Will yams replace meat someday?

Photo from the IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) Image Library via Flickr

NPR’s Morning Edition is reporting on meat all week long, and this morning they looked at the kinds of inputs that meat requires, e.g., 6.7 pounds of grain and forage, 52.8 gallons of water, and much more to make just one quarter-pound burger.

Similarly, this story by Will Oremus over at Slate—part of their recent “Future of Food” series from Future Tense—asks, “When farmland is scarce, will we all eat roots and tubers?”:

Today about 1 billion people “eat like Westerners,” in the words of University of California-Berkeley resource economist David Zilberman. That means, basically, that they wolf down historically unprecedented quantities of meat and dairy—getting up to half their calories from animals rather than plants. Meat consumption appears to be reaching a plateau in the United States and Europe, but it’s only now taking off in many poorer parts of the world. Zilberman believes that 40 years from now there may be 3 billion or 4 billion people who eat like Westerners.

Oremus goes on to consider what might happen in a future where limited resources (like water and top soil) necessitate less meat consumption and a turn to energy-rich plant products, “roots and tubers like garlic, sunchokes, and sweet potatoes”:

A world of yam-eaters might seem far-fetched, but some food-security zealots are already preparing for the worst. One of them is John Jeavons, a Willits, Calif.-based advocate of what he calls “biointensive farming.” Back in the early 1970s, when people still feared the original population bomb, Jeavons began to explore how people could grow everything they needed on the smallest possible plot of ground. Building on the methods of organic-farming pioneer Alan Chadwick, Jeavons developed an eight-point gardening system that calls for close spacing of plants, vigorous composting and soil maintenance, and “calorie farming,” which means focusing on crops that produce the most nutrition in the least space.

For the full stories, check out the links above.

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