Food crisis solution: Go vegan

Peter Singer


Kai Ryssdal: The floods that've hit the Midwest are sending already high corn prices to new records. That means meat's going to get more expensive too.

Texas, meanwhile, is dealing with brutal heat and drought. Agricultural officials there say the livestock industry stands to take an enormous hit.

So if meat and corn are off the table and other grains are prohibitively expensive, what are we supposed to eat?

Commentator and bioethicist Pete Singer says our diets are going to change whether we like it or not.

Peter Singer: Why are we in the midst of a food crisis when world production of food per person has actually grown steadily since the 1960s?

The answer is that we're not eating the food we grow, sometimes not eating them at all, sometimes wasting at least 80 percent of them.

100 million tons of corn is turned into biofuels that go into our gas tanks. That's a lot less corn for people to eat.

But most corn isn't eaten by humans; it's eaten by animals and that's the biggest part of the problem. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 756 million tons of grain plus most of the world's soybean crop are fed to animals and that amount has increased sharply in recent years as Asian nations have become more prosperous and their populations have started eating more meat.

When we use animals to convert grain and soy into food we can eat, they use most of the feed to keep warm and develop bones and other parts we can't eat. So we're wasting most of the food value of the crops we feed them. In the case of cattle, at least nine-tenths of the grain they eat is squandered.

Is there a simple way to solve the food crisis? Here's one suggestion: Eat less meat, dairy and eggs. In fact, that's what our diets will look like 50 years from now -- vegan or close to it -- unless, that is, someone works out how to grow environmentally friendly and commercially viable meat from cells in a lab.

Last month, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, offered a million dollars for anyone who can produce commercially viable meat from a lab in five years. That time frame is too short, but if they were to extend the deadline to 50 years, I would expect someone to claim the reward.

And if PETA is no longer willing to pay up, the market surely will.

Ryssdal: Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. His most recent book is called "The Ethics of What We Eat."

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I applaud Peter Singer, as always, for enlightening us with the truth. The consumption of animals wreaks havoc on the planet, other living things and our health. Another truth to recognize, however, is that humans do not suffer from a food shortage - if humans did not have enough food, the population would not continue to increase at the rate it does. It's a simple law of nature. What humans suffer from with food is the same thing they do in other areas - a lack of equitable distribution of resources. Thus some are grossly overfed and others are painfully underfed. We need not produce more food, but stabilize our food production and work towards more efficeint, effective and equitable distribution of nutrients. Controlling food production and distribution could also help us work on the other big threat - population. Humans must stabilize and eventually decrease their population on this planet, for the sake of our species and all the others.

I live in Brazil and it is sad to see the destruction of the forests. In the state of Mato Grosso the Governor is also Brazil's soy King. So the forest in Mato Grosso state is being replaced by soy plantations then exported to feed livestock. After a few years this land becomes a desert. So,in fact mankind is cutting his own nose off to spite his face.

Thank you for raising this topic!

Eating a plant-based diet is a refreshingly simple solution for helping improve the food crisis and two other critical issues that we humans – Americans in particular – need to address pretty quickly: the environment and our health. I'll focus on the former for this post. According to the UN report that Ms. Kilborn mentioned in her post, livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the plant. Also, livestock account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – more than transportation. The UN report is called, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which you can download for free.

More information is available in Dr. Singer’s books as well as in the other literature Carolyn Kilborn mentioned in her post earlier today. In addition, compassionatecooks.com has a variety of informative podcasts about this topic.

For some people, it may be easier to make a shift by just choosing to eat plant-based meals more than they do today. (e.g., choose to eat plant-based meals 4 days a week, then increase when possible). Even this gradual change could help our global food supply and reduce our impact on the environment.

Please, take a moment just to see the other side of your initial response... we've been sold a bill of goods. The massively subsidised meat industry is going to feel the hurt of rising energy prices, I just hope the subsidies don't grow along with the rise in oil prices.

Grasslands are for the beings who live in the grasslands, packing the grasslands with our oversized cattle strips the land leaving a swath of uninhabitable dust.. erosion and wind take the topsoil and it's desertification.

Americans eat too much of this stuff, it's clearly unsustainable.... and that fact is getting clearer every day.



Thank you for airing Peter Singer's commentary on the world wide food crisis. There will enevitably be a backlash toward NPR for airing his accurate acount of the wastefullness of meat production. I can only hope that it does not take 50 years for our nation's psychological dependence on meat to be overcome by reason.

A few posts have extolled the virtues of using our vast grasslands for feeding cows and others. That leads to the wholesale killing of animals who depend on the grasslands like buffalo, black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, wild horses, various bird species and the animals who prey on them like coyotes and wolves because they are competition or preditor. Our addiction to eating the bodies of others is not only bad for us spiritually and physically, it is bad for other animals and the environment.

Finally a news station bold enough to allow the truth - raising animals for food is the leading cause of not only food shortage but all our now common diseases today - heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. For the sake of our earth, our health and our animals the most obvious solution is to go to a one hundred per cent plant based diet. The public needs to know the truth as the industries spend millions to hide the truth from the unsuspecting public.

Rhodora, it's time to do your homework. It is 2008 and we know that meat, eggs, and dairy products are NOT good for you. They are the leading contributors of most (if not all) of the killer diseases in the U.S (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune, etc). There are many resources for you to investigate this further, but I suggest you start with a book called The China Study, which can be found at http://www.amazon.com/China-Study-Comprehensive-Nutrition-Implications/d....

Thanks to Peter Singer for his insightful commentary on how we can each help the planet and animals by choosing a plant-based diet. Free vegetarian recipes are available at:


The silver lining of the food "shortage" is that people will come to understand the global impact of the food choices they make on a daily basis. Agribusiness has convinced us that animal products are necessary for health. An educated public will come to know that animal products are not needed and that a non-animal based diet is healthier and better for the planet.


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