A new report from the Dutch bank Rabobank, discussed last week on the internet site TakePart, found that meat-eating in the United States had risen by 5%, the largest increased since the 1970s. Further, the report predicted that demand for meat in 2050 is expected to be 95% higher (i.e., almost double) what it was in 2005.
This is bad. Yet the report’s authors sought to identify good news in their additional finding that beef consumption has remained flat, and that the increase has been mostly in poultry consumption, pointing out that the carbon footprint of chicken is vastly smaller than that of beef or veal or lamb. In addition, the TakePart article noted that people are buying more organic and grass-fed and farmers’ market meat, and that according to the market research firm Packaged Facts, over half of consumers are willing to pay more for better meat products of these types as opposed to the products of industrial agriculture.
No question, it is better to eat meat with a lower carbon footprint and more humanely raised than products involving higher footprint and greater cruelty. However. While properly managed pasture can indeed sequester carbon, even grass-fed livestock release a lot of the much more active greenhouse gas methane, and managing pasture for carbon-sequestration significantly limits the number of animals on a given piece of land. Also, it takes a lot more animals to make 100 pounds of chicken meat than 100 pounds of beef. Bottom line: there’s just not enough pasture on Earth for the supply of even chicken meat to nearly double using natural, humane, and climate-friendly methods. Yet as Willy Blackmore, the TakePart food editor, pointed out, “Industrial poultry farming is rife with problems — birds live in horrid conditions, runoff contaminates groundwater and creates algae blooms that destroy marine ecosystems downstream, and both the farmers and the workers who slaughter and process the birds are mistreated by the industry…” In other words, it’s unconscionably ugly.
Rabobank report author Janet Ranganathan happily announced that consumers “can have a significant impact on their diet by making small changes to their consumption of animal-based production — specifically beef and dairy — and making switches to poultry and pork and eating less of it. Not giving it up — just eating less of it.” But one can only reach this conclusion by looking very narrowly at carbon footprint of various animals in isolation from every other consideration, including the fact that all those chickens have to be fed, and their feed is grown on land each acre of which could feed four times as many people eating beans and grains and vegetables as it could feed people eating chicken or farmed fish.
People switching from beef to chicken may be a little bit good for carbon release. But an increase in eating meat is very bad for human health, the environment, and the animals. And due to meat’s inefficiencies, increased meat-eating is very bad indeed for prospects of ending world hunger.
I appreciate Ranganathan’s unwillingness to tell people to really stop eating meat. But her “eating less of it” will only work if we all drop our meat-eating by 75 or 90% — low enough to significantly decrease the amount of meat demanded in 2050, not double it. As my next contribution to the idea that this switch need not involve suffering, I offer this delicious recipe from Middle Eastern cuisine:
Ingredients: 1/2 to 1 whole head of garlic; 1 TBSP or more olive oil; 1 24-oz. can fava beans OR 1 cup dry fava beans and 4 cups water; 0 to 1 tsp. salt; 1 bunch scallions; 1 lemon
Directions: 1. If using dry beans, precook them in the 4 cups water for 3-4 hours until soft, and then drain. 2. Slice white and light green parts of scallions. 3. Remove paper from garlic cloves and put them through a garlic press, mincing and using what’s left in the press as well as what comes through it. 4. Combine scallions, garlic, olive oil, fava beans, and juice of half the lemon in a large bowl, as well as optional salt (when I use canned favas, they already have salt in them and I add none; when I cook dry beans I add 1/2 tsp. salt). Use a potato masher to partly squash the fava beans, then mix all ingredients well. Test the taste and add more lemon juice and otherwise correct the flavor if needed. Warm in the microwave and serve with pita pockets and a side salad or other vegetable.
Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley