Vegetarian Diet Advised in Anticipation of World Food Shortage

Sep 04, 2009
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

When carrots don’t work, underlying sticks are sometimes allowed to show. Years
of encouraging people to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle
have not produced overwhelmingly positive results. By way of letting the stick
peek out, a report on the future of food security in the U.K. has suggested
that “the British people face wartime rations and a vegetarian diet in the
event of a world food shortage,” according to a report in The

Much of the U.K.’s
cereal production is used as animal feed. The
to a worst-way scenario drawn up by the government in which “cereal crops
would be used to feed the nation and ensure that each person received sufficient
daily calories.”

Furthermore, “in
the event of an extreme emergency the most dramatic consequence would be
every person eating a predominantly vegetarian diet – more cereals, fruit
and vegetables and less meat and poultry.”

Hilary Benn, the
government minister with responsibility for food supply, asked his Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to compile two documents
for discussion. Food 2030 is soliciting views online about the future of
the U.K. food system while Food Matters: One Year On updates progress on
a 2008 Cabinet Office report.

It is Mr. Benn’s
intention to involve consumers in a debate about food security alongside
encouraging them to follow healthier diets and introducing a range of new
production techniques that don’t damage natural resources.

To be fair, Mr.
Benn is trying to put things into perspective. This means developing an
awareness of how production methods will be affected by climate change,
anticipated population growth and shortages of the natural resources on
which farmers and producers depend. Mr. Benn also wants to emphasize global
dependency and encourage consideration of new scientific and technological
methods. Most of all, he wants the public to make individual decisions
based on universal factors. That this may, one day, maybe, possibly, require
government intervention is the stick that he is allowing to show without
actually (yet) being wielded.

Discussion Questions:
Should American retailers start getting ahead of the curve by promoting
more vegetarian and non-meat products? Is it wise to focus on home-produced
food and commodities rather than those imported in preparation for additional
global competition and shortages in the future?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "Vegetarian Diet Advised in Anticipation of World Food Shortage"

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Ben Ball
11 years 8 months ago
“Vegetarian”: a word of Native American origin used to describe starving Pilgrims. Literal translation is “bad hunter.” Regardless of what the eventual cause might be, the prospect of facing some sort of food crisis in the U.S. is there. How we prepare will have profound impact on the ability of different segments of the population to weather that crisis. There is a substantial, but steadily decreasing, portion of our population that can self-support in almost any circumstance. I’m referring to the rural/agrarian portion of our society remaining–not the hard-core “survivalist.” The rest (bulk) of the population will be completely dependent on the preparedness of the U.S. food system. The extreme scenario may require the development of non-traditional sources of nutrition. But the probability is that we will face something less than that. The key questions will be either a) stock piling and preservation or b) secure means of continued production and distribution. Distribution issues cannot be underestimated. The odds are much greater that our ability to distribute food will be impaired than that we will… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
11 years 8 months ago

At least two perspectives here: 1) It wouldn’t be a bad thing to start eating less meat. It’s healthier and much better from the animals’ point of view. However, we should do that, the world food crisis notwithstanding. I say this as the U.S. is going into the last BBQ Grilling Summer Holiday weekend.

And, 2) Is this truly a key first step in warding off the danger of the world’s food supply crumbling? Isn’t something closer to developing a more sustainable agriculture industry a better first step? Agri uses 70% of the world’s fresh water supply currently. There’s got to be better ways to manage that business.

Also, the supply chain forces thousands of unnecessary “food miles” in getting the product from farm to fork. Additionally, 50% of all the food in the world goes to waste, while Billions go hungry. Food distribution is the first step to solving this challenge.

I think the UK is way off the mark.

Jonathan Marek
11 years 8 months ago

This just seems ridiculous to me. For hundreds of years, the cost of food has been declining and the amount of food available per person has been increasing. The percentage of the world’s population that is starving has decresed dramatically. The phenomenon accelerated with 20th century technologies. The Malthusians were proven wrong again and again.

In fact, nowadays it is much more common to hear about ways that we are limiting the amount of food we produce–whether that is increasing use of lower production, more expensive “sustainable methods” or simply paying farmers not to farm.

The idea of talking about food shortages as if they are some inevitable phenomenon to which we should adjust our diets is absurd. If there’s a problem, let’s use science and technology to solve it, so we can eat what we want to eat. I worry about our culture, that instead of dreaming of abundance as industrious Americans and Brits did 100 years ago, now it seems like people dream of privation.

Herb Sorensen
11 years 8 months ago

It is interesting that many of the same Malthusian voices trumpeting coming shortages, are also the ones at the forefront of seeking to halt or limit production.

There is an intimate relation between land, air, water and energy. Flying around the world, one sees VAST amounts of all of these, with tiny fringes of humans here and there. The only real resource dangers humans face are between the ears of those who seek to seize control of the rest of us in order to force their own apocalyptic views on us, and halt the growth of prosperity and consumption.

I’ve tried to not let my lifetime vegetarianism deprive me of some measure of common sense! 🙂

Gene Detroyer
11 years 8 months ago

Brands (advertisers) are reluctantly using social media as a tool to reach consumers. There is still a huge bias to traditional television and print. Alternative media have never been embraced by the big marketers, no matter how strong those media appear to be in delivering the goods.

The same exists for social media. To compound the problem, adversities are approaching social media with the same old practices that they have been using for years. The transition to the world on internet communication will even be a greater transformation in marketing techniques then the transition to television a half century ago.

Jack Pansegrau
Jack Pansegrau
11 years 8 months ago

First, as a practicing vegetarian [seeking to lower lipids without meds, as well as for the other benefits…], I’d like to correct the etymological discussion at the lead comment–I believe the reference to an old Native American term for ‘bad hunter’ is Urban Legend…. According to


1839, irregular formation from vegetable (n.) + -arian, as in agrarian, etc. “The general use of the word appears to have been largely due to the formation of the [English] Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate in 1847.”
Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001 Douglas Harper

And my other point, seconding one of the comments above, the vegetarian diet is a much more efficient means of food production, lowering energy use and so on, while at the same time being a much more healthful diet. Try it, you might like it….

Roger Saunders
11 years 8 months ago
If people want to lead a vegetarian lifestyle, and a good number of the population does, that’s wonderful. However, there is a larger and growing portion of the population–in the U.S. and around the world–who are seeking higher quantities of protein. That includes animal meats. The retailer is there to provide the consumer with the goods, products, and services that the consumer wants. They are not there to guide the consumer in what they should eat. The Malthusian thinkers would do themselves a favor and read the works of Julian Simon, who was a noted Spanish Economist, and Professor from the University of Maryland. Simon masterfully acted as a “Doom – Slayer” with his writings in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s–which have proved accurate–that the “ultimate resources are people, materials, and environment.” In the earlier periods, the “Doomsayers” were forecasting the end of the world in pollution, overpopulation, world shortages of food, etc. They were wrong, and Simon was right. Simon was a believer that the world could sustain added population, and, in fact, would… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
11 years 8 months ago

My partner in the UK is continually amazed at the volume of food that is served in US restaurants. We could all use with a small reduction in intake and some more exercise.

A personal belief here which is shared by some in the stream is that red meat should be an occasional part of the diet, rather than centerpiece.

To answer the question posed, No, US food retailers don’t have to begin considering this dire news as marketing opportunity. It is amazing that we jump from social and cultural crisis to business opportunity.

The best book on nutrition, yet to be written because it has an uninteresting title, is “Moderation.” That’s all we need to know.


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