Originally Posted by magstphil
the resources we use to breed and maintain animals are great. with what we are using to feed these animals alone could feed thousands of people world wide.
Yet, when organizations seek to help people in many third world countries feed themselves, they bring them goats and chickens, not seeds. Why? Because food crops are delicate. Humans have forcefully evolved them for thousands of years to only subsist in perfect soil and environmental conditions, and they are labor intensive. Further, most don't store easily (except grains and beans, which are calorie rich but far from nutritionally complete and not tolerated by many people; even those can become moldy or infested with insects.)
Most livestock can subsist on marginal land that humans can't farm. Brush that can grow on land that isn't arable for food crops can feed a goat, which can then provide milk, a kid for meat, and gallons of poop to help nourish that marginal land and hopefully make it arable some year in the future. That hardy brush, which is unusable to humans, brings nutrients and water up to the surface through it's roots. That nutrition is then returned to the topsoil in the form of manure. Land sustainably managed on livestock does not suffer erosion. You can maintain an animal like a sheep or a goat with minimal labor, as insurance in case your vegetable food crops fail, and take advantage of that manure thing in the meanwhile. With chickens, you can maintain them and take advantage of their bug-eating abilities, gather a few eggs, and again know that you can slaughter them if your vegetable crops fail or your stores become damaged. The extra advantage of chickens is, they have such a short period of gestation and growth, you can breed your small keeper flock into a larger meat flock in the course of a couple months if needed.
By comparison, foodcropping an equal number of calories in produce involves the clearing of land and it's resultant erosion. The roots of annual foodcrops are not as deep as perennial shrubs and native weeds, so they don't draw up the minerals from deep under the soil. They are heavy users of soil nutrition, so if you don't have livestock to provide manure you have to rely on other sources (petroleum?) No matter how you cut it, they are far more labor intensive per calorie. Finally, most produce is only available during a limited time of the year. The most nutritious fruits and vegetables do not store reliably for winter without energy intensive preservation techniques (canning or freezing). You can sun dry, but that's risky - you risk mold, insect infestation, rotting. You risk a solid week of rain the day you set up to dehydrate your tomatoes. Fermentation is a possibility, but it involves a lot of salt which isn't always readily available far from the ocean. And again, you risk the ferment becoming contaminated.
When I participated in the 30 day raw challenge recently, what bothered me the most was how difficult it was to eat primarily locally. In late April and early May here in Pennsylvania, the only local foods raw foods that are available are meat and milk, a few early greens, and if I'd had any storage crops leftover I might have had potatoes and carrots. I ate plenty of local milk during that month, and all the local greens I could buy (greenhouse greens; since we'd had a late cold snap, my own garden greens weren't nearly ready as they'd been at that time last year.) I had some local strawberries left in the freezer from last year, which provided for my smoothies. But by and large, I had to rely on imported foods. And I do think the imported food issue is key. The ability to import these foods is not sustainable. It is not going to be an option in a decade or so. We need to learn to eat locally produced foods, and for much of the country, that means meat and milk. Again, reliable food preservation techniques are also energy intensive. That's just not sustainable. There's a reason why the few vegetarian cultures that exist are in equatorial regions where produce is available year round. Folks in Europe just couldn't sustain that kind of a diet historically.