and eggs that are just as healthful, are produced more sustainably, and taste great.”

Gates says “fake meats get real” and writes about two companies in particular, “Food scientists are creating healthful plant-based alternatives that taste just like eggs, chicken, and other sources of protein. Companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods are experimenting with new ways to use heat and pressure to turn plants into foods that look and taste just like meat and eggs. I tasted Beyond Meat’s chicken alternative and was impressed. I couldn’t tell the difference between Beyond Meat and real chicken. Beyond Eggs, Hampton Creek Foods’ egg substitute, doesn’t contain the high cholesterol of real eggs.” Entrepreneurs take note that Gates considers fake meats a “big market opportunity.”

Gates’ foundation has also completed a major global study documenting various diseases. “Researchers released the results of a five-year project—funded by our foundation—to assess the prevalence of diseases, injuries and risk factors in 187 countries over a 20 year period—from 1990 to 2010. Known as the Global Burden of Disease 2010 (GBD), it is the most comprehensive study of its kind, and incorporates the work of hundreds of public health experts.” This study showed that along with the increase in global meat consumption comes an increase in diet-related diseases. For instance heart disease now tops the list of the most common diseases world-wide while stroke has moved to the number 3 position. Diabetes has also moved way up on the list.

The message seems clear. Plant foods constitute the most sustainable and healthy future of food. To take part in this cutting edge trend, you need no special technology or billions of dollars. Healthy eating is as close as your kitchen and natural food store and Vegetarians of Washington is here to help!

Global Hunger – the Veg Solution

African children eatingIt’s official. The world’s population now stands at 7 Billion. Over a billion people are living with chronic hunger and malnutrition, and rising food prices are challenging the household budgets of the other 6 billion. What many people don’t know is that it is meat consumption in the developed world, and rapidly rising meat consumption in the developing world, that are the prime driving forces behind rising food prices and global hunger. For years this went unrecognized by even economists and policymakers. However, this has now started to change.

Starvation kills, and it hurts to have to go to bed malnourished and hungry. Hunger and malnutrition are some of the most serious problems facing humanity and it’s getting worse. Global hunger is at an all time high, with about 1 billion people in the world going to bed each night still hungry. In the next year, over 10 million people will actually starve to death. Even worse, it is the children who are the most vulnerable. 

To understand how a vegetarian diet can help, let’s start with the agricultural facts of life. Farm animals function, in effect, as food factories in reverse; that is they give us less nutrition than they are fed. For instance, a cow will give us as beef only 10% of the protein and 4% of the calories it consumes. The rest is used by the cow to enable it to live and breathe throughout its lifetime. Here in the U.S., we feed 70% of the crops we grow to farm animals, who then return only a fraction of the nutrition as meat. It’s all so wasteful. Even a third of the fish caught worldwide are used to feed farm animals. With 56 billion farm animals raised globally each year, you can see just how much food is being wasted.

Wasting food by feeding it to farm animals fuels the global hunger crisis. With developing countries quickly changing from their traditional plant-centered diet to a western-style, meat-centered diet, it’s easy to see how hunger and malnutrition can spread. Many of these people live in countries which could feed themselves, but farmers, policymakers, and governments choose to feed crops to farm animals instead of people, so most of the nutrition is wasted. The result is that they often need to import grain to feed their human population. This is expensive and drives up prices. A rising global population makes wasting food this way even more harmful.

The recent shift of using some agricultural products, such as corn, to produce ethanol fuel for automobiles, makes switching to a vegetarian diet even more imperative. Now more than ever, the world’s hungry are counting on us to use available crops directly for food rather than wasting them by feeding them to farm animals.

The drive to produce ever more food has had other consequences as well. Many people are surprised to learn that, except for here in the US, almost all of the suitable farm land is already being used. What’s left is land of marginal quality and using it results in greater amounts of pollution and ecological degradation. It has also led farmers in the developing world to embrace technology whose safety is still not proven, such as GMOs.

For far too long, many would not face the role of raising meat in the global hunger crises. Fortunately, this is now beginning to change. For instance, Nobel Prize winning economist Muhammad Yunis (famous for his program of making microloans to poor people in the developing world) explains, “Unfortunately, meat eating is a relatively inefficient use of natural resources , as the number of nutritious calories delivered by meat is far lower than the calories humans can enjoy through the direct intake of grains. Yet today, more and more grain and other foodstuffs are being used to feed cattle than human beings. And more and more of the planet’s farmlands are being diverted from the production of food for human consumption toward to the growing of grains for animal feed, adding several costly steps to the process. As a result even basic foods are becoming more expensive.” And, no less than Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, says that “As they eat more beef and less grains and so on, the demand for food and energy rise and that’s the primary long-term factor affecting the real price of commodities and food.” A recent feature story in Foreign Policy magazine highlighted meat’s role in rising food prices, and a survey of economists reveal “increased demand for meat” as a leading cause of rising food prices and global hunger.

Don’t get distracted from the agricultural facts of life. Natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and floods grab headlines and are a factor in food shortages. Warfare and political instability grab attention too, and can decrease the food supply. But it’s the day-in and day-out wasting of food, by feeding it to farm animals, that’s driving the massive global hunger and malnutrition problem. Sure food gets wasted and sure there’s poverty. But food has always been wasted, and there’s always been poverty, yet global hunger is getting worse. What’s changed is that meat consumption is sky rocketing in the developing world, which is using up crops that could be used for human consumption. With few exceptions, those countries with chronic hunger and malnutrition problems could feed themselves, if they would only stop taking their crops and feeding them to animals, and make them available for people instead.

Yes, the world’s population is rising quickly, and that puts pressure on global food supplies, but a vegetarian diet could easily support a world population much larger than today’s. With a rising population, the only sustainable way out of the global hunger crisis is by reducing meat consumption and becoming vegetarians.

It may seem that one person can’t make much difference, but one person eats three meals a day, 365 days of the year. If that person eats meat at most meals, then by switching to a vegetarian diet, they would be saving over a thousand meat meals. The grain and other crops used for that meat could be used to produce 12,000 well balanced vegetarian meals, so you can see how it adds up pretty quickly. In fact, according to Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University, “if Americans alone took the food currently fed to farm animals in the United States, we would have enough food to feed the entirety of the world’s hungry, and we could do it without plowing even one extra acre of farmland.”

More than just healthy and delicious, adopting a vegetarian diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes is also an act of charity for those who need it the most. And, as is often the case with charity, those who give also receive. By adopting a vegetarian diet, we would not only potentially make more food available for the world’s hungry, but as nation we would also be taking the single most important step towards improving our own health, as well as the health of the planet.  Now that’s a holiday dinner all of us can be truly grateful for.

The Gift of Life

For many people, the holiday season is a time for gift giving.  We consider following a vegetarian diet a profound way of giving the most precious gift of all, the gift of life.  Consider that, on average, vegetarians live longer and healthier lives than non-vegetarians. In fact, those who have followed a vegetarian diet for at least half their lives live an average of 13 years longer than others, while experiencing lower rates of most common diseases. In this way a healthy vegetarian diet can give you the gift of life, by adding years to your life and life to your years. 

A vegetarian diet also gives life to the earth and to the animals who share it with us. Many people are surprised to learn that there are now 56 Billion farm animals in the world. That’s eight times the human population. This enormous population does not come without consequences. For instance, a report by the UN said that raising livestock causes more global warming than all the cars, buses, trains, boats and airplanes in the world all put together – that’s from all the methane the animals produce, in addition to the fuel used to grow, fertilize and transport the food to the animals, the animals to the slaughterhouses, the refrigeration and transportation of the meat.

Raising livestock is also the single most important reason the rainforests are being burnt down – to make way for more grazing land for cattle. Here at home, livestock is not only one of the largest polluters of our waterways, but is also responsible for over 85% of all soil erosion in the United States – sapping the life from the soil itself.  By following a vegetarian diet, we are helping to sustain the life of our environment. The point should also be made that a vegetarian diet gives the gift of life to all those farm animals as well.

Perhaps the most vulnerable among us are the world’s hungry who are desperate for the gift of life. The scale of world hunger is truly staggering. According to the Global Hunger Alliance, “840 million people live with chronic hunger, and 9 million people die of hunger-related causes each year worldwide.” We have all seen the amber waves of grain and corn as high as an elephant’s eye, but many of us are unaware of where it all goes. In fact we feed most of the food we grow to farm animals. For instance, in the United States we feed 70% of all the corn and 80% of all the soybeans to farm animals. The problem is that farm animals are very inefficient converters of nutrients. Only about 10% of what we feed to animals ever comes back to us as food. This agricultural fact of life is one of the main driving forces behind the problem of global hunger. According to Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University, “if America alone took the food currently fed to farm animals in the United States, we would have food enough to feed an extra 800 million people, the entirety of the world’s hungry, and we could do it without plowing even one extra acre of farm land.” The Global Hunger Alliance says that “eating plant-based foods offer the most safe, sustainable, and cost-effective methods of ending hunger and malnutrition.” Therefore, following a vegetarian diet can give the gift of life to the world’s hungry.

We also give by being members and supporters of Vegetarians of Washington.  Vegetarians of Washington gives vital information to the community through our nutrition and cooking classes, our books and magazines and especially through Vegfest.  Vegfest provides an easy way for thousands of people to taste delicious vegetarian food, to see cooking demonstrations from well-known chefs and cookbook authors, and to learn from our doctors and dietitians about the benefits of a vegetarian diet.

We also give to each other by providing a genuinely warm and friendly environment at our monthly dining events, where everyone can feel comfortable and supported in their food choices. And remember that in giving, we also receive. We receive healthy food for our bodies, nourishment for our spirits, friendship and the satisfaction of knowing that we are making the world and our community a better place.

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