By Lieselot Bertho
“How to feed the world?” has been a question that has fascinated me since I was a child. At the age of 10, I was proudly announcing to anyone that would listen that I was going save the world from hunger and disease. My vision was somewhat punctured when someone pulled me up short by asking how exactly I planned to feed everyone. Clearly, I didn’t have an answer, and the complex reality of how we can realistically feed the world started to hit home. Years later, this question still drives me.
In 2011 the world’s population grew above the unprecedented number of 7 billion. Population growth is not going to slow down. According to some predictions, the population will double in less than 100 years. Knowing that some 805 million people in the world already struggle to be able to produce or afford enough to eat, how are we going to be able to meet the consumption requirements for double that number of people? And all with shrinking agricultural land and increasing competition for fresh water and other natural resources?
Many solutions that could contribute to solving the above question have been proposed; from the logical–such as increasing agricultural yields rates–to the improbable, such as collectively moving to another planet. What’s clear, though, is that the answer is not going to rest on one single solution and it’s a solution we all have to be part of.
I may not be able to save the world from hunger on my own, but I still have my part to play and when we all work together; we can make a significant difference. Working for Monsanto has reinforced this view. I know that I and the great team of people I work with are part of the solution: working together, each contributing our own small but significant part to making agriculture more efficient, sustainable and accessible with modern and innovative tools and little by little, trying to get closer to finding solutions to feed a growing population.
It was from this conviction that some in the Monsanto Brussels team had the idea to participate in the Belgian initiative “Dagen Zonder Vlees” (“Days Without Meat”). This project encourages participants to reduce their meat and fish consumption for the 40 days before Easter in order to shrink their ecological footprint. The idea is not to turn vegetarian but rather to raise awareness of the impact of our eating choices and show how every individual can make a difference. Did you know that you need 9 kilos of grain to produce 1 kilo of beef? And did you know this is equivalent to the production of almost 14 kilos of CO2?.
Whilst we’re certainly not advocating removing meat as part of anyone’s- diets–it’s not our business tell people what or how much to eat, and if anything many people in developing countries need more protein in their diets–this exercise has already showed the impact individual decisions can have. So far, 1 and 10 colleagues from our Brussels office said “see you soon” to our beloved beef steaks, sushi, spaghetti bolognaise and burgers for 40 days. In turn, we welcomed a diet of brightly coloured seasonal vegetables, newly discovered ingredients (quinoa anyone?) and maybe even , an increase in ice cream and chocolate ….-( comfort eating at its best!).
So how are we doing? Well, a few of us have been less-than-consistent herbivores as of the halfway point of the campaign, but together we have already reduced our ecological footprint by 1.837 square kilometers; saved water equivalent to 1,670 baths; and saved greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving 2,500 kilometers in the car.
For me, our results are proof positive that by making individual changes and by working together, we can make a difference–the stuff that childhood dreams are made of.
Update: Since the initial publication of this blog post, WWF in Germany came out with a provocative study saying that irresponsible food consumption–especially meat–is fueling global climate change. They say Germans and others should eat less meat, and more organically fed meat.
What do you think? We welcome your comments.
Update: When the 40 day experiment ended, the final tally showed that the Monsanto team of 11 people had collectively saved the equivalent of 2,893 square meters in land, 2,630 bathtubs full of water 3,945 car trips worth of CO2 by eating a (nearly) meat-free diet for a little over a month. The purpose of this, again, was not to demonize meat–some of us will go have steaks tonight to celebrate–but to raise awareness of the environmental footprint that different diets have on the planet.