Last week on Wednesday, I had class from 12:00 to 18:00 and I had left my carefully prepared lunch at home, leaving me to “starve” during class. Eight-year-old Fayo Hadji from Ethiopia experienced a different kind of starvation; so desperately hungry he proclaimed that he would rather die than keep waiting for food. Desertification is another problem of Fayo’s country, as it destroys crops. Desertification is also accelerated by the worldwide crisis we know as climate change. We live in a world with multiple complex problems; two of the biggest being climate change and hunger, and these two are tightly interlinked.
One of the main reasons for climate change is our growing emission of greenhouse gases, with one third of these emissions stemming from food production. The major contributor in this sector is livestock, which accounts for 18 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. With an already dangerously high impact on climate change, meat production is still rising. Yet 842 million people do not have enough to eat, which illustrates the skewed food distribution with for example Dutch people eating 89 kg of meat per year compared to Ethiopians’ 7,9 kg.
While we need to decrease the agricultural impact on climate change, we simultaneously need to feed more people, not only because there are starving people but also because of the world’s increasing population. This paradoxical problem illustrates that something about the food industry needs to change.
One of the problems that the New York Times points out is that while we have plenty of corn and soy to feed even nine billion people, the majority of it is used to raise cattle, pigs, and chickens. Thus a shift in production from animal foods to other plant based products would help to decrease the greenhouse gas impact and to feed more people. Moreover, it would directly fight other related problems such as desertification, since “[b]etween 50 and 75 percent of the water withdrawn from the world’s largest aquifers is attributed to livestock and the crops grown to feed them“ (Redwood, n.d., para.4)
In one of his books, food and sustainability expert Richard Oppenlander also encourages this shift in the food production as he debunks popular beliefs that our civilization and environment can be maintained with a human diet high in animal products.
While previous generations worked hard to build a civilized world with more human rights and more luxury and comfort, our generation has the opportunity to ensure that there will still be a planet in the future on which all people can thrive.
In order to seize this opportunity, one of the necessary steps is to change the food industry so that we can feed more people without endangering the planet’s ecosystem. One essential action is therefore for everyone to consume less animal products, especially meat. This is not only a universally applicable solution, but also beneficial for university students who can save money by replacing their meat consumption with cheaper plant-based foods.