This is a response to Wiesman’s post, “How (and why) I became (mostly) vegetarian.” Please do actually read that post, but for those of you who won’t, I’ll provide a summary.
In his post, Wiesman tells the story of how he and his wife became “social carnivores” and explains that his rationale for (mostly) stopping meat consumption was that doing so would reduce fuel consumption and help the fight against world hunger.
While there is no dispute as to the fuel consumption rationale, I’m pretty skeptical of the “eating less meat would reduce world hunger” argument. It definitely makes sense to me that the grain we feed to food animals “could,” in some theoretical sense, be used to feed people, and I think if nothing else, if we ate less meat, some of the grain that would go to feeding animals would enter the US grain market and reduce prices, which would be good for American poor people (although again, that’s theoretically. In practicality, this would probably just mean the farm lobby would demand greater subsidies and the sale-point savings on grain products might be offset by losses in government benefits/higher taxes used to pay for increased subsidization).
But is it really the case, as a practical matter, that this grain would go to feeding people? Is the problem of world hunger actually one that can be explained in simple supply-and-demand terms, where excesses in supply naturally result in lower prices and thus less hunger? It seems to me that with nearly 40% of the world’s population living on less than two dollars per day, nothing could force American grain prices low enough to solve hunger by market forces. To me, the problem of world hunger seems to be one of geography, not economics. The answer is not so much in reducing the consumption of resource-rich nations, whose excesses have only limited capacity to do good abroad, but in maximizing the yield of resource-poor countries. Focusing our energies on making innovations in hardier, higher-yield, and more nutritious crops that hungry countries can grow and distribute domestically seems to me a far more effective response to world hunger than wringing our hands about all the resources we devote to raising our own livestock.