One in nine people is chronically hungry, and it’s getting worse. According to the 2022 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, 828 million people are currently impacted by hunger. Although world hunger is a systemic issue, perhaps the least-known solution for world hunger is also the most tangible: adopting a vegan diet.
- We have enough food, but we feed it to animals instead of people
- Farming animals is extremely inefficient and wasteful
- Climate change is a “hunger risk multiplier”
- Veganism and world hunger in the news
- Weak objections from the animal agriculture industry
- What other solutions for world hunger are there?
- The most powerful solution for world hunger requires looking beyond ourselves
We have enough food, but we feed it to animals instead of people
World hunger exists partly because we use our resources inefficiently. Instead of feeding crops to people who are undernourished, we feed them to farmed animals. One third of the world’s grain is fed to farmed animals.
This is because the animal agriculture industries can afford to pay more for these crops than developing countries. They can pay more because we, the consumers, demand the products. Eight large, powerful companies control over 65% of all seed and grain products and over 80% of all animal products in the world.
The world is already producing more than enough grains to feed the population. Yet 77% of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley) and over 90% of soy globally are fed to livestock. Sadly, 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals eaten by people in the US, UK and Europe.
Farming animals is extremely inefficient and wasteful
The world can feed many more people on a plant-based diet than it can on an animal-based diet. If we stop breeding billions of farmed animals, we could feed an additional four billion people with the cropland currently used to grow animal feed. There would be more than enough food to go around. As the world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, having the cropland to grow more food is essential.
Farming animals is a huge waste of resources. Animals are the unnecessary middleman. According to researchers publishing in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “If animals are considered as ‘food production machines,’ these machines turn out to be extremely polluting, to have a very high consumption and to be very inefficient.’ In terms of fossil fuel energy, to produce one calorie from beef, we need 40 calories from fossil fuels. One calorie from grains needs only 2.2 calories of fossil fuels.
In terms of energy from crops, farmed animals eat 67% of crop calories, while people only directly eat 27%. (The remainder is directed to biofuels and other uses.) In other words, we lose up to two-thirds of potential calories. In contrast, feeding the world on plants could increase available food calories by as much as 70%.
It comes down to the simple ecological model of “trophic levels,” which lays out the energy loss in the food chain. When we eat one level higher on the food web, we lose about 90% of the edible resources from the level below.
Wasted land and water
Land use for the animal agriculture industries includes grazing animals, growing fodder for grass-fed and factory farmed animals, and intensive animal feeding operations. These enterprises use 83% of the world’s farmland, mainly due to feed production.
Land used for farming animals and growing crops to feed could be repurposed in many beneficial ways, such as growing plants, reforestation and natural regrowth. We can work towards efficient land and water use through veganism. A systematic review found that a vegan diet has the largest reductions in land use (a median of 55% reduction). A vegan diet also uses the least amount of water (25% reduction).
Climate change is a “hunger risk multiplier”
Food insecurity is intimately tied up with climate change, as the world’s most food insecure populations are also those most harmed by extreme weather events. “Climate change is a hunger risk multiplier,” according to the World Food Program. This is because climate change (also significantly driven by animal agriculture) exacerbates natural disasters, leading to decreased crop yields and increased food loss.
The changing climate also limits the types of crops that can grow in certain regions. Without the right conditions, costs will go up and people will not be able to afford food.
Veganism and world hunger in the news
The connection between plant-based diets and world hunger has been known for quite some time. Even back in 1997, the Cornell Chronicle published an article titled, “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat.”
It continues to make headlines in recent years, too. A 2018 article in the LA Times highlights how the US could feed all Americans and more by repurposing land used to raise farmed animals and growing plants instead. The “opportunity food loss” from eggs is 40%, 50% with poultry 75% from dairy, and 90% from pigs and 96% from cows.
A 2018 report in The Economist reported that moving to a plant-based diet could increase America’s food supply by a third. National Geographic also weighed in, recommending that consumers shift to plant-based diets in order to use resources more efficiently and feed the 9+ billion projected population in 2050.
Weak objections from the animal agriculture industry
Although the animal agriculture industry has attempted to reduce its emissions, studies have found that emissions can only be reduced by a maximum of 30%. Of course, the more effective way to reduce emissions is to end demand for animal products.
The animal agriculture industry often protests that the crops fed to farmed animals are not “high quality” enough for humans. However, it’s indisputable that they are using land and water that could be used to grow plants to feed humans.
What other solutions for world hunger are there?
Efforts to solve world hunger must focus on sustainable, plant-based solutions. If you want to help solve world hunger beyond transitioning to a vegan diet yourself, you can get involved in various volunteer efforts. Community food gardens, gleaning, floating gardens, mobile farmer’s markets, global seeding sharing or charities like the UK-based Vegans Against World Hunger are all productive avenues.
While world hunger has its roots in unjust allocation of resources rather than availability, farming animals contributes to the unnecessary scarcity and high price of staple crops. Veganism alone won’t solve it – but we can’t solve world hunger without it.
The most powerful solution for world hunger requires looking beyond ourselves
Each time we buy animal products, we are voting with our dollar to continue to feed farmed animals instead of people. We are voting against feeding the hungry and for resource-intensive foods for ourselves. We are voting for the climate crisis to continue unabated, jeopardizing the crops of the poor.
Let us eat vegan to help solve world hunger. If we eat simply, others may simply eat.