An intriguing approach to the question of how the heck we plan on feeding the nine billion souls expected to be alive on Earth by mid-century—which means more than doubling food production in a little more than a generation—comes from an unlikely source: CleanMetrics, an Oregon firm specializing in the emerging field of life cycle analysis and sustainability measurement.
CleanMetricsis a company that offers such services as “business analytics solution for enhancing resource productivity,” “web-based LCA software for modeling of life-cycle GHG emissions” and “life cycle inventory databases on energy and water use for raw materials in industrial, agricultural processes and food products.”
It’s also the firm that partnered with the Environmental Working Group to produce the controversial “Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health,” a documentation of all the ways that animal agriculture and meat eating is ruining life on the planet, a paper that concluded with a call to dramatically reduce the production and consumption of meat and poultry.
Thus I was unprepared for the thrust of an article authored by CleanMetrics’ president and chief technologist Kumar Venkat titled, “Framing the Food Sustainability Challenge.” Within the first few paragraphs, Venkat makes this statement:
“Given the limited availability of additional land, water and energy . . . much of the daunting challenge of sustainably feeding the world’s population will have to be met through dramatic increases in efficiencies—efficiency of food production and supply [and] efficiency of food consumption.”
So far, that’s been the prevailing meme among activists, policymakers and researchers, that hunger and food shortages are to be blamed on inequities in distribution, coupled with a lack of infrastructure across the developing world. Which is why eating less meat is seen as part of the solution: If only Western consumers would eat less animal food (thus using fewer resources), the rest of the world could take advantage—somehow—of that surplus. If only we could figure out a way to get all that feed grain and all those meat products we’re not eating into the developing world’s food distribution channels, that is.
However, add another three or four billion mouths to the current hordes of hungry people and the challenge of providing both food security and proper nutrition clearly becomes one of supply, not merely distribution.