Meat is Murder (on the Planet)

The New York Times published a lengthy piece in its Week In Review section this Sunday, on a subject most people wish to ignore: the cost of meat. Having been a vegetarian for almost twenty-five years, I long ago grew tired of selling other people on the practice. I recognize that no one likes being preached to – especially over dinner. And hey, some of my best friends are carnivores; in fact, in the area I now call home, some of them even kill their own dinner.

So it’s refreshing when somebody else – in this case Mark Bittman, who the Times stresses is NOT a vegetarian – can lay out some of the argument for me, and for a wider audience at large. Enthusiastic meat consumers often judge vegetarians as big softies who are simply too nice to animals, and to an extent, they’re right: we do include the morality of meat eating as one of our objections (while recognizing that it’s hard to live a guilt-free existence). But that’s not to ignore the other two key issues, which are harder to argue with: personal health and, especially, the global environment. Mark Bittman’s front page feature helps demonstrate why these two issues are just as important. Here are some of his key facts and figures:

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. World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050,

Americans eat about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

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.

Livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

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.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. (Yet) about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

27bittmanxlarge1.jpgThis feed lot in California can accomodate up to 100,000 heads of cattle. An 1,100 ound beef cow can produce up to 14.6 tons of manure a year.

In Iowa alone, hog factories and farms produce more than 50 million tons of excrement annually.

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. 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 .

An accompanying graphic shows that a meal made up of 1 cup broccoli, I cup eggplant, 4 oz caulifower and 8 oz rice uses one-sixteenth the amount of fossil fuel energy as six ounces of beef.

The full article is available online. Please take time to read it through and consider to what extent your dietary habits are contributing to our planet’s imbalance.

And have a great week….

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2 Comment(s)

  1. Tom Ferrie

    28 January, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Glad you found this article to be as intriguing as I did. I’m glad you posted about it. Hope you guys are well, we are all getting over a weekend-long puke-fest. We all had roto-virus and it was horrible…unless you are looking to shed some unwanted pounds, which we were not.

    Anyway, hi to all,
    be well,

  2. baby jebus

    29 January, 2008 at 10:56 am

    I read through it, thought that some of the science was a bit questionable (in no way is a Prius ‘ultra-efficient’- any small diesel car shames it. It pollutes less in cities, sure, but the CO2 is produced at the power station instead) then had an enjoyable, if unexceptional rib eye steak (organic, of course) with leeks from our allotment, roasted tomatoes and gratin dauphinois (and an Argentine Malbec). I think I could give up beef tomorrow quite happily though- what is the American obsession with it? Interesting nonetheless, if obviously aimed at an American readership. I’m firmly in the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall camp on this- eat less, but better meat. (He was named as the number 1 eco-foodie by the Observer’s patchy Food magazine this week, and his ‘Fish’ and ‘MEAT’ books are both principled and highly informative.)
    Broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine and rice though- bleugh! You’ll need about two tins of anchovies to give it any flavour (and I actually like brown rice too)

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