(This is an advance excerpt from The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, scheduled for October 2015 release. It’s an actual cookbook written by anarchists, and includes accurate information about anarchism and “recipes” for social change.)
“Bread, it is bread that the Revolution needs!”
–Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
Food policies may be the most important question of our time. Food policies impact the climate crisis, civil liberties, trade, poverty, species extinction, public health, civil unrest, migration, hunger and war.
The primary problem is the system of industrial animal agriculture. Its purpose is to produce maximum profits for investors and to centralize control of food production. Feeding people is a distinctly secondary concern. Anarchists reject this under the philosophy that “food is a right, not a privilege.”
Anarchists have been concerned with alleviating hunger since the advent of anarchism in the mid 1800s, but it was Peter Kropotkin’s 1892 book, The Conquest of Bread that helped make the right to food a core theme of anarchist philosophy. Kropotkin writes that “The soil is cleared to a great extent, fit for the reception of the best seeds, ready to give a rich return for the skill and labour spent upon it–a return more than sufficient for all the wants of humanity. The methods of rational cultivation are known.”
Every clod of soil we cultivate in Europe has been watered by the sweat of several races of men. Every acre has its story of enforced labour, of intolerable toil, of the people’s sufferings. There is not even a thought, or an invention, which is not common property, born of the past and the present. By what right then can any one whatever appropriate theleast morsel of this immense whole and say,’This is mine, not yours?’
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN 2006 report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” says “livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Using a methodology that considers the entire commoditychain, it estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport.” Animal agriculture adds 7,516 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
Worldwatch Institute’s Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang’s 2009 study, “Livestock and Climate,” reports the impact of animal agriculture may be even greater: 32,564 million metric tons of CO2 annually, or 51 percent of total emissions. (The US environmental Protection Agency reports that transportation is responsible for 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions, industry is responsible for 19%, and energy production is responsible for 26% of all climate damaging emissions, which implies that the amount produced by animal agriculture is higher than the roughly 10% specified by the UN FAO and the roughly 50% specified by Worldwatch—a very considerable amount no matter how you slice it.)
The climate crisis, caused in part by animal agriculture, is the principle cause of unprecedented droughts (notably in the Plains States and California, America’s breadbaskets). In addition, animal agriculture uses a disproportionate amount of fresh water. A Center for Science in the Public Interest study states that feed grown for live stock (mostly heavily subsidized corn and soy beans, but also sorghum, millet, and alfalfa) accounts for 56% of fresh water consumption in the United States. Estimates of the amount of water used to produce one pound of beef are all over the map, from about 100 gallons up to 2,000, but one thing all estimates agree on is that it takes far more water to produce beef than any vegetable. (Pork and chicken production are also water intensive.)
The world produces enough food to feed everyone, if food were distributed equally. There is an abundance. In fact, in many countries, every day in every city, far more edible food is discarded than is needed to feed those who do not have enough to eat. Yet, nearly a billion people go hungry every day.
Consider this: Before food reaches your table, it is produced and handled by farmers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. Much perfectly edible food is discarded for a variety of business reasons at every step. In the average American city, approximately 10 percent of all solid waste is food. This comes to an incredible total of 50 billion pounds per year, or about 160 pounds per person per year.
Over $100 billion worth of edible food per year is discarded in the United States. The situation is similar in many countries in Europe as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada. With the exception of Africa and parts of Asia, where poverty is so great that little edible food is discarded, it is possible in every community to recover large amounts of that food.
Estimates indicate that only 4 billion pounds of food per year could completely end hunger in the United States. A 2008 study by the Food Ethics Council in England argues that excessive consumption of food by people in wealthy countries is increasing food prices for people in the developing world, and that by utilizing the millions of tons of edible food that is thrown away each year in just the U.S. and U.K., more than a billion people could be lifted out of hunger worldwide. In the U.S. alone, 50 million people are “food insecure” and 20 million are “very food insecure”–that is, hungry, missing at least some meals—and approximately a third of them are children.
Clearly, there is an abundance of edible, recoverable food going to waste. To recover it and use it to feed people, three things are needed. First, the food must be collected. Second, it must be organized or prepared in a form appropriate for consumption. Third, the food must be made easily accessible to those who are hungry.
It’s no accident that this is not already happening. We do not have a democratic say in how food is produced or distributed. Everyone would choose to have enough to eat, but in hierarchical economies where the threat of job loss allows owners to keep wages low, the intentional withholding of food helps increase its price, and consequent profits. A policy of scarcity is essential to political and economic control. An underclass results from policies that encourage domination and violence.
In our society, it is acceptable, simply business as usual, to profit from others’ suffering and misery.
Kropotkin writes about the political roots of hunger and the failure of revolutions to make the basic need for food a priority. There are always high-minded debates about “freedom,” “political power” and “democracy,” but rarely a plan to address the needs of those going hungry.
The three great popular movements which we have seen in France during the last hundred years differ from each other in many
ways, but they have one common feature…
Great ideas sprang up at such times, ideas that have moved the world; words were spoken which still stir our hearts, at the interval of more than a century. But the people were starving in the slums.
Famine was abroad in the land, such famine as had hardly been seen underthe old regime” (of monarchs and capitalists).
While Kropotkin was not a pacifist, The Conquest of Bread describes the futility of using violence to enforce access to food.
“The Girondists are starving us!” was the cry in the workmen’s quarters in 1793, and thereupon the Girondists were guillotined, and full powers were given to ‘the Mountain’ and to the Commune. The Commune indeed concerned itself with the question of bread, and made heroic efforts to feed Paris. At Lyons, Fouche and Collot d’Herbois [municipalities] established city granaries, but the sums spent on filling them were woefully insufficient. The town councils made great efforts to procure corn; the bakers who hoarded flour were hanged–and still the people lacked bread.
The Conquest of Bread goes on to say:
Then they turned on the royalist conspirators and laid the blame at their door. They guillotined a dozen or fifteen a day–servants and duchesses alike, especially servants, for the duchesses had gone to Coblentz. But if they had guillotined a hundred dukes and viscounts every day, it would have been equally hopeless.
By focusing on toppling those in power while ignoring the need to replace the old order with a non-hierarchical system involving the people in deciding how to meet the basic needs of the community, revolutionaries helped sow the seeds of their own demise, a lesson anarchists could remember today as community after community descends into chaos.
The Arab Spring provides a recent example of the failure of activists to build a sufficient infrastructure to reduce the suffering of the poor. It would have taken years of preparation to replace authoritarian institutions with a culture of mutual aid and social equality. Even though hunger was the spark that ignited the uprisings in North Africa, the Arab Spring has failed to end that hunger. The power vacuum created by overthrow of of the old authoritarian order was filled with a series of new authoritarian rulers each prepared to use force to maintain control.
This picture is typical of all our revolutions. In 1848 the workers of Paris placed ‘three months of starvation’ at the service of the Republic, and then, having reached the limit of their powers, they made, in June, one last desperate effort–an effort which was drowned in blood. In 1871 the Commune perished for lack of combatants. It had taken measures for the separation of Church and State, but it neglected, alas, until too late, to take measures for providing the people with bread. And so it came to pass in Paris that elegantes and fine gentlemen could spurn the confederates, and bid them go sell their lives for a miserable pittance, and leave their ‘betters’ to feast at their ease in fashionable restaurants.
At last the Commune saw its mistake, and opened communal kitchens. But it was too late. Its days were already numbered, and the troops of Versailles were on the ramparts.
‘Bread, it is bread that the Revolution needs!
Let others spend their time in issuing pompous proclamations, in decorating themselves lavishly with official gold lace, and in talking about political liberty!
Be it ours to see, from the first day of the Revolution to the last, in all the provinces fighting for freedom, that there is not a single man who lacks bread, not a single woman compelled to stand with the wearied crowd outside the bakehouse-door, that haply a coarse loaf may be thrown to her in charity, not a single child pining for want of food.
The industrial agriculture industries promote the belief that hunger is caused by the scarcity of food, and that the only solution is to increase “productivity” and reduce trade barriers. But it is clear that we can and do grow more than enough food to feed everyone. The solution to world hunger is to end corporate control of agriculture.
The myth that hunger is caused by scarcity brought DuPont scientist, Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution” to prominence. Industrial agribusiness credits his Green Revolution with “saving over a billion people from starvation.” They claim that hunger was reduced by the introduction of high-yield varieties of grains and hybridized seeds, improvements in irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
Borlaug created the World Food Prize in 1986 in conjunction with the General Foods Corporation. Today the World Food Prize is sponsored by companies and foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dupont Pioneer, John Deere Foundation, and Monsanto.
Some of those receiving the $250,000 award are leading figures in industrial agriculture. For example The three recipients of the World Food Prize in 2006 helped open the Brazilian Cerrado to animal agriculture. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Cerrado is the “biologically richest savanna in the world.” Laerte Ferreira at the Federal University of Goias in Goiania, whose institute has been mapping and tracking deforestation in the Cerrado since 2002, reports that around 50 percent of the Cerrado or 250 million acres has already been converted to agriculture, mostly cattle pasture and soybean cultivation for animal feed. Over 70% of Brazil’s beef cattle production is carried out in the Cerrado. Conservation International reports that 30% of the Cerrado has been converted to human use and an additional 40% of this vast ecosystem is currently being used for grazing and charcoal production. The August 26, 2010 edition of The Economist published an article, “Brazilian agriculture: The miracle of the cerrado,” saying that “As a result, Brazil has become the world’s second biggest soybean exporter and, thanks to the boom in animal feed production, Brazil is now the biggest exporter of beef and poultry in the world.”
Charles H. Rivkin, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs under President Obama wrote an opinion piece titled “Feeding our Growing Planet by Opening More Markets” that was published in the Des Moines Register on October 16, 2014. Rivkin proclaimed that the solution to feeding the world will come from those sponsoring the World Food Prize and their innovations in genetically engineered seeds, chemicals, and the lifting of trade restrictions and tariffs. In other words, solutions that will maximize the profits and control of the companies sponsoring the prize.
Right now, more than 800 million people are chronically undernourished. While that figure has gone down by more than 100 million over the last decade, we will still have to increase world food production by 60 per cent if we are going to meet the demands of nine billion people by the year 2050–the estimated world population for that year. Not only that, we’ll have to respond to other food-security challenges, such as the effects of extreme weather, famine, as well as economic and political instability. [“food-security challenges” caused directly by the policies being promoted by those sponsoring the WorldFood Prize]
Rivkin goes on to state:
Secretary [of State, John] Kerry has long recognized that ‘economic policy is foreign policy.’ And that’s why my bureau–the Economic and Business Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of State–is doing everything it can to support American agriculture, from opening markets to advocating for American business interests from our many embassies around the world.
The agricultural sector has enjoyed its five strongest years in trade in the history of the United States. Its exports grew from $98.5 billion in 2009 to $144.1 billion in 2013, and its trade supports almost one million jobs at home…
One of our most ambitious efforts ever to open markets in Asia and the Pacific region is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Working with eleven countries in the Pacific region, our trade negotiators are aiming for an agreement that will sharply lower tariffs and technical barriers to trade, liberalize investment, and set high-standard trade
We are also working to improve food security, in part through promoting biotechnology. While there is considerable political debate about the subject, we believe it’s critical that more countries develop improved, science-based regulatory frameworks, so they can develop crops and plants that are responsive to changing conditions. We are also involved in projects aimed at reducing post-harvest loss and promoting responsible agricultural investment.
Apparently passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is so important to U.S. national security that US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on April 6, 2015 said that, “In fact, you may not expect to hear this from a Secretary of Defense, but in terms of our rebalance in the broadest sense, passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft
Hunger and famine are not generally caused by natural disasters, droughts, insect infestations, blights or the inability to grow enough food. More often hunger and starvation are caused by government or corporate policies. In many cases tons of food is exported for sale from counties where people are hungry. Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset’s book, World Hunger: 12 Myths, argues that “there is enough food; that hunger is not necessary; that hunger is a social creation; hungry people a social phenomenon, and consequently one that depends on us and that we can change.”
Hunger myths include that there is not enough food; nature’s to blame; there are too many mouths to feed; it’s a question of food vs. our environment; that the Green Revolution is the answer; the free market can end hunger; free trade is the answer; more U.S. aid will help the hungry; We benefit from their hunger; and it’s a matter of food vs. freedom.
A 1991 edition of the anarchist paper, Workers Solidarity, includes an article by sociologist Aileen O’Carroll titled “Why half the world’s children go to bed hungry.” It begins by saying that “It’s hard to know how anyone can consider capitalism a viable system when looking at the situation of the less developed countries… [I]t seems unreal that people are going hungry. A recent UN report estimates that 30 million people face starvation. Yet beef, butter and wine mountains rot in European warehouses, farmers are ploughing crops back into the land.”
During the Potato Famine, Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan served under both Peel and Russell in Great Britain’s treasury, and had prime responsibility for famine relief
in Ireland. He famously wrote, in a letter to his friend Thomas Spring Rice, that the famine was an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as being “the judgement of God.” Irish leader John Mitchel noted in 1848 that “The English indeed, call that famine a dispensation of Providence; and ascribe it entirely to the blight of the potatoes. But potatoes failed in like manner all over Europe, yet there was no famine save in Ireland. The British account of the matter, then, is, first a fraud; second a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.”
“Thomas Gallagher points out in Paddy’s Lament, that during the first winter of famine, 1846-47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry–food that could have prevented those deaths. Throughout the famine, as Gallagher notes, there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.”
The idea that economic and political policies rather than inability to grow enough food are the cause of hunger and famine is supported by Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread. Kropotkin says:
In Russia for instance, the peasant works sixteen hours a day, and half starves from three to six months every year, in order to export the grain with which he pays the landlord and the State. To-day the police appear in the Russian village as soon as the harvest is gathered in, and sell the peasant’s last horse and last cow for arrears of taxes and rent due to the landlord, unless the victim immolates himself of his own accord by selling the grain to the exporters. Usually, rather than part with his livestock at a disadvantage, he keeps only a nine-months’ supply of grain, and sells the rest. Then, in order to sustain life until the next harvest, he mixes birch-bark and tares with his flour for three months, if it has been a good year, and for six months if it has been bad, while in London they are eating biscuits made of his wheat.
Hunger, today, in the United States, is also staggering. As mentioned above, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported in 2008 that nearly 50 million Americans lived in “food insecure households,” with a third of them being children. So, in “the richest country on earth,” more than one in five children are “food insecure.”
The USDA reported that 17.3 million people lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security.” That means one or more people in the household went hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This was up from 11.9 million in 2007 and 8.5 million in 2000.
Race has a huge impact on hunger in the United States, with 25.7% of black households and 26.9% of hispanic American households experiencing food insecurity–far higher rates than the national average.
The Agriculture Department said 39.7 million people, or one in eight Americans, were enrolled for food stamps during February 2010. By February 2012, the number
stood at 46.22 million. And that’s still not enough to even come close to eliminating “food insecurity.”
Global poverty and hunger are also increasing. The World Food Organization reports
- 1.02 billion people in 2009 do not have enough to eat.” That’s more than the combined populations of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union.
- 25,000 people (adults and children) died every day in 2009 from hunger and related causes.
- The number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million in 2008, largely due to higher food prices from speculation and the high cost of seeds and chemicals resulting from introduction of genetically modified products that have forced many farmers into bankruptcy.
- 907 million people in developing countries were hungry during 2009.
- More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people of the world were women or girls in 2009.
- Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes in 2009.
Clearly, the majority of people going hungry today are not the stereotyped homeless wandering America’s streets or starving Africans. Hungry people are children and single parents (mostly women), the working poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the chronically ill, and those on fixed incomes (such as veterans and people with physical and mental challenges). All of these people find themselves in the clutches of oppressive poverty even while trying to improve their condition. With the global economy in a state of crisis, many people who thought of themselves as middle class just a year or two ago are now finding that they must rely on soup kitchens and food banks to feed their families. Each month more and more people in the United States and other wealthy countries need to choose between paying rent,
utilities, medicine, or food.
According to the World Food Organization, 24,000 died every day from hunger in 2008. In 2013 it was 25,000.
Food is so important that its increased cost sparked the Arab Spring. Millions could relate to Tunisian produce vendor Mohamed Bouazizi when he torched himself out of frustration in December 2010. The crisis that impelled Bouazizi to his drastic act started three years before.
The price of staples nearly doubled in 2007. Droughts, floods and other extreme weather events reduced harvests worldwide, especially in the U.S. Plains States. The situation in Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, was bad enough that its government banned the export of wheat in 2010. Floods reduced rice cultivation in Asia, driving up the cost of another staple for billions of people.
Many governments subsidize the cost of staples, especially flour, as in Egypt, in order to reduce popular discontent. But many governments were forced to increase their prices so dramatically that many of the world’s poorest people found themselves paying half or more of their income just to eat.
The housing crisis in the United States also affected the price of food. When the US housing market crashed, speculators turned to the one thing everyone needs, food, driving up its cost, while at the same time the US government subsidized the production of corn ethanol—for use in cars! Again, driving up the cost of food.
Authors Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam, Karla Z. Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studied the impact of speculation on increased food prices. In their 2011 study, “The Food Crisis: A Quantitative Model of Food Prices Including Speculators and Ethanol Conversion,” they repor:
Claims that speculators cannot influence grain prices are shown to be invalid by direct analysis of price setting practices of granaries. Both causes of price increase, speculative investment and ethanol conversion, are promoted by recent regulatory changes/deregulation of the commodity markets, and policies promoting the conversion of corn to ethanol.
Forbes columnist Jesse Colombo noted, “While the late-2008 Global Financial Crisis resulted in a 48% plunge in commodities prices, they staged a quick and powerful recovery, rising 112% from the depths of the crisis to a mid-2011 peak that surpassed the prior 2008 peak by over 10%.” For example, corn increased by 348%, wheat by 275%, and oats by 300% from 2001 to 2011, with the sharpest increases following the collapse of the US housing market in 2007 and 2008.
Corporate control of food production is adding to the crisis. Agro-giant Monsanto made the bold move of doubling the price of Roundup in 2008 and drastically increasing the price of seeds in 2009, notably soybeans by 42%. Other seed companies followed suit. Monsanto states, “Without the ability to patent and profit from our efforts, there would be little incentive to develop the technology that thousands of farmers use today” (that is, Roundup and “Roundup-ready” GMO seeds). Monsanto executive Robert Fraley was quoted in Farm Journal as saying, “What you’re seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it’s really a consolidation of the entire food chain.”
Philip H. Howard from Michigan State University writes:
Since the commercialization of transgenic crops in the mid-1990s, the sale of seeds has become dominated globally by Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta. In addition, the largest firms are increasingly networked through agreements to cross-license transgenic seed traits.
Sadly, instead of helping to end hunger, the food industry is driving farmers off their land. Contracts that force farmers to buy seeds and chemicals every season have forced many into bankruptcy, often causing these proud stewards of the land to kill themselves. I witnessed one such suicide on September 10, 2003, during a protest against the World Trade Organization. I stood a few yards away from 55-year-old Lee Kyang Hae, the president of South Korea’s Federation of Farmers and Fishermen, when he climbed the chain link fence protecting the delegates and stabbed himself to death. Song Nan Sou, president of the Farmers Management
Association spoke out, saying, “His death is not a personal accident, but reflects the desperate fighting of 3.5 million Korean farmers.”
On March 19, 2014 the Associated Press (AP) reported that “More than 100,000 farmers commit suicide in India every year while under insurmountable debts.” In 2008, Prince Charles spoke at a Delhi conference, stating that the use of genetically modified crops had become a “global moral question,” and denouncing the biotech industry, noting, “the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming … from the failure of many GM crop varieties.”
In a November 2, 2008 Daily Mail article, Andrew Malone wrote about Indian farmers and their struggle to pay for genetically modified (GM) seeds and chemicals:
Official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month. Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonizing deaths. Most swallow insecticide—a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.
Ending world hunger is possible. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 72% of the food that people eat comes from small farms and gardens. Activists such as Vandana Shiva, Raj Patel, and Ronnie Cummins, as well as groups like La Via Campesina, Food Not Lawns, The Cornucopia Institute, Food First!, and the Organic Consumers Association are organizing to increase the percentage of food cultivated by women and independent farmers, which will help alleviate the problem.
While the focus is mainly on human suffering, all beings may face hunger. Nothing highlights how circles of compassion are integral to sustaining our ecosystem more than the universal need for food–from the smallest phytoplankton to the largest whale. Trees need nutrients from soil and light from the sun. Livestock can’t survive without fresh water, grasses, and grains. You and I need fruit, vegetables, and grains to survive. A study by scientists at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia first published in the July 29, 2010 issue of Nature, reported that the global population of phytoplankton, at the base of the global food chain, has fallen about 40% since 1950. They take in carbon dioxide and produce half the world’s oxygen. Along with providing as much oxygen as all terrestrial plants and trees, phytoplankton feed many animals in our oceans, including whales, small fish, shrimp, zooplankton, and jellyfish who, in turn, provide food for other marine animals. The research suggests that rising sea temperatures are responsible for the steady decline in phytoplankton populations. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the oceans are warming. Jay Lawrimore, chief of climate analysis at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, told Scientific American, “The global temperature has increased more than 1 degree Fahrenheit [0.55 degree C] since 1900 and the rate of warming since the late 1970s has been about three times greater than the century-scale trend.”
Hunger and poverty in Asia and Africa have contributed to the extinction and near extinction of many larger animals. When I was in Nigeria,I often saw wild animals for sale on the roadside as “bushmeat.” Transnational corporations and free-trade policies have encouraged timber harvesting and mining in many wilderness areas, but these wealthy companies often fail to provide adequate compensation to their workers or to local communities, causing people to poach increasing numbers of wild animals, including endangered species. Mining and logging have also destroyed native habitats. One solution suggested by experts with the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force to slow the killing of endangered wildlife is to introduce cattle and other livestock. But this contributes to deforestation, reducing the natural habitats needed to support native animals. Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has spent decades working with apes in Africa. She says, “The bushmeat crisis is the most significant and immediate threat to wildlife populations in Africa today.”
The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada reports that over 5 million tons of bushmeat are shipped from the Congo Basin every year. Nearly 300 chimpanzees were slaughtered for bushmeat in The Republic of Congo alone in 2003. The total value of the bushmeat trade around the world is estimated to be worth $1 billion annually.
At the same time that wildlife in the bush is being devastated in West Africa, the fisheries off the coast are also in danger. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization notes that all West African fisheries are now over-exploited. Coastal fisheries there have declined 50% in the past 30 years, mostly due to over-fishing by industrial fleets based in the European Union, using ships individually able to net tens of thousands of pounds of fish each day.
Industrial fishing is also driving marine species to extinction. The crisis is not limited to Africa. The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that “Around 85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted, fully exploited or in recovery from exploitation.” Over 400 million people, many living in extreme poverty, depend on fish to survive. Scientists believe fish stocks in tropical seas could be reduced by another 40% by 2050, when millions of more people may be depending on fish for food.
Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet indicates that one way to reduce hunger and protect the environment is to introduce the public to a vegan diet. Lappe points out, “An acre of cereals produces five times more protein than an acre devoted to beef production,” and that, “It takes 16 pounds of grain to make a pound of meat.” With every passing year, the need to encourage the public to change its eating habits has become more urgent.
Changing to a vegan diet is an effective way to reduce hunger since it is possible to feed many more people on less land and with less water on a plant-based diet than a meat-based diet. Cornell University scientists report that the U. S. could feed 800 million people with grain that is now fed to livestock. The grain that is currently fed to animals for global meat production could feed over 2 billion people. The World Watch Institute states that it takes 49 gallons of water to produce a pound of apples, 33 gallons to produce a pound of carrots, 24 gallons to produce a pound of potatoes, 23 gallons for a pound of tomatoes and 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that one acre of farmland can produce 356 pounds of protein from soybeans, 265 pounds from rice, 211 from corn, or 192 from legumes. They report that when the same acre is used for animal production, these numbers drop drastically: only 82 pounds of protein are produced from milk, 78 from eggs, and only 20 pounds of protein if the acre is used to produce beef.
Again, we can’t stress this enough: The choices we make as a society about food production can help solve the crisis of climate change. This ongoing disaster can be slowed if everyone eats a more plant-based diet, as The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a federally appointed panel of nutritionists created in 1983 that helps set federal dietary guidelines, is recommending that Americans eat less meat because it’s better for the environment,” sparking outrage from industry groups representing the nation’s purveyors of beef, pork and poultry. The 571-page report published in 2015 says that “The organically grown vegan diet also had the lowest estimated impact on resources and ecosystem quality, and the average Italian diet had the greatest projected impact.” Beef was the single food with the greatest projected impact on the environment; other foods estimated to have high impact included cheese, milk, and seafood.
Livestock farming generates 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, while all the cars, planes, trains, and boats on earth account for a combined 13%. The clear cutting of forests for grazing lands adds to the degradation of our atmosphere, while the high concentrations of methane from factory-farm meat production contribute significantly to climate change, as methane per molecule has approximately 20 times the impact of carbon dioxide. As well, factory meat farming dumps massive amounts of toxic waste into our waterways, and the chemicals used for corporate agriculture wash into our rivers and oceans, killing fish and destabilizing ecosystems. A vegan diet would be better for the environment, consume fewer resources and it would be healthier for us individually.
While anarchists encourage a vegan diet for political and economic reasons, there are immediate and practical benefits for those who want to have a direct impact on hunger. Problems with food spoilage are greatly reduced when dealing strictly with vegetables, fruit and other vegan foods.
A vegan diet reflects our desire to promote a nonviolent future, and reflects the principles central to living in and organizing an egalitarian, nonhierarchical society. Teaching people about the health benefits of a vegan diet helps to create a healthy, caring attitude towards ourselves, others, and the planet as a whole.
We also encourage everyone to take direct action by uniting their communities to cultivate, recover, and distribute food. Working on such projects helps to build trust, and trust is necessary to the transition to a nonhierarchical community in which everyone’s needs will be met. It may take time, but the philosophy of anarchism can provide a foundation for a transition away from the disaster of capitalism and state control, and the hunger and environmental disaster they produce.
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Keith McHenry is the author of Hungry for Peace: How You Can Help End Poverty and War with Food Not Bombs.