Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are You Getting Your Fair Share of Animal?

Most everybody I know thinks factory farming is horrible. And most everybody I know likes to eat at fast food restaurants. Is this just the cumulative effect of little white lies? Or did we not understand the unit on cause and effect in middle school science class?

I’ve been reading a great book called, Food Matters by Mark Bittman. He writes about the fact that we are an unhealthy people on an unhealthy planet and we are headed for disaster (or at least the really poor people are) if nothing is done to change our ways. He says it much nicer and with a lot more graphs and charts, but his point is true. Here’s a few of his facts that stood out for me:
60 billion animals are raised each year for food – 10 animals for every human on earth. Now I’m fairly certain that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t getting their share of animals. And I’m guessing it’s not because they don’t want them. It’s most likely because somebody else is eating them.

1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry; 1 billion people are overweight. Hmmm….

 When you take in to account the fuels needed to feed a cow (including planting, applying pesticides and fertilizing, and then harvesting and transporting the feed) and then you take in to account the life in the feedlot, butchering, packaging, and transporting; the average steer raised in the US consumes about 135 gallons of gasoline in its lifetime. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if we eat less meat, we’re going to have significantly less impact. As Bittman puts it, “If we each ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we’d cancel out the effects of all the SUVs in the country.”

 Eating less meat isn’t only a good idea from an environmental and global perspective; it’s also a good idea for your health. A National Cancer Institute study of 550,000 people found that those who ate 4 ounces of red meat daily (and how many ounces would there be in a quarter pounder? C’mon dust off those math skills), were 30% more likely to die of any cause (any cause) over ten years than those who consumed less. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you can start shooting darts in my data, but this was 550,000 people so that birdie won’t fly. The average person in a developing country eats a ½ pound of meat daily – that’s twice what a body needs. And we wonder why we’re obese?

 According to the Mayo Clinic, eating less meat (red meat and processed meats) not only lowers your fat and calorie intake, it also generally lowers your cholesterol. And eating less meat saves you money. Beans, cheese, eggs, and veggies are much cheaper than meat. 

 Bittman does not propose that we all become vegetarians. Heck no, he even has some nice meat recipes in his book. What he does propose is that we eat less meat. In my reading I came across the term “flexitarian” several times. It’s a term referring to people who eat mostly plant-based foods, with occasional helpings of meat, poultry, and fish.
Eating less meat is a goal I have for my family. And the meat we do it should be meat that was raised humanely, without unnecessary antibiotics, hormones, and junk food. So eat less meat, but eat better meat. Figuring out what to eat when there isn’t meat involved isn’t really as hard as you think. Here are a few ideas: 
  • pasta of any kind – tortellini, ravioli, spaghetti, fettuccini, veggie lasagna, stuff shells, mac & cheese,
  •  soups (having a soup night each week is good for you- body and soul)
  •  Mexican food (substituting beans for meat) – burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, nachos
  •  Vegetable egg rolls and veggie fried rice (Trader Joes has excellent egg rolls and veggie fried rice is way easy to make)
  • Pizza (establish a pizza night and nix the pepperoni)
  • Eggs – scrambled, quiche, fried, hard-boiled (so much you can do with an egg! And if you need some fresh, free range eggs, give me a call. We’re overloaded right now- $3/dozen)
  • Salad bar (my kids love this one. We include leftovers on the side. Be sure to offer nuts, craisins, hard-boiled eggs, and cheese to get some protein in there)
  • Breakfast for dinner (always a winner)
  • Meatless Chili (crock pot time)
  • Seafood (who doesn't need an excuse to eat more seafood?)
 Together corn and soy account for 50% of the harvest in the US. And most of that harvest is used to feed animals that we plan to eat. Maybe if demand for those animals wasn’t so high, that food could be used for people. There is more than enough food to feed this planet. It’s just not being evenly distributed. If we reduce the demand for meat, factory farms wouldn’t be necessary and food manufacturers might need to find something else to do with all that soy and corn. Little changes in every household will add up.

But here’s the crux of it, according to Bittman, if we currently raise 60 billion animals for meat, ten animals for each person; we will need to raise 120 billion animals by 2050 to sustain that level. We don’t have the space, energy, atmosphere, or water supply to meet that demand. Can’t happen. So something has to give. Our ancestors lived on much less meat, but somewhere along the line we began to believe that we needed more. We don’t.

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