‘Diet for a Small Planet’ reconsidered

By Rob Blezard, October 13, 2011

IT’S PERSONAL Blog – Exactly 40 years ago Frances Moore Lappé proposed a groundbreaking solution to a then-looming food crisis – eating less meat. Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet criticized the vast stores of grain that are fed to animals for meat production. The book has sold millions of copies and is considered a classic.

The Green Revolution forestalled the food crisis that seemed imminent in the 1960s, but today a group of scientists is revisiting Lappe’s premise, saying that the world’s eating less meat will be crucial in the next 40 years, when the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion.

The principle behind the suggestion is simple: It takes 7 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef; 6.5 pounds of grain produce a pound of pork, and 2.5 pounds of grain to produce a pound of chicken, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So if the same amount of grain were fed directly to people, the world would have a lot more food to go around.

Investigating how the world can sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050, an international team of scientists worked for two years to put together a report to be published in the Oct. 20 issue of Nature. (Click here to read a summary. Click here to listen to an NPR story about it.) The group called for five dramatic steps in agriculture: halting farmland expansion in the tropics, closing yield gaps on underperforming lands, using agricultural inputs more strategically, reducing food waste and shifting diets away from meat. Currently, about 40 percent of the planet’s crops are fed to animals, the report said.

Stewards of physical wellbeing have known for years that it’s healthier to eat more plants and less meat. Now as the world braces for another 2 billion mouths to feed in the next 40 years, it may become a matter of stewardship of global resources.

Here are questions for the faithful steward:
-Do you eat too much meat? How much should you cut back?
-Would you be willing to eat less meat if it meant helping to feed people you will never meet who live half a world away?
-Do you think people will rise to the challenge of eating less meat for the sake of others, or will human nature prevail?

(Photo by avlxyz, used by Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

About the Author

Rob Blezard is the website content editor for the Stewardship of Life Institute and serves as an assistant to the Bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA, in central Pennsylvania. See more posts by .

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