Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Where's the beef?

Don't let the anthropo- morphic cow picture scare you. I'm haven't forgotten my promise that I won't guilt you into going vegan. But I have been thinking a lot about meat lately. About this time last year, I visited the Texas ranch of a certain rock legend who’s better known these days for his advocacy of hunting and outspoken conservative politics. And although I probably disagree with him politically across the board, I did leave the experience convinced that he’s got one part of the equation right—that it’s a heck of a lot healthier, more humane, and more ecologically sustainable to hunt your own food than to buy it packaged at the supermarket. Unfortunately, most of us don’t own land with deer and other game roaming through it (btw, how can I get some of that?) and must rely on an agricultural system that is deeply flawed and unsustainable. There are many problems with the way our food is grown/raised that have huge implications not only for our personal health, but also for the planet. I will focus in coming weeks on the impact of eating locally (perhaps most important of all!) and organic. But in honor of Fat Tuesday and my own cultural heritage which starts observing the season of Lent tomorrow(traditionally marked by a meat-free Friday), I thought it appropriate to propose a meat-free day or meal per week. You don’t even have to be Episcopalian or Catholic to join the fun!

Why? Here are just a few reasons.

* Over a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in this country are used in animal production. That means you get way more than your beef’s worth of global warming-causing greenhouse gases for your buck.

* Producing one hamburger patty uses the same amount of fuel as driving 20 miles does. Yikes!

* 40% of land in the U.S.—800 million acres—is used to graze livestock. This staggering percentage means that the habitat alteration, water and air pollution, greenhouse gases associated with animal production are on an enormous scale.

* 4.8 pounds of grain are required to produce one pound of beef. Is this an efficient use of energy and resources?

* 2 billion tons of wet manure are generated every year. This is ten times the amount of solid waste generation in our country (which is already an enormous amount!) and has catastrophic implications on our water safety. According to the EPA, animal wastes pollute American water supplies more than all other industrial sources combined! Where do you think e. coli outbreaks originate, folks?

* Poultry is less polluting than red meat, but still contributes its fair share. Poultry waste comprises 34% of animal waste, while red meat claims 45%. Pigs account for 12%, leaving the remaining 9% to turkeys, goats, and other livestock.

* A pound of beef requires around 2500 gallons of water to produce, compared to 60 gallons for a pound of potatoes. According to John Robbins in his seminal book, "The Food Revolution", you’d save more water passing on one pound of beef than not showering for a whole year! And you'll likely keep more friends along the way, too.

Reducing my own beef consumption is definitely a challenge. After almost 5 years of vegetarianism, I started (literally) dreaming about hamburgers about 3 years ago and have since enjoyed my fair share of them. I don't even really like other kinds of lower-impact meat--beef is where it's at for me. But with all the above figures weighing on my mind, I'm going to cut out at least a serving of meat every week. So enjoy your Fat Tuesday, and tomorrow, go Catholic!

photo by pikaluk

1 comment:

Becky L. said...

I stopped eating beef a few months ago. And actually, I really enjoy some of the meat substitutes out there -- I made enchiladas with Smart Ground (fake ground beef stuff), and they're awesome! I had also stopped eating pork and poultry. But I've amended my stance on that -- I'm eating only organic, free range, and as locally raised as possible.