Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about a global food crisis. Food prices on such staples as rice, wheat and dairy products have sky-rocketed, affecting several already economically struggling countries. “Meanwhile world aid groups continue to reel from the jump in food prices. World Vision, one of the globe’s largest humanitarian organizations, said it may have cut 1.5 million people, or 23 percent, from its aid program because of a strained budget.”* Protests have erupted over rising food prices, and people have reportedly begun hoarding whatever food they can find.
Hunger is nothing new in the world. There have been “starving children in Africa” for as long as my parents have been able to tell me so in order to guilt me into cleaning my plate, and for many years before that. And while surely there are starving children here in America too, for the most part, Americans are living fat and happy. We clean our plates and then some. What most people fail to realize, however, is that we could feed all the hungry people in the world if only everyone reduced or eliminated their meat intake.
Think about this: Every one kilogram of beef produced requires 100,000 liters of water and 10 kilograms of feed. Compare that to a kilogram of potatoes produced, which requires only 500 liters of water. In terms of land use, one hectare of potatoes planted would feed 22 people per year, whereas one hectare of land dedicated to beef production would only feed one person per year.** The inefficiencies are staggering–and I could cite a million*** other statistics along these same lines. I first read about this in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and was floored. Despite the fact that the world’s poorest people don’t even have enough basic grains and water to sustain themselves, we produce “feed-grain” for cows and pigs and other farmed animals so that we can buy (cheap) meat. So why don’t we just eat the grains directly instead of feeding them to animals which we then eat?
Animal rights issues are increasingly becoming inextricably linked to human rights issues. The food crisis won’t be resolved over night, and the starving children of the world won’t be fed tomorrow because I’ve given up animal products – I get that. But if enough of us made a commitment to reduce our animal product intake, over time we might just make a difference and be able to get food into the mouths of the hungry, instead of into the mouths of poorly treated, factory farmed cows, chickens, and pigs that we produce for food.
Cows aren’t even supposed to eat grain and corn, by the way. They’re ruminants, so they’re supposed to eat grass. But cows require a lot of grazing land and that’s not cheap. What’s more, they don’t fatten up as well on grass, which is why they’re fed some pretty disgusting things: “Cows are still allowed to eat feeds that can include parts of pigs, fish, chicken, horses, even cats or dogs….And cattle can continue to consume pig and horse blood for protein, as well as tallow, a hard fat from rendered cattle parts, as a fattening source.”**** We’ve turned herbivorous cows into carnivores and cannibals so that they gain weight faster and can be slaughtered when they’re practically still babies (a little over 1 year for “beef” cattle and anywhere from 3-6 years for “dairy” cows–the natural lifespan for a healthy cow would be over 20 years, just for comparison purposes).
So, what does this all mean? Maybe you’re not an “animal person”. Not everyone is (unfortunately) . . . but I have yet to meet someone who would turn their back on a hungry child.
Do your part: reduce your meat and animal product intake and help feed all the hungry people in the world. You can make a difference. Do it for your health, for the animals, the environment, and for all the people out there who will go to bed hungry tonight while some poor cow or pig suffers needlessly in a feedlot.
* “U.N. Agencies Weigh Response to Food Crisis”. Reuters. 28 April 2008. 28 April 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-food.html?scp=2&sq=hunger&st=nyt
** Gold, Mark. “The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat.” Compassion in World Farming Trust. 2004. http://www.ciwf.org/publications/reports/The_Global_Benefits_of_Eating_Less_Meat.pdf
*** Possibly a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.
**** “Cattle Feed is Often a Sum of Animal Parts.” Common Dreams. 28 January 2004. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0128-03.htm