by Rebecca Saltzberg
There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a vegetarian diet, including their personal health, the health and well-being of animals, and the health of the planet. Another profound, yet often overlooked, reason for going vegetarian is for the sake of the millions of people who starve to death each year.
Many people were told by their parents as children to clean their dinner plate because “there are starving children in Africa." From a young age, we were taught that to waste food was sinful and cruel when there are many less fortunate children around the world. Yet our well-intentioned (but misinformed) parents and educators were blind to the reality that there is no grosser waste of food than taking 15 to 20 pounds of healthful grain and using it as feed to produce one pound of animal flesh. They neglected to realize that the simplest and most important step each of us can take to end world hunger is to stop eating meat.
On this planet, a child dies of malnutrition every two seconds. Malnutrition is the principal cause of death for infants and children in developing nations. In fact, never before in history has starvation been so prevalent amongst the human species - approximately 25 percent of the world's population is malnourished.
Meanwhile, as more and more people experience the gnawing pains of hunger, there is simultaneously an unprecedented percentage of the population that is overweight and obese. The United States has the honor of being one of the fattest countries in the world. A greater and greater percentage of American children are overweight, and many more children are already showing signs of hardening of the arteries by the time they are teenagers.
In order to support the demand for meat products, the world's limited resources are being squandered. Raising animals for food consumption is so wasteful and inefficient that it simply is not possible to feed the world on a meat-based diet. The amount of land that it takes to feed just one meat-eater could sustain 20 vegetarians.
Overall, the grains and soybeans fed to American livestock each year could feed the more than 1.3 billion people going hungry. Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, comments, "Cattle and other livestock are devouring much of the grain produced on the planet. It need be emphasized that this is a new phenomenon, unlike anything ever experienced before."
Following the lead of the United States and other westernized nations, many developing countries are beginning to focus their agriculture more and more around the production of meat. Consequently, third world countries that were once self-sufficient in their production of grain must now import it from the United States, but 75 percent of their imports are then fed to animals.
Every individual makes a difference. When just one person adopts a vegetarian diet, that action frees up land to feed as many as 19 other people. If just 10 percent of American meat-eaters adopted a vegetarian diet, there would be 12 million more tons of grain to feed to humans, enough to support the 60 million people who starve to death each year.