Protein Shortage—What Can Be Done About It?
IT IS estimated that one third of the earth’s population, more than one thousand million people, do not have enough protein in their diets. As a result, untold millions of young children in developing countries die before reaching school age. Survivors are often left permanently impaired—mentally and physically.
Experts studying the world food problem have agreed: “Unless the situation changes markedly, food shortages and actual famine will occur and with these, civil strife and political upheaval of unprecedented proportions will sweep through the developing nations.”
Importance of Protein
Protein is essential for all humans. It is a primary building block of our body’s muscle tissue, bone, cartilage and skin. The body’s chemical processes of life depend upon enzymes, some of the most important proteinlike substances. Growth and replacement of body tissues therefore require proteins.
The body manufactures its own proteins by combining amino acids—small units containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen—into long, three-dimensional chains. Most of the more than twenty amino acids are themselves made by the body, but eight of them must be supplied by protein found in the foods we eat. The body breaks down food protein into amino-acid units; these are then recombined into new protein, tailor-made for specific needs.
When food protein content is low, or any of the eight essential amino acids are in short supply, the body suffers protein deficiency. This malady induces apathy in adults and hinders recovery from injury and disease. In children, the results are similar but more severe. Mild or moderate deficiency renders them particularly susceptible to respiratory infections and gastrointestinal troubles. More advanced protein malnutrition can produce irreversible mental and physical retardation or even death.
Protein malnutrition is said to be jeopardizing the future for many millions of the world’s people. This is bad enough, but, since the protein gap is widening between supply and demand, an even worse impending protein crisis is feared.
The Earth Can Provide
Is the earth unable to produce enough nutritious food for its present inhabitants? Authorities such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization maintain that the world’s agricultural potential is great enough to feed thousands of millions more people. So, the earth can surely provide enough food for all the people who are living today. Then what is wrong?
A report to the United Nations Economic and Social Council noted that the problem of protein supply is complicated by social and economic patterns. It is acknowledged that present protein production is enough to satisfy the needs of earth’s population. But the supply is not getting to the people who need it. As well-known anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead stated: “The basic problem is an ethical one.”
The results of bad ethics include surpluses in one part of the world when people are hungry in another part; too much food in one part of the world when children are starving elsewhere. Agriculture has become big business. A distinction has been made between food that nourishes people and food out of which some people, some countries, derive their income. Food is no longer just to feed people. It is a commercial commodity.
Clearly, the main problem is the present unjust worldwide system of things. The earth can produce wholesome food in great abundance, but under a selfish system of things, torn by political divisions, food is not getting to the people who need it.
Trying to Cope with a Bad Situation
Unable to resolve the basic problem, that is, the replacement of the selfish system, man has tried to do the “second best”—that is, he has tried to compensate for this bad situation in a variety of ways. For example, fishing fleets have been expanded. The average world fish catch has been increasing by about 6 percent each year. However, it is feared that a modest increase of only 4.7 percent a year from 1967 on would exhaust the oceanic and inland fisheries’ protein supply by 1985.
Another effort to cope with the bad situation is with regard to improving fish processing methods. The goal is more complete utilization of this valuable protein source. Portions of fish not usually consumed can be made into a stable flour that is protein rich, with or without a fish taste or odor.
Various commercial products are being advocated to try to help alleviate the protein-shortage problem. Processors are seeking to improve methods to obtain meal and protein concentrates from peanuts, soybeans, cottonseed and other oil-seed crops after the oil has been extracted. The success already achieved with soybeans is an example of low-cost vegetable protein.
Soybean protein concentrate is a bland, white powder that can be used to enrich baked products, soups, beverages and puddings. A blend of cornmeal, dry milk, vitamins, minerals and soybean meal gives a nutritious protein-rich mixture that can be used for such purposes.
Vegetable protein concentrates are being used in wholesome beverages, hot or cold. In Hong Kong such a beverage is sold in competition with soft drinks. Since soybean protein can be combined with about a hundred different flavors to make this drink, it can be modified to suit local tastes around the world.
Also, vegetable protein is spun into fibers to make it similar to meat. The protein fibers are blended with fat, vegetable flavors and stabilizers. These meatlike products can be sliced, ground or diced. They can be used to extend real meats.
In addition to developing new products from existing protein, unusual new sources of protein are also being explored. Protein is being obtained from petroleum, natural gas, crude oil, sawdust, sugarcane, grass and coconut flesh. No, these products are not suggested for human consumption directly. Rather, microorganisms such as yeasts, bacteria and fungi utilize these products to make the protein. This is called Single Cell Protein, or SCP for short. It is expected that such microorganism-produced protein would be fed to animals first, with eventual human consumption of the animals in view. Understandably, there could be a problem of acceptability in introducing dried microorganism cells directly into human diets.
The “Green Revolution”
Another effort to cope with the situation has resulted in the grain or “green revolution.” Cereal crops account for the bulk of the world’s protein and calorie supply, about 70 percent of the total. The quantity of cereal grains has increased impressively through combinations of plant breeding, fertilizers, pesticides and better storage facilities.
The “green revolution” has been considered so important that a leading plant breeder who contributed to the high-yielding crops was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1970.
The new varieties of wheat and rice have greatly increased the supply of cereal protein in many lands. In just two years Ceylon’s rice crop rose by 34 percent and in six years India’s wheat yields more than doubled. Japan, with one of the most densely populated areas in the world, achieved a surplus of rice. Six years ago the Philippines imported one million tons of rice annually; in 1970 that country was self-sufficient and hoped to begin exporting rice, yet that proved to be premature optimism.
Alarm, however, is being expressed that the widespread dependence upon a few basic high-yield varieties may actually be laying the foundation for a mammoth disaster. If such narrow-based crops were to succumb to disease, the results could be catastrophic, with nothing to replace them quickly.
Illustrating that the deep concern is not unfounded is news from the Philippines. “Filipinos Expect New Rice Scarcity” was a heading in the New York Times of February 14, 1972. The subheading declared: “Deadly Virus Among Causes of Continuing Shortage.” The article explained:
“The Philippines, the land where the Green Revolution began, appears to be going from one rice crisis to another. After the development of high-yield varieties in 1966, the Philippines experienced self-sufficiency in rice and a small surplus only up to 1970. Last year huge imports were necessary, and now, a Government statistical agency predicts, the country faces vast shortages again this year and next.
“The causes of the shortage, according to Domingo Panganiban, an expert of the National Food and Agricultural Council, are typhoons, a lack of funding, problems of peace and order and a deadly plant virus called tungro.”
So the “green revolution” cannot be relied upon to solve the bad situation. Rather, it may only lead to a more devastating famine. Even the present increased production has not meant that the supply of protein and food energy is reaching starving people. Why, in some countries, as much as 20 percent of the cereal crop is lost because of poor storage facilities!
The real need, then, is for something beyond a “green revolution,”—for a new system of things that is not controlled by nationalism and by selfish commercial interests. The Bible explains God’s arrangements for the bringing in of such a system in this very generation.
Better Use of Available Supplies
In the meantime what can the average person do for himself and his family to relieve the protein shortage in their diet? There is much that people can do in a practical way in this regard. Meat or steak may taste good, but steak is not required in order to have the needed protein. Is fish available? Many persons get much of their protein from this source.
Eggs, milk and cheese supply high-quality proteins. Can you avail yourself of these food products? If not, abundant quantities of protein are available, from vegetable sources. The Bible reports that about 3,800 years ago a nutritious stew of protein-rich lentils was bought in exchange for a birthright! (Gen. 25:29-34) Legumes such as lentils, beans and peas are still good sources of protein that could be used more effectively by many people. Most plant products, however, lack one or more of the essential amino acids. This deficiency can often be corrected by combining them with other vegetables or protein foods that supply the lack. For example, adding just a small amount of high-quality protein food, such as eggs or cheese, to a diet of beans or cassava or plantain will create an amino-acid balance, enabling all the protein in the food to be used effectively. To obtain this advantage, however, protein foods must be eaten together.
Greater use of soybeans as a food is a practical way to add more protein to the diet. Soybean flour can be added to many foods, or you can cook the soybeans yourself. For best results the soybeans should be reasonably fresh, and they need to be soaked in water prior to cooking. The cooked soybeans are somewhat nutlike and chewy; thus some persons at first may think they are only half cooked, but this chewiness is to be expected. Soybeans can be used in salads or served as a vegetable.
Much can be done by parents in making better use of available supplies to improve the diet of their children in countries where protein intake may be low. (Awake!, June 22, 1966) It is usually after weaning that small children develop serious protein deficiency in these lands. Mother’s milk usually contains adequate protein, but the subsequent diet does not. Cassava root is a major constituent of weaned diets in many countries, but it is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. If, however, a stew of the young tender leaves were served along with the cassava roots, the protein problem would be alleviated—the usually unused leaves contain enough protein to balance the diet!
So give some thought to these matters, should the protein in your diet be deficient. Find out what foods can supply more protein to your diet. Your having good health, along with your family, depends in no small way on your knowing what the available sources of protein are.
Although our beautiful earth has the capacity to produce amply for the needs of all those now living and many more besides, we cannot expect an equal distribution of food in this system of things. Why not? Because of its selfish commercial nature. The Bible shows that this system will continue in its unjust ways till it comes to an end. And, as noted before, God’s new order will provide an abundance of food for all mankind. God’s prophet told about it beforehand, saying: “Jehovah of armies will certainly make for all the peoples . . . a banquet of well-oiled dishes, a banquet of wine kept on the dregs, of well-oiled dishes filled with marrow . . . Jehovah himself has spoken it.”—Isa. 25:6-8.