Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Two acres to feed a man

with 2 comments

One of the criticisms often levelled at meat eaters by vegetarians is that meat eating is inefficient and requires more land. Aside from the fact that we are not about to run out of land (famine in Africa and the Far East is almost always induced by wars and politics), it turns out that vegetarianism is not the most efficient use of land space:

A low-fat vegetarian diet is very efficient in terms of how much land is needed to support it. But adding some dairy products and a limited amount of meat may actually increase this efficiency, Cornell researchers suggest.

This deduction stems from the findings of their new study, which concludes that if everyone in New York state followed a low-fat vegetarian diet, the state could directly support almost 50 percent more people, or about 32 percent of its population, agriculturally. With today’s high-meat, high-dairy diet, the state is able to support directly only 22 percent of its population, say the researchers.

The study, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, is the first to examine the land requirements of complete diets. The researchers compared 42 diets with the same number of calories and a core of grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products (using only foods that can be produced in New York state), but with varying amounts of meat (from none to 13.4 ounces daily) and fat (from 20 to 45 percent of calories) to determine each diet’s “agricultural land footprint.”

They found a fivefold difference between the two extremes.

“A person following a low-fat vegetarian diet, for example, will need less than half (0.44) an acre per person per year to produce their food,” said Christian Peters, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’07, a Cornell postdoctoral associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the research. “A high-fat diet with a lot of meat, on the other hand, needs 2.11 acres.”

“Surprisingly, however, a vegetarian diet is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of land use,” said Peters.

The reason is that fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland, he explained. Meat and dairy products from ruminant animals are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land that can support pasture and hay. A large pool of such land is available in New York state because for sustainable use, most farmland requires a crop rotation with such perennial crops as pasture and hay.

Thus, although vegetarian diets in New York state may require less land per person, they use more high-valued land. “It appears that while meat increases land-use requirements, diets including modest amounts of meat can feed more people than some higher fat vegetarian diets,” said Peters.

“The key to conserving land and other resources with our diets is to limit the amount of meat we eat and for farmers to rely more on grazing and forages to feed their livestock,” said Jennifer Wilkins, senior extension associate in nutritional sciences who specializes in the connection between local food systems and health and co-authored the study with Gary Fick, Cornell professor of crop and soil sciences. “Consumers need to be aware that foods differ not only in their nutrient content but in the amount of resources required to produce, process, package and transport them.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American ate approximately 5.8 ounces of meat and eggs a day in 2005.

“In order to reach the efficiency in land use of moderate-fat, vegetarian diets, our study suggests that New Yorkers would need to limit their annual meat and egg intake to about 2 cooked ounces a day,” Peters said.

The research was supported in part by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Diet with dairy and a little meat may be best for planet

It’s been thought since Victorian times that it takes about two acres of land to feed a man. The Victorians ate a high quality diet of eggs, meat, dairy and bland starches. Unless we are planning to overpopulate the world to hell, we have plenty of space to feed ourselves properly.

Of course New York State is not Derbyshire. Out here in the wilds there is virtually no crop land at all. The locally produced meat is lamb, and the sheep are grazed on rocky moorland you would never be able to grow crops on. I don’t think there is a flat, rock-free piece of field between Sheffield and Leek. The organic farm local to our house in Matlock has a small field where they are actually able to grow potatoes. Probably the most calorifically efficient use of the land. Green vegetables on the other hand aren’t exactly a calorifically efficient use of land, are they?


Written by alienrobotgirl

6 May, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Vegetarianism

2 Responses

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  1. Although war is a common trigger of famine, reduced access to productive land is commonly a pressure in the lead up to war.

    And while the optimal land use may be achieved by a bit of meat consumption, I don’t think 2 ounces of mear per day really cuts it for most omnivores.

    I’m not on board with the idea that we should all be vegans in order to accomodate more people. The fact is that for an optimal diet, the planet is already overpopulated.

    Instead of trying to get the planet to accomodate more people, we need to address the real problem: population. Otherwise it just pushes the crisis to the point where we have no maneuvering room.


    7 May, 2008 at 4:36 am

  2. Hi Missbossy

    I do agree with your point. I don’t see why we should try to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of the land, particularly when human health will suffer as a result.

    I think with regards optimal diet, we really aren’t particularly overpopulated. I have a little background in the sociology of the developing world, and poverty and famine is far more to do with war, cash crops, and inappropriate land use than too many people. In fact rural families are large specifically because the more hands you have, the more food you can produce for everyone. The point when this changes is when people move into cities and can’t feed lots of children on a factory wage.

    Britain is one of the most heavily populated countries on the planet – but we could actually pretty much meet our demand for food without importing if we had to. I think it would do the world a favour if we drank less coffee and tea and ate less vegetables from Africa though.


    10 June, 2008 at 1:30 am

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