Never mind the economic crisis.
Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: The great food recession that is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch. You have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen by three-quarters over the past year, that of wheat by 130 percent. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, the World Bank says, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices.
But I bet that you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1 billion tonnes, the global grain harvest broke all records last year - it beat the previous year's by almost 5 percent. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?
There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13 billion tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01 billion, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says, will feed people.
I am sorely tempted to write another column about biofuels. From this morning all sellers of transport fuel in the UK will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that "the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol ... could feed one person for a year."
This year, the global stockpiles of cereals will decline by around 53 million tonnes; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels will consume almost 100 million tonnes, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis.
On Monday, UK Secretary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly promised that "if we need to adjust policy in the light of new evidence, we will."
What new evidence does she require? In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.
But I have been saying this for four years, and I am boring myself. Of course we must demand that our governments scrap the rules that turn grain into the fastest food of all. But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100 million tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760 million tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals - which could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat.
While meat consumption is booming in Asia and Latin America, in the UK it has scarcely changed since the government started gathering data in 1974. At just over 1kg per person per week, it's still about 40 percent above the global average, though less than half the amount consumed in the US. Britons eat less beef and more chicken than we did 30 years ago, which means a smaller total impact. Beef cattle eat about 8kg of grain or meal for every kilogram of flesh they produce; a kilogram of chicken needs just 2kg of feed. Even so, the UK's consumption rate is plainly unsustainable.
In his magazine The Land, Simon Fairlie has updated the figures produced 30 years ago in Kenneth Mellanby's book Can Britain Feed Itself? Mellanby found that a vegan diet produced by means of conventional agriculture would require only 3 million hectares of arable land (around half Britain's current total). Even if the UK reduced its consumption of meat by half, a mixed farming system would need 4.4 million hectares of arable fields and 6.4 million hectares of pasture. A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.