World Hunger, Eating the Floor and Happy Stomachs

If we’d ever bothered to get married in the first place, this is the point where The Man from Salford would divorce me.  He is already on the defensive because I suggested that the problems he’s experiencing with his knee at the moment might be exacerbated by his love of bacon sandwiches.  But the subject of this post is vegetarianism, or at least semi-vegetarianism. 

Beef Cattle at the Sustainable Living Project

Just as the sun has started shining  and The Man from Salford is happily throwing igniting fluid all over the barbecue, (FSC charcoal, he chirps, better than burning kerosene on the Rayburn), I suggest we might stop to consider our level of meat consumption.  He is not amused, but world hunger is hardly a laughing matter.

Last week aid charities claimed to have given out record levels of food aid this year, although did point out that in part this may be because they are becoming more effective at meeting need.  Nevertheless, despite evidence to the contrary on our supermarket shelves, there is a global food shortage. 

There are a number of reasons for this shortage.  Rising world population is certainly a huge issue.  The burning of food for bio-fuel has restricted availability and pushed prices way beyond the means of many of the world’s poor.  At local levels food production is halted or disturbed by shifting and unpredictable climate events.  A year ago Dr Rajendra Pachauri suggested we should all consider being vegetarian for one day of the week in order to protect the environment. 

Environmental solutions at a global level do not always translate well on a local basis however.  Yes meat production does contribute to 18% of the worlds greenhouse gas emmissions.  This is not just because of bovine flatulence.  Huge swathes of rainforest are lost either to  provide grazing for cattle or to produce soy feed for that cattle.  This type of farming is not sustainable and does no favours to the world’s poor.  Yet the beef cattle pictured above can hardly be held responsible for destruction of rainforests.  

These cows are our local cows.  Willow and I were on one of our wild flower hunts when I took this picture.  I liked their reflection in the canal.  There was a group of fourteen in this field including calves and a bull.   It is hardly a scene of intensive or aggressive agriculture.  When Goldilocks first started to talk she pointed to a field of cows not unlike these, giggled and said, ‘Look, they’re eating the floor!’      

Eating the floor around here means pasture.  The land is not suitable for large scale arable cultivation, or at least not without resorting to unsustainable methods.  Much of Britain consists of this type of pasture land.  Livestock graze on grass, the grass (all being well) is cut during the summer months to provide winter feed.  The soil in this kind of pasture stores carbon safely away.  The pasture is rich in nitrogen fixing clovers and can be sustained without resorting to energy intensive fertilisers.  A Turkish lentil farmer would think I was bonkers (and our local farmers would agree with him) for importing lentils to eat when we have such a rich source of high quality protein on our doorstep.

Nevertheless, meat from pasture could only sustain somewhere in between a third to two thirds of Britain’s current meat and dairy consumption.  This means our over indulgence in these food products is still almost certainly contributing to environmental degradation and world hunger.  

I found a George Monbiot article from a couple of years ago, (failed to bookmark for reference and now can’t find it again!) that suggested a weekly allowance of 420g of meat per person per week would constitute a sustainable portion.  It doesn’t sound too bad, especially if like me you like mixing it all up with pulses and veg anyway.  I can make a rasher of bacon go a long way!  But I think it’s hard to insist people self ration in this way and can’t help feeling there’s something slightly misanthropic about it.  Eating with your friends and family is, after all, a celebration of life.

I would rather people made a positive choice to engage with good wholesome vegetarian foods, as Dr Pachauri suggested, at least one or two days of the week.  That’s why I’ve chosen as my book of the month Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Supercook. My friend Sylvie from Toulouse bought me a Rose Elliot vegetarian cookbook twenty years ago, it’s now out of print so I couldn’t make that my book of the month.  This is the inscription that Sylvie wrote:

I give you this book, which should be useful to cook a happier food…It is so important to have a Happy Stomach!

I really wish it was possible for everyone in the world to have a happy stomach.  If you are interested in issues of world hunger and climate change  and would like to take positive action why not visit  Oxfam’s Here and Now initiative?

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5 comments to World Hunger, Eating the Floor and Happy Stomachs

  • Hi Goo
    As always, incisive and spot on!
    Our overconsumption of empty calories is fuelling obesity in the “developed” world; deforestation, poverty and hunger in the “developing” world. Local, seasonal food (maybe even a 100 mile diet) is desperately needed. Our complete disconnection from our food and our fixation with “nutrition” rather than real food hides the impact from us. If we knew where our food came from or even had to hunt/forage our meat then surely we would eat less of it and generally more seasonally. One of the issues that worries me most is how we will feed ourselves in twenty years’ time after peak oil has really started to bite.

  • goo

    Yes Kester, you are quite right. Cutting down our overall consumption (of just about everything!) will quite literally do a world of good to us all. As for peak oil, this is indeed a worry. All of our farmers rely heavily on diesel and it would take a long time to cut a field of grass without a tractor! The sooner we all start questioning our consumption patterns, patterns of distribution and looking for sensible alternatives the better.

  • I reckon you are on to the best way of spreading vegetarianism – not by rationing and telling people they are bad for eating meat, but by publicising how good veggie food is! I’m not talking Linda pie out of the fridge either, I’m talking all the easy to do yummy recipes that are easy on the stomach and pocket. Confirmed carnies think that veggies are restricting their diets but sometimes when I see how reliant people can be on meat I think it’s the other way round.

  • goo

    Exactly! I do eat meat, but funnily enough my favourite comfort foods are vegan – I love pulses of any kind with spices and rice and just simple tomato sauce and pasta never fails to make me feel better on a bad day!

  • I found your website through a yahoo search on “earth-friendly” I really enjoy it! We have started a “green” directory and would really enjoy it if you added your site for everyone to find it http://www.everygreenthing.net. Its free, and its only for sites dedicated to the sustaining of our green Earth! Thanks for being you.

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