Is alcohol contributing to world hunger?

I had the thought recently that turning food products into alcohol, and using agricultural land to make things that go into alcohol production, is contributing to world hunger. Any thoughts on this?

Also, because I have no idea, is more land and product used for alcohol or biodeisel?

To alcohol - the cause of, and the solution to, all of life’s problems.

  • Homer Simpson

You, uh, may want to look at this active, albeit distracted, thread.

As to alcohol vs biodeisel, well it depends on the specific feedstock and environment.

That’s the thread that had me thinking… It seems to me that alcohol would be a much bigger impactor than biodeisel, but that’s a WAG on my part and I’m hoping someone has a more informed opinion.

I assume that by “alcohol,” you mean beer, wine, spirits, etc. Stuff that you order in a bar.

In a broad sense, a lot of human activities can be said to contribute to world hunger. For example, the time you spend surfing the internet could be spent tending a backyard garden.

It seems to me that what’s special about biofuels is that they are throwing the system out of balance by dramatically increasing demand for grains over the course of a few years. By contrast, people have been making alcohol long enough that the system has adjusted to it. Just my WAG.

If the OP does indeed mean alcohol for spirits etc. one must remember that the primary nutritive value of most grains is calories, and the primary nutritive value of most alcoholic beverages is…calories.

But Brazil, I suspect the OP does not mean that, but rather ethanol for (mechanical) fuel consumption.

Oops, I did in fact mean spirits and booze. I didn’t even realize the confusion I was causing there. Any mods out there to fix that for me? :smiley:

I like the point about gardening. I remember reading somewher that taking care of a lawn was the same amount of work as a veggie garden, wonder if I can dig that up… [ooooh, sorry for the accidental pun]

Hell, it sure makes me hungry!

Alcohol is a food, strictly speaking.

I wonder, though, how many calories are lost to the alcohol-production process. Let’s pick beer or wine. I wonder how many usable calories are in a bushel-worth of beer versus just a bushel-worth of grain? That would indeed contribute to world hunger as you are losing calories.

If, however, you are essentially remaining calorie-neutral it’s not contributing to world hunger except inasmuch it’s not going overseas to feed the hungry.

While we’re at it, some things like grapes might even be more economically-sound to ship over in wine form than in grape form, without needing to be as fragily handled and cooled (let’s pretend we’re not exactly talking about quality wine here.) Assuming the choice is between grapes and wine, rather than ditching the grape crop and growing something else, the choice from a “world hunger” perspective might be wine.

Pretty much what brazil84 said. The system has long ago adjusted to it. Certainly by growing crops on land that COULD be used for food production we are theoretically contributing to world hunger. As other have said, a lot of things humans do contribute to world hunger. Personally, as I said in the bio-fuels thread I think human activities such as war and lack of infrastructure contribute a lot more to hunger than growing alternative use crops.

My own opinion that.


Actually, the yeast left over from brewing beer has food value…it is called “Marmite”. Of course, only the truly desperate eat it!

Every weight loss book I’ve ever read has recommended cutting out alcohol, because people tend to not feel full after drinking, and then they eat more. So the calories in alcohol aren’t really freeing up calories to feed the third world in the same way that calories in grain would.

Of course, this arguement could be made for pretty much anything that isn’t the absolute most efficient in terms of work and land per calorie. I suspect that world hunger is a problem less because we can’t produce more food, but that we won’t. Everyone agrees that it should be fixed, but not very many want to take the economic hit of providing food for those who won’t play. Plus human population tends to grow until it strains against constraints of food/space/water/etc, so I suspect growing more food would feed more people, but the population would grow until we can’t.

A couple of things I read somewhere[sup]TM[/sup] that I therefore “know”:

–When agriculture first got going and people had the opportunity to handle/store surpluses (tide them over the next drought/famine), storing calories in the form of alcohol was efficient–no spoilage/rodent/weather loss.

–People probably drank fermented wild fruit/grain alcohol before agriculture developed so there has never been a time when the calories we divert to make alcohol were not part of the equation. Certain foods/grains were domesticated in part precisely because they made good alcohol.

True or false?

I’ll be the crass person to suggest that consuming alcohol leads to unplanned mouths to feed. If you look at chronic world hunger it is in underdeveloped nations where stable governments and food stocks are as rare as family planning. People aren’t hungry because prices go up, people are hungry because they are in an unstable environment with limited growing capacity and no economic structure in place to deal with it.

Sam Kinison theory of hunger:

You want to help world hunger? Stop sending them food. Don’t send them another bite, send them U-Hauls. Send them a guy that says, “You know, we’ve been coming here giving you food for about 35 years now and we were driving through the desert, and we realized there wouldn’t BE world hunger if you people would live where the FOOD IS! YOU LIVE IN A DESERT!! UNDERSTAND THAT? YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT!! NOTHING GROWS HERE! NOTHING’S GONNA GROW HERE! Come here, you see this? This is sand. You know what it’s gonna be 100 years from now? IT’S GONNA BE SAND!! YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT! We have deserts in America, we just don’t live in them, assholes!”

When the diversion of grain to ethanol came up, recently, someone I gave birth to suggested that we already divert more corn for sweetening sodas than we do for producing ethanol. Of course he has to be wrong, just because I gave birth to him and didn’t think of it first, but is he far wrong?


Would that it were only that simple.

I don’t know how much alcohol contributes to hunger. I do know that it’d be more worthwhile studying how much it has to do with premature mortality, birth defects, or domestic abuse. Hello, WHO?

Sodas? Hell, pick up any package of processed food and try to find one without corn or corn syrup in it.

This is important.

Worrying about alcohol and biofuels being a serious threat to world hunger and not worrying about, say, video game production and bridge building is an economic fallacy. It’s sort of related to the Broken Window (see Bastiat’s essay on Seen and Unseen) economic fallacy. Because it’s easy to see the grain that goes into alcohol production, for example, but not the grain that could have been grown if those software developers and construction workers had been farmers instead, we give more emotional weight to the former. But there’s no real difference. We know that we can produce more food if we spend more money and labor on it, and (at varying levels of efficiency), we can effectively take that labor and money from any activity, not just from activity that uses food as an intermediate step.

Now, in the short term, it may make sense to stop some of the other uses for food because it can’t be produced overnight. Other areas that should be considered are meat, dairy, and egg production. None of those sources of food are as efficient as eating the feed grains directly.

Alternately, we could drive less, which would reduce the demand for oil and cause fewer biofuels to be burned. It would also decrease road congestion, leading to happier drivers who probably wouldn’t drink as much.

Yeah, he got the idea from a nutrition class he took. Kids! You send them to college and they come back with information.