It’s rare that I find a book that is both professional and accessible, interesting for those with a serious interest in agriculture, but also for a more lay audience curious about the world around us. This time I came across one. I don’t have much time to read, so I’m very selective about what I spend my free time on. The blurb was also encouraging, and one sentence in the foreword caught my eye: “Every citizen and every consumer deserves to have a clear and authentic picture of what is on their plate...”
As if I had said it.
In his book, the author, Marc Dufumier, a French agricultural engineer, researcher, and university lecturer, has collected 50 of the most frequently asked questions he has been asked over the years and tried to answer them in a style that everyone can understand.
To be honest, not all the questions aroused my curiosity in the same way, and many of the data and information relate to the French market, but there are some topics that are both universal and particularly close to my heart. I would like to share these below.
Are we producing enough to feed the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants?
Perhaps the most intriguing question of the book is: are we producing enough to feed the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants?
Before we get to the author’s answer, I would like to add that the book, written in 2020, was published in Hungary at the end of 2021, and the Earth’s population has grown since then, to nearly 8 billion.
The author outlines 3 problems with this. First, a large part of the world wastes too much food, and another part consumes too much meat and milk. In addition, too much food is spent on producing biofuels instead of putting it on the tables of the most deprived. The conclusion is that hunger and malnutrition are present in the world because of income inequality, not because of insufficient food production.
I can’t really argue with that, but I would add to the above. Unfortunately, in my view, the agricultural systems currently in use are not capable of producing sufficient quality and quantity of food in a sustainable way. Yes, the distribution of food is not even and yes, a lot of food is going into the rubbish bins, but it is also very important that the pressure on quantity does not lead to a deterioration in quality, that we do not get the food we need in ways that are environmentally damaging and that do not breach animal welfare rules.
Closely related to this issue is the next question, which is also very important for me:
How to reduce food waste?
Consumers are responsible for only one third of food waste, the remaining two thirds are the responsibility of producers, processors, and distributors, who at each step of the food chain dispose of products and by-products that they cannot sell. Our own example shows how this by-product, which in many places ends up as waste, can still become a saleable asset. KOMETA is the first meat processing and meat product company in Hungary to have a by-product plant. This allows us to process slaughterhouse products from meat processing, producing 2300 tons of bone meal and 1300 tons of animal fat/oil per year). The former can be used for animal feed and the latter can be used by the pharmaceutical industry.
The author cites several good examples of food waste reduction from France, some of which are already working in Hungary, but unfortunately this area is still in its infancy and only local programmes and small communities can deal with this problem effectively. In this area, too, there is a need for full industry cooperation and serious programmes, and consumer education could play an important role in this.
Will we be eating insects tomorrow?
The discourse of “eat less meat, or don’t eat meat at all” is getting louder and louder and is reaching us through more and more channels. Meat substitutes are still of little importance, especially here in Hungary, but you can already see them on the shelves of shops. It is not entirely clear whether we are really doing the Earth any good by switching to these fake meats, and fake meat will certainly not solve the world’s food supply problems in the short term. The author is also more concerned with the question of what role insects will play in this. Of course, the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, has been working on this issue for years. Already in a 2013 report, they wrote about insects as one of the solutions to fight hunger and malnutrition in the world.
Here in Europe, it is still a curiosity, with occasional news that some foods already contain insect flour, but its production and consumption is still negligible. In Thailand, for example, cricket and other insect farms already exist, with efficiencies that surpass those of conventional large-scale livestock farms. “To produce one tonne of food, a locust farm requires twelve times less land than a herd of cattle.”
I don’t think that insects will replace meat in our diet soon, but the topic is interesting from the point of view of what I have said many, many times in many places. Let’s eat less meat, but let’s eat good quality meat. Let’s look at where we buy from and only choose food from a trusted source and of high quality.
Are we eating too much meat?
According to the author, the French eat 66 kg of meat per person per year. I did a quick search for a Hungarian figure, which according to KSH was 68.8 kg in 2019. In European or global terms, these are not particularly high figures. In Europe the Spaniards eat the most meat (they consume over 90 kg/person/year), followed by Icelanders and Austrians. Eastern Europeans eat less meat than Western Europeans, which is explained by differences in average incomes. According to Greenpeace in Spain, the reason for their blatantly high per capita meat consumption is that producers and meat product manufacturers sell their products very cheaply, which, they say, “leads people to unwittingly eat unhealthy food.”
But why is eating too much meat bad? Not because it’s unhealthy, of course, but because we need to keep in mind the principle of quality over quantity.
Most of the grain produced in the world is used to feed animals, 80% worldwide according to the FAO. The author’s strong statement on this is that “the animals that the richest feed on eat the food that the poorest cannot get.”
Fortunately, however, he does not think that all animal husbandries should be condemned but sees the problem in the over-consumption of meat.
And what might the future hold? Veganism or the incorporation of insects and algae into our diets? Is palm oil dangerous, are bees dying out, can organic be cheap and will we have enough water? Well, the book answers these questions too. Read it, reflect, and find like-minded people around you. Change always starts at the bottom. Start small and the market and businesses will respond. At least that is what we are working on.