6th Grade Arithmetic and Food—Not Rocket Science


Upcoming speech to 6th graders in New London, CT

For my 707th consecutive daily blog, I salute one of the greatest aircraft ever built--the Boeing 707.

For my 707th consecutive daily blog, I salute one of the greatest aircraft ever built–the Boeing 707.

During 2012, I met Suellen Hampton, one of my blog readers from the local area. She has been a school teacher for 36 years (14 in New London; 22 in Orlando) and has invited me to speak to her 6th grade class of 48 students at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School on February 1. In addition, Suellen was kind enough to arrange for me to speak to all four of the other classes of 6th graders the following week—a total of about 240 students.

First of all, I am thrilled with the opportunity to visit with these 250 young people. Our book was written so that it could be read and comprehended by the average 8th grader in one day. Now, I will develop a presentation that can be easily understood by the average 6th grader. As the grandfather of a 6th grader in Massachusetts, I know that all I have to do is use a little simple 6th grade arithmetic.

Back in November, I published a blog entitled Graduation Day—An Essential “Top 10 List” for Life (See link below). It was basically an outline of a commencement address that I plan to use in the future for high school and college graduations. The title of that speech is Food Math 101—Why the numbers behind what we’re eating are not adding up—and how You can help fix it. Here’s the outline for that Top Ten List speech:

Who owns our planet? There are over a million species of creatures.

Who owns our planet? There are over a million species of creatures.

  1. The Big Picture
  2. Harmony
  3. Saving the planet
  4. People math
  5. Using the planet
  6. Finite amount of land
  7. Finite amount of water
  8. Our health & the “protein myth”
  9. The other million species
  10. Making every bite count

Today, I will focus on—The Big Picture, People Math and Using the Planet

Scientists agree that life first began on this planet about 4 billion years ago. And we humans have been around for just 200,000 of those years. In other words, we’re “johnny-come-latelies” when you think about the age of the planet. And to help those 6th graders get their arms around that number, I will ask them to imagine that the Earth has been supporting life for just one full year.

Now, if we humans have been around for 200,000 years, what part of our planet’s full 365 days would that represent? So I did a little 6th grade arithmetic to compute the answer; an astounding…

26 Minutes!

We have grown from one to seven billion people in just over 200 years.

We have grown from one to seven billion people in just over 200 years.

The next number is even more startling. Let’s take a look at how the human population has grown over the past 200,000 years. First of all, it took us 199,800 years to reach the one billion mark in 1804.

Since then, in just the past 200 years, we have added another six billion people. So here’s the startling number, what portion of our 26 minutes would those 200 years represent?

  • 200/200,000 = .001 (one thousandth of the time)
  • How many seconds in 26 minutes? 26 x 60 = 1560 seconds.
  • What is one thousandth of 1560 seconds?

Less than two seconds (1.56 to be exact)

If our planet has supported life for one full year, our human ancestors have been here for just 26 minutes and our population has increased from one billion to seven billion in just the last two seconds.

One football field is about 1.3 acres---enough land to feed 7 people a health-promoting plant-based diet.

One football field is about 1.3 acres—enough land to feed 7 people a health-promoting plant-based diet.

So why is that important? It’s important because of the amount of land it takes to feed just one human. Of course, it depends on what they eat. Let’s imagine that a small farm is the size of a football field.

If the people are eating mostly whole plants, you can feed about 7 of them on that little farm. But if they eat meat, dairy, and eggs everyday, you would need two of those farms to feed just one person.

So what’s the problem? Not enough land to go around. There are roughly 6 billion football fields of available farmland in the world. Let’s do a little arithmetic and find out how many people we can feed on that amount of land:

  • Plant eaters: 6 billion multiplied by 7 = 42 billion people
  • Omnivores, meat/dairy/egg eaters: 6 billion divided by 2 = 3 billion people

What’s wrong with this picture? We already have over 7 billion people. If everyone ate the way the average American eats, 4 billion people would starve to death. That, my young friends, is a good example of the phrase I used earlier:

Why the numbers behind what we’re eating are not adding up—and how You can help fix it

The typical western diet; a disaster for your health, your environment and the long-term sustainability of the human race.

The typical western diet; a disaster for your health, your environment and the long-term sustainability of the human race.

A wager today for my readers. I will bet you a hundred bucks that every single one of those 6th graders will quickly figure out what “they would need to do to help fix this problem.” And they will reach that conclusion before we even talk about how a mostly whole foods, plant-based diet could reverse their parents’ heart disease & diabetes and prevent their cancer.

They will quickly experience a blinding flash of the obvious solution and will probably:

  1. Go home and tell their parents what they have learned.
  2. They might show their parents this blog post and the other one listed below.
  3. They might ask their parents about eating more plant-based foods in their home.
  4. If their parents scoff at them, they could encourage them to read our book.
  5. After they read the book, the 6th grader might ask their parents if they are ready to get serious about changing their diet.
  6. And if the parents still aren’t ready to get serious, what kind of message is that sending to their children?

Gut Check Time. How about it parents? Can you see yourself telling your 6th grade child that you would be willing to let 4 billion starve to death so you could continue eating your meat, fish, cheese and/or eggs at every meal?

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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Blogging daily at hpjmh.com…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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8 Responses to 6th Grade Arithmetic and Food—Not Rocket Science

  1. Anne says:

    This is so exciting. Please keep us informed. Maybe the tides are turning. Chicago mayor endorsing the Engine Two Diet and speaking to an entire sixth grade class!

  2. Linda says:

    Jim, Hopefully this upcoming “gig” will lead to opportunities with other classrooms at other schools. I can’t wait to hear the kids’ reaction to the information you present. I can’t help but be optimistic. In my experience, kids are usually fascinated by topics that are ENTIRELY new to them and I bet yours will be.

  3. Sal Liggieri says:

    I can just see this conversation between parent and child taking place in their favorite junk food emporium, McDonald’s.

  4. Irene says:

    I think this is one of the best explanations about humanity as compared and contrasted with earth’s timeline and resources. Never mind 6th graders – this is something the average person can easily understand. Print this information on 3×5 cards and hand it out to everyone you know! In addition, sending this to David Brooks (or other writers at the Times) might really get their attention in a more substantive way.

  5. I love the analogy of the football field. That’s something most of us can get our minds around. I think most people believe that it takes a lot more water and land to grow friuts and veggies than to raise livestock, not realizing how much animals have to eat to get to market weight. As an aside, the political leader who gets it, and has, in fact, endorsed a plant-based diet for his city is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. When I get to laptop, I’ll email you a couple TV clips he did this week with Rip Esslestyn.

    • Anne says:

      Jim,just google Rahm Emmanuel and Rip Esslestyn. The video will come up. Now is the time to contact the mayor since he talks about the rising health care cost to the city of Chicago. I was shocked that he actually endorsed this on the evening news.

  6. Joanne Irwin says:

    I’ll be eager to hear their responses and reactions. Let’s see if they’ve been raised with a sense of altruism, as well as feeling a connection to something bigger than themselves. In my years of working with children and doing parenting education, I’ve observed only a minority of children who are raised with a sense of their own capability, responsibility, and with the perception of their own influence. Too many children are overindulged with the material, and rescued on every front. Children who are raised like that do not develop a sense of altruism, rather they are ‘me-centered’. Much success with your presentation. Fill us in on the reactions!

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