Sunday, January 27, 2008

NYT: Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

     Here's an interesting article I just read in the New York Times regarding the consumption of meat in the world economy. Of particular interest to me were the following pieces of information:

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

and this one, which I already was aware of qualitatively but didn't know the difference was so substantial:

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. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

     My fiancee and I currently are not vegetarians, but we do try to limit our meat intake for both health and economic reasons (we have a lot of fresh, cheap vegetables available out here in California). Sometimes I joke that we're "vegetillusullarians", i.e., that we "usually eat vegetables". I believe the information will further factor into my mind when I'm looking through our recipes deciding what I should make for dinner.


Mookie said...

This is why I consider diet to be one of the most effective ways to reduce energy and resource consumption. It is also one of the most effective ways to break free from coercive marketing and consumerism in general, because one's health and well-being are at stake, and reading all those ingredients in processed foods, or hearing frequent reports of tainted meat is sure to help.

If you want to include meat in your diet, some sources might be local ranches, where cows are grass-fed, humanely treated, etc. Also, if you are into hunting or fishing, consider doing these things yourself to get meat. Deer and wild boar are fairly overpopulated because they don't have natural predators. I heard boars are pretty mean, too.

Adrian said...

I've been a vegetarian now for over a dozen years and while my g/f hasn't converted, she only eats meat at restaurants and we don't eat meat at home. In both of our experiences, the trick isn't so much cravings or an inability to deal without meat, it's habit. Once you learn new recipes (which can be quite fun and adventurous!) then it becomes second nature and you stop thinking about it.

And I'm sure that just this sort of consciousness-raising activity of thinking of where your food comes from will help make serious changes. Healthbolt had an article which illustrated how something as simple as eating a vegetarian PB&J sandwich instead of coldcuts cas have a big environmental impact. You really can make some important changes with these very small steps.

Thanks for the article.

Delta said...


I think for me the biggest issues are resource consumption, health benefits, personal financial cost to me, and concern for the environment. You've mentioned some of this to me before I believe, looks like I'm finally paying attention =)


Thanks for the comment. I think you're right about it becoming a habit. Habits are hard to break, even when they're good ones. Humans are really a creature of habit for the most part.

Ned Ludd said...

The problem of feeding the world's population will not be solved by eating less meat in the developed countries so they can export more grain to poor countries.

What is needed is to stop corporations like Monsanto from destroying sustainable agriculture in those countries.

"the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens." But this corn and soy is mostly grown in a very few countries like the U.S. and Brazil. They ship it abroad at prices that undercut local farmers.

Indian woman Vandana Shiva has written and talked and campaigned a lot on this problem. One example, and you can find much more.

Reducing meat production in the U.S. would be beneficial for the environment there and people's health, but it is not the answer to world malnutrition. One of the things mentioned in the NYT article is the transportation problem.

Shipping, whether on land, sea, or in air, is very inefficient and polluting. It is little known that ships' motors contribute and enormous amount to global warming. Locally or regionally produced food is much less polluting.