Does the claim that veganism can solve world hunger ignore the complexity of food insecurity? Why is hunger on the rise even though we have more than enough food? Find out where our food is going and get an honest answer to world hunger.
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Table Of Contents
- Can Veganism Solve World Hunger?
- Do We Have Enough Food to Feed the World?
- Why People Think Veganism Can Solve World Hunger
- Why Veganism Alone Cannot Solve World Hunger
- How Do We Solve World Hunger?
- In Closing…
Veganism alone cannot solve world hunger. However, world hunger cannot be solved without a global shift to plant-based diets. World hunger is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution. Animal agriculture impacts each of these facets in some way.
We already have more than enough food to feed everyone, yet hunger continues to rise even as poverty declines. Read more below (or watch the video above) to learn where our food is going, the impact on our planet, and what we can do to solve world hunger.
The claim that veganism can solve world hunger provides an extremely persuasive argument for dietary change that bypasses more controversial issues like animal rights and lands squarely in the heart of our humanity.
As such, it’s a common declaration used within vegan activism. (I myself made this exact statement in the fourth video I ever made.)
As good as this claim looks for veganism, making such a sweeping proclamation does a disservice to the true complexity of world hunger. Let’s take an honest look at some of the primary drivers of food insecurity, and what it really takes to solve world hunger. tweet this
Before we dive into the question of whether veganism can solve world hunger, let’s address a common misconception. On its face, world hunger would seem to be a matter of food scarcity (not having enough food).
However, we already have more than enough food to feed the entire world’s population.
In theory, we currently produce enough food for between 10 and 14 billion people1—exceeding the current population of around 8 billion (as of this writing)2 and even eclipsing the United Nations‘ population projection of 9.7 billion by 2050.3
Our global agricultural production continually outpaces population growth. Yet the number of people going hungry continues to rise.4
Prompting the question: where is all the food going? tweet this
The paradox of food scarcity in the face of an overabundance of food comes down to—in large part—how that food is distributed.
The answer to “where is all the food going?” is one of the primary reasons people think veganism can solve world hunger.
Overall, more than half of the plant protein we grow goes to the animals we raise for food instead of directly to humans.7
Consuming animals is a profoundly inefficient means of gaining nutrition. For example, the World Resources Institute found that “beef” passes on only 1% of the calories and 4% of the protein from the feed used to produce it.10
Even the most “efficient” animal product addressed in the report (eggs) passed along a meager 13% of calories and 25% of protein.
So if you’re wondering where vegans get protein, we simply remove the inefficient “middle animal” and get it directly from the plants.
Our food crops are not the only resources diverted to the animals we raise for food. Compared to crops with equivalent nutritional content, animal products demand significantly more water, land, and energy.11
For example, the average per-calorie water footprint of beef is twenty times higher than that of cereals and starchy roots.12
Half of our planet’s habitable land is used for agriculture.13 Astoundingly, “more than three-quarters of this [land] is used for livestock production, despite meat and dairy making up a much smaller share of the world’s protein and calorie supply.”14
Plant-based diets require significantly less land. In fact, if everyone in the world went vegan, we could reduce land use for agriculture by 75%.15
An emerging field of harnessing microorganisms to grow our food could free up even more land, with one method using bacteria requiring 1,700 times less land than soybeans to produce the same amount of protein.16
Unfortunately, we are going in the opposite direction with our demand for land. While the human population growth rate has actually slowed, the farmed animal population growth rate continues to rise17—and with that, a need for more land we do not have.
In fact, in their report outlining the most effective means of mitigating climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared:
“The greatest Shift potential would come from switching to plant-based diets.”20
Please see my video and article “Everything Wrong With Environmentalism in 11 Minutes or Less” for more information on climate change and animal agriculture.
The intricacies of climate change’s effect on food insecurity are far beyond the scope of this video and article. Please see the linked sources for more information.21
In short, with our current food system and global dietary trends, we’re not only unable to feed the world’s hungry, but—more importantly—our planet simply cannot sustain the way we are eating.
The stark reality of our profoundly unsustainable food system certainly points to a dire need for a global shift to plant-based diets. Why then is veganism not the solution to world hunger?
- Inequitable distribution:
One key reason is inequitable distribution. It’s not only that we’re diverting resources to the animals we eat—it’s also that we’re diverting those calories away from the people who need them most to the animals who will be consumed by the people who can afford the animal products.22
As Richard Oppenlander writes, “82 percent of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, which are then killed and eaten by more well-off individuals…”23 Simply having more land and food doesn’t mean that land and food will suddenly be distributed in an equitable manner.
- Animal agriculture isn’t the only cause of food diversion:
Additionally, animal agriculture isn’t the only cause of food diversion.
- With the increasing demand for biofuel, we’re literally burning around 11% of the world’s cereals.24
- Further down the supply chain, food waste accounts for the loss of existing nutrition.25
- Another driver of food insecurity is political and institutional conflict, including resource and trade wars.26
- It’s not a simple matter of substitution:
It’s also important to note that the crops we feed to non-human animals aren’t always suitable for human consumption, so it’s not as simple as shifting them directly to people. In the same vein, land used for grazing farmed animals isn’t always suitable for growing crops.27
- Food insecurity occurs at many levels:
Lastly, food insecurity is not just an issue at a country-by-country level: it includes factors like the unavailability of food due to food deserts and even the “unequal distribution of food between household members.”28
If we were to take the issues of scarcity and distribution in isolation, the main “solutions” would seem to be that we:
- need more food and
- need more wealth for those unable to afford access to food.
However, as we’ve learned, we already have more than enough food. And in regard to increasing wealth, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) points out that:
“While poverty has decreased considerably–from 36 per cent in 1990 to 10 per cent in 2015–efforts to reduce hunger have been comparatively less successful.
In fact, after decades of modest but steady decline, hunger began to rise again in 2015…Many countries now face a “double burden” that includes both undernutrition and overweight or obesity.”29— the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on hunger increasing as poverty decreases
A reason for this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon is explained by Bennett’s Law—a well-established fact that as people’s income rises, so does their consumption of nutrient-dense foods like animal products.30
While animal product consumption in some countries has slowed or even slightly decreased, the majority of the world population’s consumption is increasing with improving living standards.31
World hunger is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution.
As we’ve learned, the consequences of animal agriculture impact each of these facets in some way.
While veganism alone cannot solve world hunger, world hunger cannot be solved without a global shift to plant-based diets.
Such a shift would increase the food supply, free up land, water, and other resources, help lower food prices, increase access, and allow for movement towards sustainable farming and more equitable food distribution.32
If you think about it, the ripple effect of increased land, water, and other resources would theoretically reduce the prohibitive cost of and access to farmland—and even the need for conflict over limited resources. It would also reduce the mounting pressures of the climate crisis—which is arguably the most pressing issue of our time.
To learn more about this complex topic, I highly recommend checking out the nonprofit A Well-Fed World, which “highlights the ways in which shifts towards plant-based foods increase the available food supply — and how this shift improves distribution, access, equity, and sustainability.”33
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— Emily Moran Barwick