Anyway, with my own fraught relationship to meat consumption, I was excited to read this article from the NYT:
Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.
Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country’s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.
The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”
Not to get all Malthusian, but this, folks, is *not* sustainable. We've already gone from raising animals on pasture land to f-ing feedlots: what's next? How could meat production get even worse (in terms of animal cruelty, environmental degradation, etc.) in the name of efficiency?
Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.
And we're a notoriously unhealthy country... maybe it's a cause/effect, and not just a correlation.
To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.
Yes! When will the reduction of meat in one's diet have the same sort of environmentalist cache as driving a Prius?
The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources .
Come on, NYT, just say it: the reason the government recommends so much protein has a *ton* to do with the meat lobbyists. The food pyramid was always based on profits, not science. Much like everything else under the current administration...
I'd love to know when this mythology around meat started... when did masculinity and meat-eating become so intertwined that every fast food commercial invokes the link? When did it become acceptable for a *very* well educated 30-something living in SF to ask, in all seriousness, how a vegetarian gets enough protein? For a nation that avoids exercise at all costs, with a population that will drive across parking lots to avoid walking (or go in endless circles: waiting for a parking space right next to the door), how incongruous is it, that we're the ones worrying about getting enough protein?! We've got to fuel all that sitting that we do.
The article attempts to end on a high note, but considering all the subsidies wrapped up in meat production, and the effectiveness of lobbyists, and the downright moral blindness that our national ethos seems to embrace, I'm not feeling terribly optimistic.