Vegetarianism is more than just a fad diet. Plant-based foods typically have high levels of nutrients and are cheaper and more accessible than other foods. Pivoting agricultural preferences to focus on plant-based foods has many provable benefits. But can vegetarianism help feed the hungry? The answer is yes.
Meat is Inefficient
A very high demand exists for meat currently. In the Amazon, approximately 60% of deforested land is pasture. Animals that farmers raise for consumption on this land eat various types of cereals, which provide very little nutritional return for humans. Meat is also calorically insufficient. As of 2013, 36% of the calories from crops worldwide go toward feeding animals, but only 12% of those calories contribute to the human diet as meat and other animal products. Therefore, land and resources going towards an inefficient nutrition source.
The demand for meat means there is less farmland for plant-based crops—crops that can feed more people at a lower cost. The way vegetarianism can feed the hungry is by freeing up resources for plant-based crops. Switching to plant-based foods could recover 70% of calories that frequently go toward animal protein.
Going Vegetarian is Globally Sustainable
It is no secret that animal diets also have severe environmental consequences. Greenhouse gases from livestock farming contribute to environmental damage that disproportionately affects impoverished areas. Moreover, it eats up money that could go toward improving living conditions for those living in poverty. In this way, a vegetarian diet can help the world’s hungry; it frees up resources that countries can instead allocate to distributing plant-based foods. Research at Oxford University has shown that widespread adoption of vegetarian diets can save trillions of dollars globally each year. After assessing different scenarios, researchers concluded that widespread veganism could avoid more than eight million deaths by the year 2050, and a vegetarian diet could save 7.3 million lives.
Not Ready? Go Flexitarian
One does not have to give up all animal products in order to reap the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. The fact is that current agricultural methods induce environmental challenges that disrupt both the natural and man-made food chain. Simply reducing the number of animal products consumed can help. Going “flexitarian,” or plant-based except for special occasions, makes a difference too. Whether it is one vegan day a week or one meat-based meal a day, a flexitarian plan exists for everyone. In addition, the planning ahead this would require helps minimize food waste.
The health benefits of adopting a flexitarian diet include better cognitive function, lower body composition, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease and longer life expectancy. Plants comprise vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, minerals and polyphenols that work to protect the brain and body from various factors that accelerate aging, disease and mood disorders.
Giving up meats and dairy products may seem daunting. However, not only are animal products ineffective in feeding the world but such products consume more calories than they provide. In essence, it is true that vegetarianism can feed the hungry. Adopting vegetarian diets would not only help the world’s hungry but also make individuals healthier and the environment stronger.
– Maddey Bussmann