8:45 AM June 7, 2022
It’s hard for most of us in north London to imagine what it feels like to go to bed hungry, unable to afford the basic staples, let alone seeing a friend or family member die of starvation.
According to Plan International: “Some 811 million people are struggling to find food and 45 million people are on the brink of starvation, facing emergency levels of hunger or worse.”
This is largely because basic staples are becoming unaffordable to many. Wheat prices are approximately double what they were this time last year and likely to go up further next year. Soybean prices are double what they were in 2019 and 2020. The price of rice is 50% higher. Countries where the poor have suffered from the pandemic or from natural disasters from storms to droughts are particularly vulnerable.
But what are the causes? Ukraine and Russia produce around 30% of global exports of wheat. With harvests in Ukraine expected to be down a third this year, harbours blockaded, sanctions, and reduced planting, supplies will be lower for some time.
– Credit: Archant
However, this is not the only reason. India, the second biggest wheat exporter saw yields fall by about 20% with a heatwave. Global food stocks are low and will be low in part because of a reduced US harvest and late planting of the spring crop affected by rains this year, and Australian and Canadian wheat affected by floods and heatwaves respectfully. Climate change is already reducing yields.
So what can we do? Emergency food aid is only a solution for a few, whilst others remain at the mercy of market prices.
As consumers, we can help reduce the upward pressure on the prices of grain. We can do so by consuming food efficiently.
Currently, a large proportion of the world’s grain and soybean is used to feed livestock. Compared with eating this direct, this is hugely wasteful. To obtain the same amount of food, through eating meat, approximately 1.7-2 times the amount of grain is required for chicken, 2.7-5 times for pork, and 6-10 times for beef.
Eating cereals and soybeans direct but also making use of the new vegan meats will cut our demand for grain, whilst also reducing the land space needed. That way land can be used to produce more grain for food but also for land-uses like forests.
This will help stabilise our climate and ecosystems. Research shows that replacing 20% of meat consumption from beef and sheep (ruminants) and replacing it with products like Quorn, microprotein from fungal mycelium, could offset increases in global pasture area, reduce methane emissions and halve annual CO2 emissions from deforestation.
It’s not much of a sacrifice with the variety of plant-based and microprotein meat on the shelves, plus tofu, lentils and other veg protein, and fresh vegetables including from local vegbox schemes. From Beyond Meat to Impossible Burger, as well as quick and easy vegetarian meals using spice kits for example, the options are endless.
So what I’m planning to do is eat a veggie diet making full use of plant-based foods and farm-free meats. This is a call to others to act similarly, at least whilst we have less grain from Ukraine.
Maya de Souza is an environmental campaigner and chair of the Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum.