Food for Thought: The Environmental Impact of Eating Meat

We’ve all heard the myriad health benefits of reducing our meat consumption, but what about the benefits to our planet? Mother Earth News published a great article succinctly summarizing the environmental impact of our monstrous American meat consumption, and I wanted to share it. It goes without saying that raising, preparing, and eating meat is deeply ingrained in our culinary identity as Americans, but aren’t American innovation and ingenuity a greater source of pride? What would be so revolutionary about an American shift to a fiscally responsible, sustainable, self-preserving plant-based diet? Wouldn’t that shift put us ahead of the curve? Food for thought.

veggie cow

Here are the facts that jumped off the page at me from the Mother Earth article:

  • Nearly all supermarket beef, chicken and pork — the three most consumed types of animal protein in this country — are produced on enormous industrial-scale farms. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines these huge farms as “agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. [Such operations] congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing in pastures, fields or on rangeland.”
  • On these factory farms, animals eat commodity crops — primarily corn and soybeans — that are subsidized by taxpayers via the Farm Bill. Half of all North American cropland — about 149 million acres — produces animal feed from genetically modified (GM) crops designed to resist weedkillers such as Roundup. These crops have spawned an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.” In 2012, superweeds infested 61 million acres of farmland growing GM crops. The result: An increase in herbicide use rather than a reduction, as well as “stacking” of genetically modified traits in seeds to allow cocktails of potent herbicides to be used on crops.
  • Beef cattle are given anabolic steroids as well as estrogen, androgen and progestin — commonly called “growth hormones” — to make them put on weight more quickly. Although the European Union banned the use of these hormones in 1988, they’re still commonplace in the United States. “Measurable levels of…growth-promoting hormones are found at slaughter in the muscle, fat, liver, kidneys and other organ meats,” says the Organic Consumers Association in a position paper. “Every beef-eating American for over 50 years has been exposed to these hormones on a regular basis.” Pigs, too, are fed growth hormones. The use of growth hormones in poultry, however, has been illegal in the United States since the 1950s.
  • Animal feed includes low-level (sometimes called “sub-therapeutic”) doses of antibiotics to promote growth and offset unsanitary, overcrowded conditions. About 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are administered to livestock, a figure acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. These drugs pass through manure and leach into the soil and groundwater, ultimately polluting neighboring rivers and streams.

My decisions as a consumer are weighing more heavily on me as I become aware of their rippling consequences (I think this is called “maturing” in some cultures. hmm). I love the occasional taste of meat and am by no means scolding…. but this is shocking stuff. If you’re considering reducing how much meat your family eats but you’re not sure how to approach the change (most of us are programmed to cook with meat), try introducing meatless Mondays or Mark Bittman’ wonderful flexitarian approach: VB6. Vegan before 6pm!

What are your thoughts on the effects of excessive meat consumption across our country?

You can read the entire article, Try a Flexitarian Diet for Better Health and a Better Food Budget, here.

Earthrise

Earthrise. I LOVE ya and I want to take care OF ya!

3 thoughts on “Food for Thought: The Environmental Impact of Eating Meat

  1. This is indeed thoughtful food. Referencing the Mayo Clinic and Mother Earth News, it’s a balanced diet too. Allez!Gourmet is encouraging (“I’m not scolding,” she writes.), rather than stabbing the mounds of data with a “Would you wake up to your actions?!” finger, or screaming “Meat is stinky and germy and kills things as smart as you.” The advice isn’t a bitter pill, swallowed easily as it is with sophisticated recipes that just don’t require meat. An earlier Allez!Gourmet article featured M. Pollan’s braised fennel (!), this article channels that Pollan philosophy many (many) can live with, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” So many reasons to do so… We can cut back, if nothing else (really, we can buck up and think outside of our meaty boxes and cut meat out entriely)…. What more can be said?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I totally agree that there needs to be a lot less “factory” meat farming for the health of the planet and its humans. I can’t use that, personally, as an argument to be a vegetarian because I have the means to always consume locally sourced, pasture-raised, humanely and sustainably raised beef and pork. The health argument also does not convince me. A close look at the data on vegetarians reveals that if you compare mortality between the vegetarians in a society and those who are not they have lower mortality. If, however, you match those health-conscious vegetarians to non-vegetarians who have similar traits (exercise, non-smoking primarily) that difference goes away. They have a slightly lower risk of cardiovascular death but death from other causes increases yielding a lack of mortality benefit.
    Conspicuously, Michael Pollan , advises “mostly plants” and clearly (see Cooked) relishes multiple meat dishes (and, of course wonderful fish and full-fat dairy).

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