The days when those of us who don’t eat meat are in the minority could be numbered and sooner than you think. New research by scientists from the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) says that, unless the world’s population switches to a diet that is almost completely vegetarian over the next forty years, there will be “catastrophic” food shortages.
The reason? Water scarcity.
According to SIWI’s research, humans today derive 20 percent of their protein from animal-based products and one-third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals.
But protein-rich food from animals consumes five to ten times more water than a vegetarian diet does. If humans only derived 5 percent of their protein from animal-based products, there would be “just enough water,” say the scientists.
Widespread Food Shortages and Social Unrest
With the global population expected to grow by 2 billion by 2050 — to total 9 billion — massive food shortages are predicted, a situation exacerbated by the earth’s increasingly erratic climate. Already, “nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase,” the scientists note.
Therefore, feeding 2 billion more people “will place greater pressure on available water and land” with ramifications for political and social unrest. In 2008, food shortages were the reason for civil unrest in 28 countries.
The United Nations and Oxfam have issued warnings that a second global food crisis could occur in the next five years. These fears have been heightened due to the severe droughts in the US and Russia that have meant prices for corn, wheat and soy are up by 50 percent.
There’s Only So Much Water
Competition between using water for food production and other needs will only grow, say the SWIW scientists:
The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand – which is expected to rise 60% over the coming 30 years – and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it.
Vegetarianism is Hardly New
Pointing out that Gandhi and Einstein were vegetarians, as was the ancient writer Plutarch, a Guardian editorial says
Being a vegetarian can carry with it an oppressive aura of smugness, as each day being a carnivore gets a bit more like smoking – an act that is not only self-destructive but damaging the rest of the world too. …Going veggie is the only sane response.
It’s also not nearly as difficult, or as “weird,” to be a vegetarian as when I decided to stop eating meat thirty years ago. As Lagusta Yearwood writes in the Guardian, many cultures around the world have long traditions of meatless cuisine:
When kings and queens were busy dying from gout because of their overly rich diets, housewives in Sicily were making luscious caponata from aubergines and celery in a sweet and sour marinade; women in Oaxaca were wrapping corn dough around roasted chilies, seeds, and vegetables to make tamales filled with mole sauces; cooks in Egypt were frying onions in precious olive oil and topping their lentils and rice with them to make koshari; women in Africa were pounding peanuts to make rich stews laced with fresh greens and spices..
Eating vegetarian “tastes good and it does you good,” says the Guardian. This should be — along with ethical concerns about the conditions in which animals are raised and slaughtered — reason enough to forego meat.
The SWIW’s research shows why, before we know it, vegetarianism will not be a matter of choice but absolutely necessary in order to feed every mouth around the world.
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