III Publishing

Diet for a Small, Overpopulated Planet
March 9, 2022
by William P. Meyers

Site Search

Popular pages:

U.S. War Against Asia
Democratic Party
Republican Party
Natural Liberation

Positive Vegetarian Thoughts Are Not Enough

When I escaped, to college, from under my parents' lash, I began to experiment. It was 1972 and I was the last boy I knew to let my crew-cut (really U.S. Marine) hair to grow long. I handed out literature for the George McGovern for President campaign. I took a class in Transcendental Meditation. And as I ran out of money to feed myself I got a used copy of Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe [first published in 1971 by Ballantine Books].

My vegetarianism was because I had read too much science fiction and thought about how horrible it is to be eaten by another creature. Having decided on a meatless diet, I worried about protein. People worried about protein then and still do, though in fact it is hard to not get enough protein in your diet unless you are also starving to death. I found a vegetarian diet to be pretty cheap, and under the influence of Ms. Lappe I ate enough beans and lentils with my rice and pasta to be sure to get enough protein.

I knew the earth was overpopulated, I had heard of Malthus, but feeding the rest of the world was not my concern. I was working 60 hours a week in summer and 20 in the school year in order to afford my tuition, room, and feed. The earth being overpopulated, and millions of people not having enough to eat, was one of the minor themes of the 1960s. I took it for granted. With the introduction of The Pill and other improved means of birth control, it seemed likely the population would level off.

Vegetarian philosophy had three main components: ethical (animals are sentiment, meat is murder); health (meat gives you heart attacks and strokes); and practical (if you skip the animal and give the grain or beans or whatever straight to humans, there is more food to go around). There is a secondary problem with the idea that eating less meat meant more food for humans. It means more food for more humans. And more humans are bad for the environment. Once the human population gets past its sustainable level of about 1 billion people, first reached around 1800, destruction mounts. Also, the very grains and legumes Lappe advocates have to be grown on what was once uncultivated land.

In 1971 the global human population was approaching 4 billion people. Few people were worrying about greenhouse gas emissions, but everyone should have been. Scientists had the Green Revolution well underway, in which crop varieties were developed to have higher yields, usually dependent on higher fertilizer application. Ways to destroy crop pests and weeds were also producing higher end yields. If the human population had stopped at 4 billion, feeding them all would not have been the problem. They would likely still have destroyed the ozone layer, caused global warming, filled the earth with toxins, and caused species extinction and ecosystem collapse. Just slower than with a larger population.

Judging from her latest introduction to her book, Lappe is still singing the same song, still ignoring the problem of overpopulation. She has added being against pesticides and corporate farming to her vegetarian agenda. Let me guarantee you that, while acknowledging the destructive effects of pesticides, without them many more people would be starving.

Humans simply must get back to a sustainable human population, which is likely around 1 billion. The exact number depends on how you define the word sustainable. Since we are at almost 8 billion, the thing to do is to turn this ship around and argue about best sustainable target while we are on the way there. I call the goal the Wonderful World of One Billion. I suspect that because of the destruction already achieved, and in particular throwing the global climate into high-fever mode, that for a while we might actually need to go beneath 1 billion to allow the earth to heal.

That really requires a one-child guideline. While there are nations like Japan that have declining populations, they are not declining fast enough. Many nations still have ridiculously high birth rates, even though they cannot grow enough food to feed themselves.

Even with a one-child guideline we need to mend our most destructive practices. You know the drill: use less energy and generate less CO2. Reuse and Recycle. And, yes, eat more beans and less meat.

A shrinking population scares capitalists and socialist leaders alike. It terrifies nationalists. But for those of us who are sane and not too power hungry, it is the right goal.

III Blog list of articles
Copyright 2022 William P. Meyers. All rights reserved.