Saturday, July 5, 2008

The problem with meat

Okay, I admit it. I like a nice, juicy steak as much as the next guy. I also like hamburgers, and lamb souvlaki, and pork chops, and bacon, and sausages, and just about every other red meat. It's just really good.

But at the same time, I try to limit my consumption of red meat, by opting for poultry, fish, or even vegetarian meals as often as possible. Why? This graph says it all:

(graph from here)

The production of meat, and especially beef, is just an extraordinarily inefficient way to feed the human race. One acre of land used for corn farming produces ten times as much usable protein mass as the same land used for cattle. And those cattle have to eat too. Check page 23 of the above PDF to see feed-to-product ratios; to get equivalent amounts of beef and poultry (the final product that makes it to supermarket shelves), cows need to be fed 3 to 5 times as much.

Ezra Klein sums up the problem pretty well here:

Bacon is transcendent. The words "porterhouse" and "steak" make my mouth water.
Pork belly makes me simultaneously believe in God and doubt my own religious
tradition. And because of this, I'm not a full vegetarian. But I should be. And
not liking liberals don't change the truth about meat: Industrial
agriculture is cruel, meat production is a huge contributor to global warming,
and the market for meat contributes to world hunger in a substantial and direct

I won't convert to vegetarianism any time soon. Nor is vegetarianism necessary for the long-term survival of the human race. But at the same time, we should all do what we can to cut down on our consumption of meat, and especially red meat. It wouldn't just be good for the planet, it'd be good for ourselves as well. With obesity rates through the roof in North America (not to mention incidence of heart disease and other health problems resulting from poor diets), eating more veggies and less red meat is just what the doctor ordered.

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