Only 55% of food-crop calories are consumed directly by humans. The rest: fuel and feed


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… Meat, dairy, and eggs from animals raised on feed supply another 4 percent … we could feed more humans by shifting our diets away from animal products …

The National Geographic article is clearly about promoting vegetarian diets than it is about discussing feeding everyone. That nifty little slide show of theirs does not even mention the food crops being used for biofuels and other things. In fact, when you read the map’s caption, it is clear that they included biofuel/etc use in with animal feed use, resulting in a map that presents a biased visual statement.


That 45% of “unnecessary” food production is a good safety net, since food is vital and crop yields can vary. Right now, a Tambora-scale volcanic eruption causing a big drop in global food production would be less of a disaster. People could eat the animals, and then eat the grains that they are no longer consuming. The world could support twice the population with a purely plant-based diet, but then any shortfall would mean famines.

In a sense, meat and biofuels are just a convenient way to dispose of the excess capacity that is needed in good years, to ensure that the bad years are not dreadful.


I’d rather we work on reducing population size to sustainable global levels (at western world quality) rather than trying to pack as many people onto the planet as possible by limiting things such as food choices…

quality of life > quantity of life


Promoting a diet that is less based around eating meat was very clearly labeled as one of the steps needed to produce more food and have less lost to conversion. Nothing disingenuous or ambiguous about it. It’s also not new information. Feeding your grain to a cow is far less efficient than just eating the grain. Reduce the cows = instant net gain in food production.
They also directly address what you’re saying about biofuels - “Today only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36 percent) or turned into biofuels and industrial products (roughly 9 percent).”


Hmmm, the quote from the article above says the opposite, 4% for livestock feed and the rest to biofuels. That would be 41% for non-food related uses.

After double-checking NG’s little slideshow, I saw absolutely nothing about biofuels or how much is used. Nor could I find anythign that woudl clearly point me to the article that has the statistics you quote. Perhaps you could provide a link to the source for your numbers?

Same article, under Step 4. Whoever did their user interface should be fed only grains for a while. In order for me to scroll, I had to put my cursor in the bottom center of the page, but not on a map. If there’s a map, move above it to scroll to the rest.

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It is interesting and somewhat scary how much of the crops in the “western world” are just feedstock for further processing.

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As advocates of plant-based diets have long argued, we could feed more humans by shifting our diets away from animal products, which consume more land, more fuel, and produce more emissions and pollution that adversely affect climate and environment.

Also: cattle require a lot more clean water (between themselves and the feed crops) than plant foods.

You really don’t have to go all-out vegetarian to change the numbers a lot though.

Which meat harms our planet the least?


I actually read that as follows:

  • 55% of calories grown are eaten by humans in the form of plant products
  • 36% of calories grown are eaten by livestock
    • humans then end up eating 4% of the total grown, or 4/36 = 11% of the calories fed to livestock, in the form of animal products.
    • the other 32% of the total grown, or 32/36 = 89% of the calories fed to livestock, end up as sheep farts and other non-edible livestock farming outputs
  • 9% of calories grown are turned into biofuel

It’s somewhat unclear, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the figures mean.

(Clearly, we need to do a better job harvesting sheep farts for biofuel, if nothing else)




Except that to maintain this “excess capacity”, we’re burning non-renewable fossil fuels to run farm equipment, extracting non-renewable mineral resources for fertilizer, and stripping away the forest biomes of the world to get at what’s generally pretty marginal farmland that rapidly decreases in productivity as the soil is washed away.


I know its easy to blame those other people and them wanting families, but it’s a hard point to make that a western lifestyle is the answer…

Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy

On average, one American consumes as much energy as 2 Japanese, or 6 Mexicans, or 13 Chinese, or 31 Indians, or 128 Bangladeshis, or 307 Tanzanians, or 370 Ethiopians

Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day - that’s roughly 200 billion more than
needed - enough to feed 80 million people.

Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily.

The average American individual daily consumption of water is 159 gallons, while more than half the world’s population lives on 25 gallons.

80% of the American corn grown and 95% of the oats are fed to livestock.

56% of available American farmland is used for beef production.


Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy

I hear these same 5% pop 24% consumption America’s an ahole statistics over and over. Isn’t “blame those other people” what your advising against?

Sure we in the US and others can do things more efficiently but it doesn’t address those 3 billion other people in China India and Indonesia.

How great it will be one day when we are 20% more efficient with 2 billion more people.

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I agree that there are things we can do. Like free range bison. Way healthier than cow and feeds on the natural grasses of the plains, which tends to be better for the environment. Better methods of fish farming. Things like that.


I was responding to someonw saying “reducing population size to sustainable global levels (at western world quality)”. That is a contradiction of concepts on multiple levels whether you tired of hearing it or not.

We produce enough food now for the worlds population, it has been priced out of their reach in the regions where it is an hunger is a real issue. Just saying “20% more efficient” doesn’t mean a lot if it doesn’t translate down to the consumer level. Yes, lower population growth would help, but that is still pushing the issue off onto further generations and not addressing it currently.

True, i’m not arguing against any of those facts.

I’d just prefer a smaller and happier global population over a overpopulated and nasty one.

Theres absolutely zero benefit to overpopulation, it really needs to be minimised at all costs before nature does it the hard and brutal way.

A global population of ~2billion will be plenty to allow all ~2billion to live good lives.

We might be able to support 10+billion, but it won’t be a place you’d want to live in if you had a choice…


For reference: Longpig on a longhorse.


So if we go with a paleo diet, this planet can support about nine, maybe 10 billion people. If we go vegetarian, it can support about 20 billion, but they’re all going to be overweight with diabetes and crohn’s disease. I choose option A.


Excellent point. But growing ever more likely than a supervolcano in the nearer term are the odds of disrupted weather patterns. The fragility of global agriculture rests upon a very recent phenomena: a relatively stable climate. This should inspire actions related to global warming even more than sea level concerns alone.

Livestock might be considered as temporal ‘stowage’ capacity but, just like that ‘spare tire’ around your middle, it would only gain individuals a very temporary reprieve if the climate destabilizes even modestly. As anthropologist Tim Weistrel famously said, “There is no such thing as a post-agricultural society.”

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