January 29, 2008 —
Not all ethical shoppers subscribe to animal rights ideologies that hold the raising and killing of animals for food to be immoral. For many of us, knowing that a cow had enough space to graze, or that an egg-laying chicken wasn't grown in a crowded factory is enough. Others are strict humanists, believing that our moral and ethical responsibilities apply only to ourselves and our fellow human beings. But what if eating meat were just as lethal to our bodies and our planet as it is to the creatures we turn into hamburger?
Americans each consume around 33 percent more meat than we did in 1950, and the overall global increase in meat consumption is even more dramatic. As a result, much of the meat we eat today is grown in close confinement, fed an unnatural diet of grain and corn, and doused with enough antibiotics to ensure that it stays alive long enough to reach our plates. As outlined in an excellent recent New York Times article, the current state of meat production and consumption has reached levels that are toxic to both the environment and our diets.
Professor Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist who is quoted extensively in the article, puts it this way:
When you look at environmental problems in the U.S., nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.
How can we save ourselves from our over-reliance on harmful, mass produced meat? Well, higher meat prices are already having their effect on the economic feasibility of the current corporate agriculture system. But what can you do to help the process along if you're not willing to give up meat entirely?
- Eat Less — It's not necessary to eat meat with every meal, nor should we really be eating beef more frequently than once per week. Eating more than three ounces of red meat per day greatly increases one's chances of developing cancer and heart disease. Also, beef production is more environmentally harmful than other kind of meat.
- Eat Organic — Just like with vegetables, it may be more expensive, but it's much better for the environment and probably a lot healthier for you as well. Avoid any beef that has been treated with antibiotics or that isn't grass-fed.
- Eat Local — If you put in the time, you should be able to find a butcher that offers meat from smaller farms that are closer to home. Once again, it will probably be more expensive, but if you're cutting your overall meat consumption in half, you may as well get the best product for your money when you occasionally indulge in a small, juicy steak.