Food Math 101—saving our civilization made simple

Simple? YES! —– Easy? NO!

J. Morris Hicks speaking to the sixth graders in New London, CT

J. Morris Hicks speaking to the sixth graders in New London, CT in April of 2013.

In April of 2013, I came up with the Food Math 101 concept while preparing to speak to a 6th grade class in New London, CT. It was part of an effort to present powerful, irrefutable evidence supporting a plant-based diet—in addition to our own health benefits that come with it.

Recently, I have been speaking about the fact that we’re the ONLY species out of millions who can’t figure out what we should be eating. To me, it’s a blinding flash of the obvious—even without considering the health benefits.

In fact, even if the typical western (meat-based) diet were the absolute healthiest way for humans to eat, it wouldn’t really matter—because it is grossly unsustainable for much longer. Even 3rd graders seem to have no trouble understanding most of the information in Food Math 101. It is imperative that we eventually stop eating animals altogether for our longterm survival as a species. Right now, the enormous health benefits of doing it sooner rather than later—is just a HUGE bonus.

To me, it all boils down to the global depletion of three finite resources needed to produce our food. Land, water and energy; with the first two being the most precious and most crucial to our survival. Most of the data in this blog can be found in the “Hicks Six-Pack” provided below.

In my research of many books and articles by the likes of Dr. Pimentel, Emmott, Oppenlander, Lester Brown and others, I choose not to use specific numbers like 12,000 gallons of water for a pound of beef—because every researcher comes up with slightly different numbers and it gets confusing for the reader.

Therefore, I prefer to use conservative ranges that are not only powerful, but also easy to remember AND easier to defend. You will see those kinds of ranges below.

Most of us are focused on relatively trivial news stories but pay zero attention to the rapid demise of our civilization.

Most of us are focused on relatively trivial news stories but pay zero attention to the far more important issue: the almost certain collapse of our civilization before the end of the century. We hear NOTHING about the stories in RED on this list—things that have happened in just 19 days.

Food Math 101. The numbers behind our typical western diet of meat, dairy, eggs and/or fish three meals a day—are simply not adding up. Here is a list of points that I would make to any group of all ages—beginning at age 12.

Twelve points for 12-year olds

1. On average, meat, dairy, and egg calories require over ten times as much land, ten times as much water AND ten times as much energy—as do plant-based calories.

2. How much arable farmland do we have? Roughly 8 billion acres which equals about six billion football fields?

3. How many football fields does it take to feed one person the typical western diet? TWO.

4. How many people eating a plant-based diet could be fed with that same amount of land? FOURTEEN.

Two football fields can feed TWO people the typical western diet OR FOURTEEN people a plant-based diet.

Two football fields can feed ONE person the typical western diet OR FOURTEEN people a plant-based diet.

5. So with a total of six billion football fields, we could theoretically feed 42 billion people a plant-based diet—or only 3 billion people the typical western diet. In the latter case, the remaining 4 billion people would all starve to death.

6. Today, according to FAO records, 72% of all beef, pork and chicken is consumed by just five regions of the world: China, Europe, USA, Brazil and Russia. To support their incredibly wasteful habits, these five are robbing land and water from the rest of the worlds humans and from the rest of the world’s millions of species of creatures. All of this is driving a rate of species extinction that is more than 1,000 times the normal rate.

7. Only about two billion humans (out of 7.1 B total) are currently eating the typical western diet, but many more are moving in that direction everyday. According to my own extrapolation of the FAO numbers—for every person in the USA or Europe that is moving toward a plant-based diet, there are ten people in the developing world who are beginning to eat more meat, dairy, eggs and/or fish.

Slide158. It gets worse. Every single day, the world’s population surges by another 230,000 people and every single year, we lose an area the size of South Carolina to erosion. At the same time, Dr. Emmott predicts that the world must produce more food in the next 40 years than the grand total of all food that has been produced during the past 10,000 years.

9. Even worse, in order to make room for more cattle, since 1970, we’ve destroyed over 20 million acres of our precious rainforest every year. That’s a total of approximately one billion acres of rainforest (the lungs of the Earth)—gone forever. How much land is that? An area about the size of ALL farmland in the entire United States. (Census of Agriculture, 2007)

10. What about water? Over 70% of the world’s finite supply of fresh water is used for agriculture, with over 70% of that number dedicated to growing animal-based foods for those two billion wealthiest people.

Over half the fresh water being used throughout the world could be saved by a simple shift to a plant-based diet for all humans.

Over half the fresh water being used throughout the world could be saved by a simple shift to a plant-based diet for all humans.

11. Today, over one billion people are thirsty and that number is growing everyday. A huge part of the problem is our dependence on underground aquifers that are being pumped dry all over the world—to provide water for livestock to drink and to grow their food.

As Lester Brown points out in “Full Planet, Empty Plates,” we’re currently draining aquifers in 18 countries, where over half the world’s population resides. After taking billions of years to fully charge those aquifers, we’re wiping them out in less than 200 years. When they are gone—they are gone forever and crops can no longer be grown on the land above them.

12. Energy and global warming. If running out of land and water is not enough to convince you that “we’re eating the wrong food,” then let’s take a quick look at energy and global warming. According to World Bank scientists Goodland and Anhang, our global demand for animal-based foods is responsible for at least 51% of all human-induced global warming—more than ALL other causes combined.

The Bottom Line. As the world runs out of food and water, our human civilization will eventually collapse. Emmott and Brown agree that, unless radical changes are made, that collapse will occur well before the end of this century. The good news is that there is a powerful solution, right under our noses. It’s what we put in our mouths three meals a day. It’s the FOOD!

The ONLY viable pathway to the longterm sustainability of our civilization is the widespread adoption of a whole food, plant-based diet. — J. Morris Hicks

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. — John Muir

Want to become an activist and help save our civilization? Here’s the Activism Kit that I gave to a group of Holy Cross college students on March 19, 2014. Notice #6? I am serious, once you know enough about the horrible impacts of our typical western way or eating, how could you possibly NOT become an activist? All of the suggested books and videos shown here are also in my Six-Pack from Hicks just beneath this slide.


A few earlier links for your convenience:

The following five books and one DVD can be purchased on Amazon for a grand total of less than $60—and will enable you to understand the overwhelming challenges we face—along with the single most-powerful solution of all.

Six-Pack from Hicks—for health, hope & harmony on planet Earth

  1. Healthy Eating, Healthy WorldThe “big picture” about food (our book)
  2. A life changer for millions, including James Cameron. Forks Over Knives DVD 
  3. An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell; the primary book that influenced Bill Clinton to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet.
  4. What have we done to our planet? Full Planet, Empty Plates by Lester Brown
  5. A horrifying wake-up call for leaders. TEN BILLION by Dr. Stephen Emmott
  6. Food choices are the primary cause of our environmental problems, yet our world leaders, scientists & experts are Comfortably Unawareby Richard Oppenlander.

Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes 2 or 3 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

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

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, visit our 4Leaf page and also enjoy some great recipes from Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

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

—J. Morris Hicks, board member since 2012; click banner for more info:

Nutrition Certificate

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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5 Responses to Food Math 101—saving our civilization made simple

  1. Pierre says:

    were it not for plants, no one would eat meat. It is plants that give meat taste – spices. without spices, meat is too bland.

    my family has been meatless for 20 years. i dont miss it. there are so many incredibles dishes from all over the world that use no, or very little, meat.

    even just cutting back on meat, say , only once a week instead of every day. Or even every other day, is a 50% reduction. That is huge!

  2. Mary Guay says:

    In 2010 I changed to a plant-base diet at age 66 and I am much younger now, maybe not in years, but in health, energy, and the pleasure of knowing I’m doing the right thing for myself and the planet I am leaving to my grandchildren.

  3. Jeff says:

    I suspect more would do more about this IF they were presented with easily implementable solutions, rather than only facts about the problem. I’m trying to be more aware of my own eating, for both health and environment, and find that my biggest challenge is understanding what I can/should eat and how to do so without much more effort that my current eating. Changing my tastes to reduce, then eliminate, meat etc is a challenge, more so if I’ve been in the habit of eating out. Convieniance foods sell because….they’re easy, not because we necessarily love them

  4. Donnalyn says:

    An excellent post! Thank you for this and for all your work!

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