Reduce global hunger by eating healthier

by Connor Lenihan

healthy eating graphic.jpg
Art by Andrea Acevedo

It’s no secret that the human population is growing rapidly [1], and that this growth has led to a global food production crisis. This is incredibly relevant today, given the food riots in Venezuela [2], not to mention the many other countries around the world that lack the resources to feed their citizens. However, few people know that worldwide, enough food is produced to feed 10 billion people, well over the current population of 7 billion [3]. If this is true, why are there still starving people around the world who lack access to proper nutrition? The answer lies in the distribution of food calories, especially in wealthier nations such as the United States.

The first step in understanding this distribution is to consider the number of people nourished per hectare of land, as opposed to the traditional measurement of tons produced per hectare [4]. This reconsideration accounts for the amount of calories available in the food produced, thus considering not the raw amount of production but the amount of people the production can feed.

Secondly, the usage of arable land on the earth should be examined in order to determine the efficiency of food production. It is possible that the food produced can feed more people with fewer resources than are currently being allocated. This is where eating healthy comes in. Eating any kind of plant-based food, such as fruits and vegetables, is always more efficient than consuming any kind of animal product, especially meat. In fact, one and half acres of land can produce approximately 37,000 pounds of plant-based food[5] while that same area can only produce 375 pounds of meat [6]. At first this may seem bizarre, but it makes sense considering the resources that must go into raising animals in order to get meat. Those animals must eat plant-based food for long periods of time in order to grow to a size large enough to be slaughtered for meat. Throughout all of that time, the resources that could be used for feeding starving humans are instead used to raise animals for human consumption, and thus vast amounts of resources are wasted. In fact, worldwide, at least 50 percent of grain is fed to livestock, not humans [7].

To make matters worse, nations with high starvation rates use disproportionately more resources to raise livestock instead of feeding their undernourished populations. More specifically, 82 percent of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals which are then eaten by wealthier nations [8]. Once again, this serves to highlight that the issue is not with food production, but with food distribution. A prime example of this can be seen in India, a country with almost 38 percent of the world’s starving children [9]. India’s livestock production index is over 135 [10], meaning that it is producing 135 percent more livestock than it was between 2004 and 2006. Thus, while livestock production is increasing in India, child starvation is at the highest rate for any country in the world. This same trend can be seen in other developing countries around the world, such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and others.


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Ultimately, one of the most effective ways to make a real difference in reducing world hunger is simply to eat healthier. By eating less meat and more fruits and vegetables, one can reduce the amount of resources used to raise animals and instead allow those resources to go to the people who need it most. A person who follows an entirely plant-based diet (no animal products) uses 1/11th the oil, 1/13th the water [11], and 1/18th the land [12] as compared to a person who follows a typical omnivorous diet. Of course, this is not to say that everyone must make this transition overnight. Any step towards a more sustainable plant-based diet can make a significant difference in the distribution of global resources. In other words, if you want to help feed the world, start by feeding yourself!


Connor is a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major at Trinity on the pre-medicine track. He is currently applying to medical school and just finished his junior year with a semester abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Connor is interested in health and fitness and is one of the executive members of TUfit: The Health Club as well as an instructor for Body Kinesis.


The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.


[1] Carl Haub and Toshiko Kaneda, 2014 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2014).

[2] Casey, N. (2016, June 19). Venezuelans Ransack Stores as Hunger Grips the Nation. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/world/americas/venezuelans-ransack-stores-as-hunger-stalks-crumbling-nation.html?_r=1

[3] Holt-Gimenez, Eric. (2012, May08). We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.commondreams.org/views/2012/05/08/we-already-grow-enough-food-10-billion-people-and-still-cant-end-hunger

[4] Cassidy, E. S., West, P. C., Gerber, J. S., and Foley, J. A. “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare,” Environmental Research Letters (August 2013): 8.

[5]http://www.johnnyseeds.com/assets/information/direct_seeded_vegetable_crops_calculation_yield_charts.pdf

[6] Schwab, Denise; Smith, Margaret; Sellers, H. Joe; Munsch, Jim; Paine, Laura; and Gompert, Terry (2012) “Grass-fed and Organic Beef: Production Costs and Breakeven Market Prices, 2008 and 2009,”Animal Industry Report: AS 658, ASL R2684.Available at: http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/ans_air/vol658/iss1/16

[7] Sansoucy, R. (1995) “Livestock – a driving force for food security and sustainable development,” Agriculture and Consumer Protection, FAO Corporate Document Repository. Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/v8180t/v8180t07.htm

[8] Oppenlander, R. (2012, April 22). The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://comfortablyunaware.com/blog/the-world-hunger-food-choice-connection-a-summary/

[9] http://www.unicef.org/gambia/Improving_Child_Nutrition_-_the_achievable_imperative_for_global_progress.pdf

[10] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.PRD.LVSK.XD

[11] Pimentel, D. and Pimentel, M. (2003) “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Available at http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full

[12] http://www.earthsave.org/pdf/ofof2006.pdf

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