Food Math: How much we eat in the United States

Posted: August 6, 2013 in environment, Sustainable Sundays
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Food Math


There must be bacon!

So a friend today posted a comment on Facebook that we eat 1 million chickens an hour in the US.  The stat comes from Dr. Neal D. Barnard and he doesn’t cite a reference so I have no idea how valid the number is, he, like my friend is very interested in getting people to eat less meat.  Now this piece isn’t about that debate, I have no doubt we’d all be a bit healthier if we ate less meat and I wholly support the idea that factory farming is a bad idea for numerous reasons including pollution to the environment, health reasons and the ethics of treating animals poorly.

I am however firmly in the camp that not everyone should go vegetarian, yes you can live a totally happy and healthy life as a vegetarian or a vegan but I like meat and it’s completely natural to eat meat.  But we can certainly all eat less and raise what we do eat in better ways, or can we?  Today there was a lot of buzz about a not so tasty hamburger “grown” in a lab.  This raises some interesting possibilities for the future but it’s a long way off before it will have any real impact.  Although the fact that the giant, raging morons at PETA support it is reason enough to be against it.  Yeah, me and PETA we’re not friends.

But what most intrigued me about 1 million chickens an hour was the sheer massiveness of that number, so as a Dean of Math I started doing some cocktail napkin calculations.  There are approximately 300 million people in the United States, and yes there are various ages, sizes, appetites, etc…but let’s say for conversation purposes that 300 million people on average eat 3 meals a day, that’s 900 million meals a day!  That’s right people each day in America we’re having nearly a billion meals!

So if the one million chicken number is right that’s 24 million chickens per day eaten in the US, on average let’s say 2 meals per chicken, (in other countries the number is probably higher), so that’s 48 million chicken dinners per day in the US.  Remember 900 million total meals so that means those 1 million chickens per hour is only a little over 5% of all the meals eaten in the US each day.

The USDA has this to say about what Americans eat every day, “The average person in the United States eats .5 lbs of meat, 1.6 lbs of dairy products, .2 lbs of fats and oils, .8 lbs of fruits, .7 lbs. Of vegetables, .5 lbs of grains, and .4 lbs of sugars per day for a total of 4.7 lbs. of food per day.”

However if the USDA is correct, than that chicken meal is equal to the average consumption of meat per day per person.  So given that the USDA number is cited and the million chickens per hour isn’t, I’ve got to believe the number is a bit over exaggerated.  However the numbers are still utterly amazing, using the USDA figures and multiplying them by 300 million we get the following totals for each and ever day in America:

150 million pounds of meat

120 million pounds of sugar – wow, as much sugar as fruit and nearly as much as all grains combined.

240 million pounds of dairy

60 million pounds of fats and oils

210 million pounds of vegetables

150 million pounds of grains

120 million pounds of fruit

That’s roughly 1.5 billion pounds of food per day, over 5.4 billion pounds of food per year!!!!!!!  We are only 4% of the world’s population, even if we eat five times more than the global average per day, that means the world needs 27 billion pounds of food produced each year.  Or very roughly, 4 billion pounds of food for every new billion people on the planet, by 2050 we are expected to have added 2 billion more people to the planet or to need in a short 37 years from today to be able to produce 8 billion more pounds of food each year.

These numbers bring up some serious questions that I won’t try to answer today, but will hopefully generate some thoughts:

1.  How do we continue to produce this much food each year on a planet where the environment is being degraded?

2.  With GMO seeds creating monocultured agricultural fields, how much starvation occurs if these monocultured crops get hit with a new disease?

3.  Given calculations that show it takes 2000+ gallons of water to raise a pound of beef and that’s 2 days worth of beef for an average American, with other countries eating more and more like the US, where the hell do we get enough clean water to create the food we need to eat?

I think this food math gives us all some things to ponder, maybe my friend Becky is closer to right than I give her credit for being.  Given the issues of water in particular and rising global populations, moving to a more vegetable heavy diet is probably one of the many answers to how we maintain both a healthy lifestyle and a healthy planet and I’m all in favor of that, as long as in this new happy world we still have bacon! ~ ZDBlue


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