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Global Hunger Index

The International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC released it’s 2012 Global Hunger Index of 120 nations, which rated countries with individual scores from one to 100 with zero as the best score (no hunger) and 100 the worst. Determined by factors such as childhood mortality rates and the percentage of underweight children, the index is based on data from 2005 to 2010, the last year for which information is available.

The  report focuses particularly on the issue of ensuring sustainable food security under conditions of water, land, and energy stress. It concludes that demographic changes, rising incomes and subsequent changes in consumption patterns, climate change, persistent poverty and inadequate policies and institutions, are all placing serious pressure on natural resources.

These “changes in consumption patterns” are not spelled out in thorough detail. It is a missed opportunity to provide concrete solutions and suggestions to these individuals with rising incomes that would benefit others suffering from hunger and malnutrition. For example, it has been noted by scholars that eating animal products can cause hunger (Rifkin 1993; Webb 2010). Therefore, encouraging a societal shift in a diet based on more plant-based foods could help alleviate many of the problems the report seeks to highlight and change.

The report focuses on the need for better resource management. They see the trends in resource depletion troubling and put forth suggestions where “access to food, modern energy, and clean water improves significantly and ecosystem degradation is halted or reversed.” What is lost in many policy debates, often due to ties with big food and the agriculture industry, is how the decreased consumption of animal products would result in less pressure on our resources. Diets that include animal products use more land, water and oil than diets based mostly on plants (Deckers 2011).

The theme of this year’s report is the connection between hunger and pressures on land, water and fuel. That’s because the people who are most vulnerable to resource scarcity and degradation are also the most vulnerable to hunger. It is noted by us as well as other experts in the field that the connections between meat production and land losses (deforestation), water pollution and fossil fuels are vast and can’t be brushed under the rug and ignored.

Factory farming and animal consumption has been made implicit as a cause of health, food security, climate and hunger problems around the world. These links need to be addressed as a clear and present danger. Encouraging a move to a more plant-centered diet is a way to empower everyone to help overcome the many obstacles laid out in the report.

Resources:

Deckers, J. Does the  Consumption of Farmed Animal Products Cause Human Hunger? Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2011

Rifkin, J. Beyond Beef. The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. New York, NY: Plume; 1993

Webb, P. Medium to Long-Run Implications of High Food Prices For Global Nutrition. Journal of Nutrition. 2010

Putting Plants on the Menu For Food Security

by Dawn Moncrief, Founding Director

Finally, world experts and the media are increasing attention to the role vegetarianism MUST play for food security.

Both The Huffington Post and The Guardian reported on the new study by the The Stockholm International Water Institute. SIWI’s top scientists “issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.” 

Hopefully, we will choose to make changes before they are forced upon us by economic and/or environmental catastrophe. In fact, A Well-Fed World was organized specifically to highlight the connections between animal agriculture and global food security… specifically, to demonstrate why minimizing meat MUST be part of decision-making.*

And here’s what else we have to say …

Without much context, The Huffington Post gives a brief nod to the U.S. for recent decreases in meat consumption. Meatless Mondays is thought to play a part as it booms in popularity. And while we support these types of campaigns, they are not nearly enough. As of 2007, the U.S. was the 2nd largest meat consumer per person. Since then, we have taken bragging rights for reducing, while China and others are blamed for the drastic global “increases.”

Focusing on growth and increases redirects blame…

China’s skyrocketing demand for meat has devastating consequences globally because they are the world’s most populous country with 1.3+ billion people. But we must look beyond “growth” and consider the great disparities in starting points and current consumption levels. Especially when countries such as the U.S. are lauded for reducing our meat consumption (between 6%12% since 2007) even while we’re still one of the top per capita consumers in the world.

Here’s an illustration: the U.S. starts at 10 units of meat consumption per person and China starts at 2 units. There is great alarm as China DOUBLES their consumption… and there is applause as the U.S. decreases 10%. The end result, however, is the U.S. at 9 units per person and China at 4 units.

It is very convenient for the U.S. to focus on China and other countries. China’s total meat consumption is now twice the U.S.’s because their population is four times greater. The U.S. still consumes more than twice the amount of meat per person than China.

We must look at the global trends as meat is predicted to double over 50 years, but the U.S. should be leading the way in drastic reductions because: (1) we are top consumers so there are steeper decreases we can make; and (2) as a global leader our habits and policies have immense and far-reaching impact.

More and more reports are concluding what we already know… we must immediately and drastically reverse the trend of increasing meat consumption. The data is clear. What we need is the political and economic will to make the changes. In addition to reports, we as individuals, grassroots groups, social justice organizations, religious institutions, business communities, and more must increase our pressure to encourage more change in this direction. The leaders must know there is public support… so let’s continue to spread the word and insist on change as we be the change.

END NOTE: * Minimizing meat includes all animal products. The ideal is fully plant-based food and agricultural systems.