SciComm Corner – Feeding the world with veganism, spreading the word with SciComm
Article written by Lauren Haigh
The world’s population is on the rise, and has been for some time. In 1800 there were one billion people on the planet and today there are 7.9 billion. And, according to a global population forecast by the United Nations, this figure will reach around 10.9 billion by 2100. As the population grows, so too does demand for food. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has projected that food and feed production will need to expand by 70% by 2050 to meet these needs. Can this be done?
It’s an achievable goal, but one that requires substantial change. This includes greater worldwide funding for agricultural research and investments in agricultural production and infrastructure. On a smaller but substantially important scale, an accessible change that can be implemented by the global population is a transition to veganism. A 2018 study acknowledged that veganism, along with complementary factors, could play a key role in sustainably meeting growing food demand.
Another 2018 study quantified ‘the extent to which reductions in the amount of human-edible crops fed to animals … could increase food supply’ and stated that: ‘The current production of crops is sufficient to provide enough food for the projected global population of 9.7 billion in 2050, although very significant changes to the socio-economic conditions of many (ensuring access to the global food supply) and radical changes to the dietary choices of most (replacing most meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives, and greater acceptance of human-edible crops currently fed to animals, especially maize, as directly-consumed human food) would be required.’
In a further study that looked at food loss, researchers surmised that: ‘Concurrently replacing all animal-based items in the US diet with plant-based alternatives will add enough food to feed, in full, 350 million additional people’. The rationale behind this is as follows: ‘Replacing animal-based items with more resource-efficient plant alternatives will increase food availability by permitting reallocation of production resources from feed to human food.’ So, what’s preventing humankind’s shift to a vegan diet?
There are a few hurdles, including a general resistance to the vegan lifestyle, which is considered by some to be a ‘fad’. In addition, a vegan diet can be costly if we are to purchase the equivalent meat substitutes which, let’s face it, is probably the easiest route for an avid meat eater trying to make the switch. But, I think that the biggest barrier comes in the form of a lack of understanding.
The lifestyle hasn’t always been portrayed in the most glowing terms by the media, which has had a knock-on effect on society’s perception of vegans as ‘annoying’. In fact, research has shown that only drug addicts inspire the same degree of loathing! Many may be unaware of the seriousness of the situation regarding sustainably feeding the world and not recognise the positive and significant impact that switching to a vegan diet could yield.
It is clear then that there is a need for veganism to be portrayed in an informative and useful way, and I think SciComm is the answer. SciComm is vital for enhancing and spreading awareness. It plays an integral role in the development of policies and helps educate and inform the masses in an accessible way, which is why it could prove key to making veganism more accessible to society.
SciComm is a tool for change
SciComm is a powerful tool that has the potential to educate citizens about the dangers facing our planet and how veganism offers solutions to global challenges, including that of feeding an ever-growing global population. Scientists, policy makers and academics are seen as knowledgeable and trustworthy public figures and their help is required to articulate these important messages. It’s not enough that research demonstrates that veganism could help sustainably feed society for generations to come, while also protecting the planet; this needs to be effectively disseminated in order to incite action, which is where SciComm comes in.
In a Guardian article, Martin Heller, a research specialist at the University of Michigan, said: ‘It’s … probably naive to assume that people will just change these behaviours because it’s good for the planet. It will require directed policy, changes in the restaurant and foodservice industries.’ He also stated: ‘these diet shifts need to come with government, corporate and every other kind of action’. Essentially, SciComm is crucial to spreading the word and informs policy as well as people. People need to be incentivised to adopt a vegan diet and with SciComm informatively articulating the planet’s need, this could incite transformation.
Veganism is on the uptick and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this growth, with the virus believed to have originated from an animal source, which has fuelled interest in a plant-based diet for many. But smaller changes can also have a significant impact. For example, there is research to suggest that a flexitarian or ‘semi-vegetarian’ diet can help individuals to reduce their impact on the environment. If researchers continue to investigate the effects of a plant-based diet on the environment and its potential to sustainably feed the burgeoning human population, while SciComm helps convert these findings into tangible results through informing policy and promoting change, the future of society, and indeed the planet, is hopeful.
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For over a year-and-a-half, countries worldwide have been trying to manage the outbreak of COVID-19. The ongoing pandemic came as a surprise for most people. In many ways, the virus reminded us of just how powerful and unpredictable nature can be.