It seems quite clear and well accepted that meat production, especially beef, has an environmental impact far greater than most other foods. Certainly it is less efficient in terms of land use, water impact, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. And yes, I am aware that these issues are complex. Livestock can utilise marginal land, and can be fed on otherwise wasted agricultural by-products. In some circumstances cattle can be hugely positive for soils. Animals can provide valuable food resources in the developing world, often in families and communities where other types of farming are impossible.
I certainly do not think that any one should become vegan unless they really want to, and if they do, they should take care to ensure their diet is nutritionally adequate. Veganism is not 'the answer', and anyone claiming so is guilty of selling a simple solution to a complex problem. But I do believe that the current rate of meat consumption in the developed world is unsustainable. I can see no justification for feeding grains and soy fit for human consumption to animals being raised for meat. And I do not think that we will ever be able to raise enough beef and dairy cattle on pasture to supply current demand, let alone the demands of a growing and increasingly affluent world population.
The problem is, we really like meat. I really like meat. I also love butter, cream, cheese and eggs. They are incredibly nice to eat, and given free choice, we tend to eat loads of them. As increasing numbers around the world have enough money to buy these products, demand is set to spiral out of control.
It may well be that the only way to achieve a sensible and sustainable diet, is for all of us to eat fewer animal products. But how exactly can we make that happen? The solution is definitely not putting the brakes on increased affluence in the developing world. And anyone who suggests that ‘they’ need to stop having so many children can fuck right off. But the fact remains that something must be done. We are in danger of eating the world to death.
The problem is, this goes against everything I believe. People should eat whatever they want, enjoy food and let it bring us together. More than any other food, meat is a culinary symbol of sharing, feasts and celebration. All the options available to reduce consumption make me uncomfortable. If we only allow pasture fed beef, we will end up with more land being turned to pasture, and likely see increased deforestation. If we insist that only marginal land is used to raise cattle and limit feeding with grains or soy, production will be limited and prices will spiral out of control. Meat and dairy will be in danger of becoming the sole preserve of the rich, further widening the health and nutrition gap. If we decide to place environmental taxes on meat, the same will happen. If we ration it, I would despair at what sort of world we had become.
The potential consequences of our love affair with meat are too great to ignore. It will lead us towards an abyss, and people around the world will begin to starve. They will not starve because the we do not have enough food. They will starve because we are feeding so much of our food to animals, in order to supply a rich minority with meat.
Before we reach that point, and to be clear this is not likely to happen for many years, solutions must be found. But within the world in which I want to live, where people are free to eat however they desire, I currently have no idea where these solutions lie. It is all very well knowing what people should be doing. Persuading them to do it is where the problems really lie.
we need some kind of wholly new thing (dare I call it a permanent culture?) if we're going to pull it off.
Stacy Witscher wrote:I do think it would help if we could get more people to open up to the idea of different meats. Personally, I'm not a big beef person, never have been. I don't much care for the flavor and I find all but the tenderloin too tough for me. We eat lamb and duck, guests always seem to find this odd. Moving different meats mainstream could help utilize different land. Around here, duck, rabbit, venison, goat are specialty meats. You have to go to a butcher shop or ethnic or high end market to get them. They are pricey, so people aren't exposed to them.