In the name of “growth”, that capitalist holy cow, a smaller number of people consume far more than their share of essential resources. Wealth concentration generates disparate purchasing power that allows richer nations as well as the better-off in every nation to consume – and waste – a disproportionate share of food, fuel, water and other resources. Arable land itself is put towards profit through speculation, mining and logging, rather than feeding people. The predictable argument that overpopulation is the main problem remains a red herring. When one person can consume or waste between two and five people’s share at a time when per-capita food production has increased, inequity, not human numbers, and the richer, not the poorer, are still the problem.
Overconsumption and the corporatisation of food supply chains also underwrite the factory farming responsible for unconscionable levels of animal suffering and the depletion of marine ecosystems. When they can afford to do so at all, the poor have eaten meat sustainably and relatively humanely through small numbers of livestock or by fishing in limited quantities. The irony of vegetarianism or veganism as a lifestyle choice in wealthier countries is that it correlates with the relative affluence of being able to choose to spend your food budget on good-quality fruits, vegetables and grains. The less affluent remain condemned to buying whatever is cheapest, whether stale vegetables, processed foods or factory-farmed chicken.
A serious discussion about food security and natural resource usage must emphasise redistributive social justice and not just lifestyle choices in the abstract. The excessive consumption of animal products clearly poses an imminent danger to both planet and human existence. But addressing this cannot take the form of a coercive herbivorous moralism. We need a comprehensive reordering of the global economy and our priorities as human beings to end the limitless scandal that is widespread hunger.