A 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.