This is a claim I see batted around quite often, and while there is a good and rational basis behind it I think it grossly oversimplifies the issue of world hunger. What people making this argument are failing to understand is that solving world hunger isn’t just an issue of producing more food, though that is obviously a large part of it, people go hungry because of food waste and unequal distribution far more than because we don’t have enough to feed everyone.
The basis of this claim is that we could feed considerably more people if we grow crops to feed humans than we currently do raising animals for food, which is indisputably true. At present a full 1/3 of the planet’s land surface and 2/3 of available agricultural land is used for farming animals. The issue is that farmed animals consume significantly more calories to get them to slaughter weight than they will ever produce in meat, meaning that they are actually detracting from the global food supply. Chicken meat production consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output; beef cattle 54:1, lamb 50:1, pork 17:1, turkey 13:1 and milk 17:1, according to the ecologist’s analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. All told, farmed animals consume 40% of all grain produced and 70% of all soy produced globally. All of this means that if the world went vegan and we fed these crops to humans instead of animals, we would add an addition 70% to the world’s global food supply.
This would obviously be a wonderful thing and would have a significant impact on world poverty. It is estimated that because of these factors and the impact of animal products on food security, global health and climate change, the world going vegan would save approximately 8.1 million human lives per year. As positive as all of this is, the idea that it would completely solve global hunger is a very different claim. The fact of the matter is that we already grow more than enough food to feed everyone, we just don’t distribute it equally or use it efficiently. Globally, roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year, which is approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, goes uneaten due to loss or wastage, though some figures place it closer to half. Add that to the fact of global market forces and capitalism meaning that food is unequally distributed, having enough of it for everyone unfortunately doesn’t mean that everyone gets to eat.
It is very understandable why people might look at the statistics for how much more efficient plant protein is than animal protein per square foot of land and conclude that the world going vegan would solve global hunger, but advocating veganism alone as a way to solve this issue risks causing people to stop advocating for any other cause. The truth is that the systemic evils of unfair distribution need to be rallied against across the political spectrum, companies need to be pressured to donate waste and countries need to be encouraged to pass legislation for better distribution, that is in the absence of some global revolution and massive redistribution of wealth; but solely advocating veganism will achieve none of that.
A global shift away from animal agriculture and towards sustainable, plant based eating would undeniably have drastic benefits for human health, global good security, the alleviation of poverty and the environment, which is why even the United Nations have been advocating it for quite some time now. However, veganism needs to be part of a wider movement pushing for social change and equality for both humans and animals, and it is simply too much to expect veganism alone to solve all of the world’s problems.