Monday, August 6, 2012

USDA & Meatless Mondays, a Commentary on Eating Less Meat

As you know, I try to keep this blog fairly apolitical. If you're into politics -- food politics, environmental, social justice, etc., I encourage you to visit my other blog, Counterfeit Journalist. However, since the recent bout of news regarding reducing consumption of meat is immediately relevant to this blog, I thought I should say a few things about it. There is no recipe today, but if you're new to my blog and are looking for meatless ideas, I encourage you to browse my recipes.


Pigs in a CAFO
If you've been paying attention to news in America at any point during the past two weeks, you've probably heard about the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) "recommendation" that people (well, USDA employees) could reduce their toll on the environment by eating less meat. (If you haven't followed the news, the Huffington Post sums it up nicely here and I'm not going to bother repeating most things repeated there.). Surprise, surprise, various lobbies with an interest in meat production/consumption immediately lashed out (that is, after all, what lobbyists are paid to do) and the USDA retracted the statement.

Let's talk though, for a few minutes, about Meatless Mondays -- or more generally, about eating less meat. Regardless of whether you choose to eat less (or no) meat because you want to reduce your cholesterol, be nice to non-human animals, or shrink your carbon footprint, eating less meat is a kind thing to do for yourself and for the planet. The average American eats just shy of 200 pounds of meat per year. That's a lot of meat. And a lot of (mostly) corn* that meat is eating. And a lot of water used keeping that meat hydrated and it's living area clean.

So, even if you don't care to shrink your carbon footprint, reduce your cholesterol, or be kinder to the planet maybe, at least for now, it's a good idea to eat less meat because more than half the counties in the United States are disaster areas because of drought. Depending on who you choose to believe, between 441 (the beef industry) and 2,400 (PETA) gallons of water are used to produce each pound of meat. Let's settle on the number 1,800 gallons which is more or less the number that most (non-special interest) groups use.

To put that in perspective, a 1000** pound cow uses enough water to completely fill two Olympic sized swimming pools and partially fill a third.

That's a lot of water.

Laying Operation Chickens
I'd like to point out that it's not like skipping meat once a week is something you have to do for the rest of your life if you don't want to (though I suspect after the initial period where you break old habits you'll discover you don't miss it like you think you will). I used to date someone who believed he couldn't stay full if he didn't eat meat ("Let me introduce you to this funny little thing called fiber. Let's try eating unprocessed foods..."). His best friend was a "weekday vegetarian." The bestie and I repeatedly explained to my old boyfriend how we could live without meat. We demonstrated it at restaurants and at his house. It never sank in.

My housemate now, E, pretty much only eats meat when she goes out for a meal. This gets to the idea of meat as a treat, or meat as a condiment. Maybe, for you -- or your loved one -- it's time to think about just reducing meat consumption in different ways*** and opting for more sustainable options (like pasture-raised meat).

And as for the argument that sustainable options cost more. Well, yes. But study just came out that said that if we factor in the hidden costs of beef (it didn't address other meats as thoroughly), the average hamburger**** would cost $1.50 more. Most sustainable options are not subsidized (if you want smaller government, you shouldn't want subsidized food sources. Btw.) and also factor in the "true" costs of raising those animals.
Black Angus on a Feed Lot
My point in telling you this isn't to guilt you. If you're reading this blog, you either already know most or all of  these things or you're at least curious. My point isn't to preach my lifestyle and personal views (though again, if you want to see that, hop over to my other blog). My point is be part of the conversation about reducing American meat consumption -- which was my point in starting this blog to begin with. And I'd like you to join that conversation too.

*For animals raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
**This is an estimate for an average female black Angus, at butchering time, and does not account for the reduction in weight at hanging (i.e. - when viscera, etc has been removed), which apparently reduces the weight by about 62%
***Though I'd argue if you want a planet to live on -- or for the next generation, you stop making excuses and give up meat. It's an irresponsible choice in the way Americans (and others too, but American food habits are what I can speak to with authority) raise and consume meat animals and it's killing the planet.
****They chose burgers because the average American eat three burgers a week.

Butchered Hogs

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