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Veganism and Food Security

Not long ago, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released their annual report on world hunger, The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Unsurprisingly, the Report shed particular light upon the economic crisis and its relation to food security, arguing that it is different to other crises for three reasons. Firstly, it has affected large parts of the world simultaneously, undermining traditional coping mechanisms; second, it followed hot on the heels of the food and fuel crisis of 2006-2008; and third, increased integration of developing economies into the world economy has made them volatile to market activity.  World hunger is on the rise again, cracking 1.02 billion people this year, a sixth of the world’s population. Encouragingly, the FAO recognises that this current state of crisis is primarily structural, reflecting the fragility of our food systems on both a national and global level. While their recommended panaceae (investments in agriculture, the strengthening of social safety nets and the institutionalisation of the right to food) seek to address these problems, they sadly neglect to mention one of the simplest and most effective mechanism for combating world hunger: going vegetarian or vegan.


The logic is compellingly simple. In the 1950s, humans effectively ran out of arable land suitable for farming, so if we want to produce more food we have to use our existing land base more efficiently. Indeed this area is falling due to the soil degradation engendered by industrial agriculture, but that is for another post. Some figures: it takes 3¼ acres of land to produce enough food to sustain an omnivore, whereas a vegan can healthily survive off as little as one sixth of an acre. Livestock production currently accounts for about 70 percent of all agricultural land on the planet. Judging by these statistics, every omnivore that goes vegan clears up enough land to feed about another 18 vegans. Going vegan has a palpable impact on the amount of food available for other people, and it is just as well. Current projections predict that, by the year 2050, the world population will have reached 9 billion. Eight billion of these people will live in the developing world. One of our greatest hopes for combating world hunger both now and in the future lies in the worldwide proliferation of the vegan diet.

I hasten to add that while the developing world is worst hit by hunger, the problem affects all of us. The 2009 UN Human Development Report placed New Zealand sixth in terms of wage inequality for developed countries and it is getting harder and harder for New Zealand’s poorest to feed themselves. Too much of our agricultural land is devoted towards animal production, filling our supermarkets with expensive slabs of bloody catastrophe, while finding an affordable head of broccoli is getting increasingly tough. While I agree with the FAO about the importance of agricultural investment, social safety nets and the right to food, these measures don’t address the fundamental massive expense involved in meat production, and this refers not only to financial investment, but the huge amounts of land we have invested in this dietary addiction. Going vegan isn’t just about saving the lives of innocent animals, it’s also about saving innocent people and not just people in the developing world, but people in our own neighbourhoods.


4 thoughts on “Veganism and Food Security

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I think it is amazing how the media and many academic commentators have failed to make the link between food choices and the issues you raise. It is terrifying how much land is now being used to grow feed for livestock. Between water use and loss of arable land, the continued focus on animal protein frightens me for reasons that go well beyond the harm done to the animals themselves.

    Posted by Peter Sankoff | 2 November 2009, 3:01 pm
  2. These stats are truly shocking – what logic possesses people to feed one person with the same amount of land that could feed 18? I watched Food Inc. the other day (a non-vegan expose on what we eat – booooo!) and apparently a McDonalds cheeseburger is cheaper (on the new $1 menu) than basic vegetables such as brocolli or cauliflower – a true pitfall in the history of man.

    Posted by Ana Lenard | 3 November 2009, 11:18 am
  3. Funny you should mention this. I just got a copy of the DVD “Meat the Truth”, which addresses environmental issues relating to meat use. Should be an interesting watch.

    Posted by Peter Sankoff | 3 November 2009, 2:37 pm
  4. Oh yes, and also about saving forests from deforestation for monocrop plantations that feed the world market for livestock GRAIN..

    Food prices are being driven ridiculously high in the local markets of developing countries not because of famine or scarcity, but more in the actual mode of food production being promoted in these countries – local farmers no longer farm food for local markets, but instead farming cash crops for the global market (i.e. first world countries). Livestock grain is one such cash crop.

    Every day hectares of rainforests are lost for the purposes of such farms, and it is unlikely that they will change (what with the dodgy REDD mechanisms or the false carbon trading solutions that we will be seeing at Copenhagen this year).

    Again, livestock grain in one big issue. Palm kernels imported by Fonterra to the tune of $500million per year is one such example. These so-called “byproducts” of the Malaysian palm oil industry are just lies and greenwash – see http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0908/S00340.htm and also http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0908/S00300.htm

    In my opinion, a lot of the problem is structural. Yes, there is a big need for a vegan movement, but the vegan community itself needs to get political and radical or else the same old structures will remain and exploitation will just continue ad infinitum.

    Posted by Tania | 3 November 2009, 8:26 pm
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