In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger, aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” for all people by 2030. However, the world is not on track to achieve this goal. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), in 2019, 821 million global citizens, equivalent to “more than one in nine” people, suffered from hunger. In a world that already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, 3 billion more than the current global population, many wonder how this is possible. The answer has to do with existing diets and food waste. In particular, moving toward veganism has the potential to end world hunger.
Plant Agriculture as a More Sustainable Alternative
Currently, close to 50% of the world’s land goes toward food production and farmers use 83% of this land exclusively for animal agriculture, which is responsible for 44% of all harvested crop losses. Animals farmed for meat and dairy “consume five times as much food as all human beings” and have incredibly low conversion efficiencies. It takes about 13-20 pounds of grain to produce a single extra pound of beef. About 36% of the total crop calories that farmers produce globally act as food for farmed animals and humans eventually consume just “12% of those calories” in the final meat product. Animal agriculture also drains the world’s fresh water supply. Producing 1 kilogram of bovine meat requires 15,415 liters of water compared with 322 liters of water per kilogram of vegetables.
As the world population grows to a projected 9.7 billion by 2050, animal agriculture will become increasingly unsustainable. If agriculture does not change, feeding the world’s population will require “a 119% increase in edible crops grown by 2050.” Growing more crops will also increase the need for arable land, leading to more deforestation. Meat consumption already contributes “more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined.” Increased greenhouse gas emissions coupled with increased deforestation could exacerbate changing weather.
Animal Agriculture Aggravates Extreme Weather Conditions
According to Sentient Media, changing weather is a “threat multiplier.” It exacerbates pressures like natural disasters and extreme weather conditions, which cause hunger by decreasing crop yields and increasing food loss. Changing weather may also affect the types of crops that can grow in certain regions. This is especially problematic in regions that depend on specific weather conditions to grow their staple crops, such as Africa, where most crops require a certain amount of rainfall. Without the right conditions, subsistence farmers and their families will suffer and people unable to pay the increased prices for scarce crops will fall into food insecurity.
Moving Toward Veganism
Many organizations are working to alleviate world hunger and scientists are developing GMOs to fight malnourishment. However, some entities are only addressing surface-level problems. In order to address the causes of world hunger, the United Nations (U.N.) is calling for a global effort involving deep, systematic transformations in agriculture and food systems worldwide.
One transformation that may help end world hunger is shifting consumer demands toward a vegan diet. By consuming crop calories directly from the plant source, people can avoid the loss of two-thirds of potential calories. According to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if U.S. farmers used all the land currently devoted to animal agriculture to grow plant crops instead, they could double the number of people sustained, feeding an additional 390 million people.
While a vegan diet is the most sustainable, vegetarian and plant-based diets also contribute to ending world hunger. These diets all use fewer resources and contribute less to the harmful effects of changing climate than meat-heavy diets do. Eating meat just once a week instead of four times a week “would reduce commodity prices as less grain would go to feed animals, making food cheaper for the urban poor,” said Michael Obersteiner of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
Plant-Based Diets Worldwide
While switching to a plant-based diet may cause concerns of possible undernutrition, animal intermediaries are not necessary for humans to experience full nourishment. On the other hand, it is possible to eat a meat-inclusive diet and still suffer from malnutrition.
Ending world hunger is everyone’s fight. Even food-secure areas may suffer from political unrest due to wars in food-insecure areas or may become destinations for those seeking refuge from hunger. With a global plant-based diet, more food than ever before would be available to humans. Additionally, “it is possible that an atmosphere of abundance could facilitate cooperative attitudes toward funneling more food to combat hunger.” As a bonus, moving toward veganism would be much healthier since studies link animal products to increased rates of lifestyle diseases like obesity.
Preventing Food Waste
In addition to moving toward a vegan diet, the push to end world hunger will require addressing food loss in developing countries. More than 40% of food loss in developing nations occurs post-harvest due to poor refrigeration. In sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, per capita food loss equates to 120-170 kilograms per year. India loses about 40% of its food production due to a lack of cold storage. Jomo Sundaram, assistant director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), believes improved food transportation methods and technologies are already strengthening the fight to eliminate hunger.
In the fight against global hunger, moving toward veganism holds significant potential to increase food security in a sustainable manner.
– Serah-Marie Maharaj