Would you go vegan if it meant less people would go hungry? More than 41 million Americans find themselves at risk of going hungry at some point during the year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But new research suggests the country could feed all 327 million Americans, plus about 390 million more, by focusing on plant-based diets.
If all of the land currently devoted to raising cattle, pigs and chickens was used to grow plants instead, U.S. farmers could sustain more than twice as many people as they do now, according to a report published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ron Milo, a systems biology and sustainability researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and his coauthors examined Americans’ eating habits and agricultural production in the years 2000 through 2010, Los Angeles Times reported. For their calculations, they used a U.S. population of 300 million – but in reality, it grew from 282 million to 309 million during that time frame, according to the Census Bureau.
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The researchers figured out how to remove meat, dairy and eggs from the American diet and replace them with “nutritionally comparable” plant-based foods with the help of computers, Los Angeles Times reported. The replacement foods had to provide the same amount of calories, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals without increasing fat or cholesterol, and they had to do it by using the smallest amount of land possible, the newspaper reported.
They discovered that an area of land that can produce 100 grams of edible protein from plants would only yield 60 grams of edible protein if the same parcel of land were used to produce eggs instead. The study authors found an “opportunity food loss” of 40 percent.
That, however, was the best-case scenario. If that land were used to raise chickens, it’d only produce 50 grams of poultry protein. If you swapped eggs for dairy cows, it’d provide 25 grams of protein in the form of milk products. For pigs, only 10 grams of protein in the form of pork. For cattle, it’d only produce 4 grams of beef.