That’s the theme of the Guardian’s Global Development series last week, with the headline “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists.” Stockholm International Water Institute warned that there simply won’t be enough water to produce the meat we need, at the current rate of eating, by 2050:
Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.
Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.
“Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase,” they said. “With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land.”
The Guardian’s Lagusta Yearwood followed up this piece with a great addition of her own, “Forget meat – there’s a world of vegetarian food out there,” where she writes:
Particularly, we can look to what poor women from every corner of the globe have invented. Why? Because they have always created the tastiest dishes – so many of today’s classic, beloved dishes originated from women who had to put food on the table for their families, no matter what. When kings and queens were busy dying from gout because of their overly rich diets, housewives in Sicily were making luscious caponata from aubergines and celery in a sweet and sour marinade; women in Oaxaca were wrapping corn dough around roasted chilies, seeds, and vegetables to make tamales filled with mole sauces; cooks in Egypt were frying onions in precious olive oil and topping their lentils and rice with them to make koshari; women in Africa were pounding peanuts to make rich stews laced with fresh greens and spices. Vegetarian dishes are everywhere, if we look.
While Yearwood dismisses meat analogues as “expensive” and poor-tasting (which I both agree and disagree with, respectively), her point of not making meat the centerpiece is spot on. We pretty much have to do that, or we won’t be able to feed our booming earth’s population. Of course, we could stop having so many kids too…
Then there was the rebuttal of “Turning vegetarian will not solve the food crisis” by Priyamvada Gopal, who argues that, yes, factory farms are awful and we’re destroying the planet, but
Wealth concentration generates disparate purchasing power that allows richer nations as well as the better-off in every nation to consume – and waste – a disproportionate share of food, fuel, water and other resources. Arable land itself is put towards profit through speculation, mining, and logging, rather than feeding people. The predictable argument that overpopulation is the main problem remains a red herring. When one person can consume or waste between two and five people’s share at a time when per-capita food production has increased, inequity, not human numbers, and the richer, not the poorer, are still the problem.
Gopal argues against the overzealous vegan, pushing their tofu and expensive organic vegetables across the table, but can one get past the ethical implications? Not really. Meat is still murder for large portions of the world where it is simply unncessary, and now, as we see, wasteful and in dwindling supply. Does those buffalo getting slaughtered by the Indians as Gopal references, recognize their contribution to world hunger and lay down with a smile to get slaughtered? No – they simply do not.
Still, there are many issues at work. The goal, in my opinion, is to feed the world, while harming as little as possible. Respect for all life, not just humans, while taking care of the earth, and keeping us healthy. Are these lofty? Absolutely. But, we don’t really have a choice. As Paul Watson says, “if the oceans die, we die.”