by Michael Bond

Sustainability is more than a trendy buzzword, it is a common sense guide to how we can live in harmony with the environment and our fellow citizens of planet Earth. There is a saying, “The Earth is able to provide for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.” An example of this is the typical American meat-based diet, which is becoming increasing popular around the world.

The problem with the growing worldwide demand for meat is that there are not enough resources to allow everyone in the world to eat as much meat as Americans do. In fact, while there is certainly enough food grown in the world to feed every person, there are more than 800 million people suffering from hunger. A big part of the problem is the amount of land and resources dedicated to raising animals for slaughter.

It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh. That is 16 pounds of food that could be grown to feed people, but is instead being used to feed animals. To appreciate just how unsustainable a meat-based diet is, we must look at what is happening on a global scale. To support their meat habit, industrialized countries export huge amounts of grain to developing countries, who in turn use it to produce meat, which is then exported back to those industrialized countries. Because of this trend, the much more efficient plant-based agricultural model that was once the norm in developing countries is being replaced by intensive livestock rearing – and less food being grown for the people of those countries. These statistics are quite telling:

  • If everyone on Earth received 25 percent of his or her calories from animal products, only 3.2 billion people could be nourished. If everyone ate a vegetarian diet, there would be more than enough food to nourish the world's entire population—more than 6.3 billion people. 1
  • An acre of land used to raise cattle for slaughter produces about 20 pounds of usable protein. If soybeans were grown on that same acre, more than 17 times the amount of protein could be produced.2
  • If we added up all the land on Earth that is suitable for farming and divided it equally among the entire population, each person would get about 2/3 of an acre. To feed a vegan, it only takes about 1/6 of an acre of land, yet to feed a meat-eater, it takes nearly 3 1/4 acres of land. 3

We do not expect everyone in the world to become a vegetarian (even though it is a nice thought), but even if a small percentage switched to a plant-based diet it would result in saving land and water resources to help the population of the world to live in a much more sustainable manner.

  1. Vegan Outreach, "Try Vegetarian!" Feb. 2004.
  2. Robert Goodland, "The Westernization of Diets: The Assessment of Impacts in Developing Countries"
  3. John Robbins, M.D., The Food Revolution, Conari Press: Boston, 2001