Would It Be Possible to Feed the World if Everyone Was Vegetarian?

Would it be possible to feed the world if everyone was vegetarian?

Would it be possible to feed the world if everyone was vegetarian?

Check out this answer from Consensus:

A global shift to vegetarianism could potentially feed the world more sustainably and healthily. The environmental benefits of reduced meat production, combined with the health advantages of a well-balanced vegetarian diet, make a compelling case. However, careful planning and education are essential to ensure nutritional adequacy, particularly for vulnerable populations. By addressing these challenges, a vegetarian world could indeed be a viable and beneficial option for feeding the global population.

 

The question of whether the world could be fed if everyone adopted a vegetarian diet is multifaceted, involving considerations of environmental sustainability, health impacts, and nutritional adequacy. This article explores these dimensions by reviewing existing research on the global impact of meat consumption, the health benefits and risks of vegetarian diets, and the potential for vegetarian diets to meet global nutritional needs.

Environmental Impact

One of the most compelling arguments for a global shift to vegetarianism is the potential environmental benefits. Meat production is a significant driver of deforestation, particularly in under-developed regions where ancient rainforests are cleared for cattle grazing. This not only reduces the land available for food production but also contributes to global warming and the exhaustion of water resources1. By reducing or eliminating meat consumption, more land could be repurposed for growing crops directly for human consumption, potentially increasing food availability and reducing the need for foreign aid and addressing world hunger1.

Health Benefits

Vegetarian diets are associated with numerous health benefits. Studies have shown that vegetarians generally have lower risks of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease2 4 7. These diets are typically lower in saturated fats and higher in dietary fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals, which contribute to better overall health outcomes4 7 8. Additionally, vegetarians tend to have lower mortality rates and reduced risks of certain cancers and other degenerative diseases2 5 6.

Nutritional Adequacy

A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet all human nutritional needs. It is essential, however, to ensure a variety of plant-based foods are consumed to provide adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals4 5 8. While vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate, there are concerns about potential deficiencies, particularly in vegan diets, which exclude all animal products. Nutrients of concern include vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids3 8 9. These deficiencies can be mitigated through careful meal planning and the use of fortified foods or supplements8 9.

Challenges and Considerations

While the health and environmental benefits of vegetarian diets are well-documented, there are challenges to consider. For instance, during infancy and early childhood, vegetarian diets must be carefully managed to avoid nutritional deficiencies that could impact growth and neurodevelopment3. Additionally, restrictive and monotonous vegetarian diets may lead to nutrient deficiencies and adverse health effects if not properly planned6.

 

Would it be possible to feed the world if everyone was vegetarian?

C N Hewitt has answered Near Certain

An expert from Lancaster University in Atmospheric Science

Unless there is a disastrous failure in crop production, it is near certain that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone a vegetarian diet. This would require the human-edible food currently fed to farmed animals to be eaten directly by humans. Not only that, but the current production of crops is sufficient to provide enough food for the projected global population of 9.7 billion in 2050 with a vegan (but not vegetarian) diet. To achieve this, very significant changes to the socio-economic conditions of many (ensuring access to the global food supply) and radical changes to the dietary choices of most (replacing almost all meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives, and greater acceptance of human-edible crops currently fed to animals, especially maize, as directly-consumed human food) would be required. 

Current industrialised meat and dairy production, which relies on feeding 34% of human-edible crop calories to animals globally, is highly inefficient in terms of the provision of human nutrition, since it reduces the energy, protein, iron and zinc supplies potentially available to humans from crops, and is incompatible with a sustainable global food system as currently conceived.

We arrive at these conclusions through a quantitative analysis of global and regional food supply to reveal the flows of calories, protein and the micro-nutrients vitamin A, iron and zinc, from production through to human consumption and other end points (Berners-Lee et al, 2018, Current global food production is sufficient to meet human nutritional needs in 2050 provided there is radical societal adaptation.  Elem Sci Anth, 6(1), p.52. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.310).

 

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