28 January 2008

And that's why we don't eat at McDonalds

Mark Bittman, a food writer for The New York Times, has written a wonderful, unappetizing article about the miserable implications of industrial meat production. If you've got an extra fifteen minutes, check it out: Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

Essentially, Bittman writes about the ways we disproportionately allocate resources to meat production, and he speculates on how it's all gonna catch up with us, and soon. The problem is worldwide but as with almost everything else I can think of, Westerners can take most of the blame since we insist on doing everything--including meat eating, apparently--to excess. Americans eat about four pounds of meat a week, though fifty years ago that average was three pounds. Furthermore, Bittman learned that

"...if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius."
So really, we're eating so much of the stuff that even cutting out a small amount--twenty percent isn't that much--would have a huge impact. And after charging through Michael Pollan's latest two books recently, it's pretty clear to me that the effects of a twenty percent reduction would be positive for the environment as well as for people's health. If everyone in America did that, we'd be eating twelve billion pounds less meat each year. Holy crap.

We could probably eat all the meat we wanted with minimal environmental impact if we made sure all of it was sustainably raised--though the problem there, of course, is that sustainable farms can't give us all we want if what we want is billions and billions of hamburgers and chicken wings. However, supporting small farmers will help them produce as much as they're able. If you haven't already done so, before oil prices drive the cost of industrial meat through the roof you might want to make friends with one of these farmers so you have a source of local, responsibly raised, and probably organic meat.


frugalmom said...

Right on!

Katie said...

Hey Meg,

Chris and I fought over today's receipt of the latest Mother Earth News, and lo-and-behold, a very similar tale unwound there. Like a page out of Pollan's books, but grosser. Way grosser.

Chris spent the evening searching out local sources of meat.


Two good places to start. I bet you can find more unindustrialized meat that you imagine, for the few times you actually eat meat after those books....at least make it sustainably and humanely raised!

Katie at GardenPunks


Katie said...

Just moused over your link to www.localharvest.org.

Eerie how much we think alike.

kate said...

After reading Michael Pollan's latest book, I don't think I could face McDonalds ... the good thing about living here is that we have local sources of meat. It's hard to find ones that don't fill their cattle up with antibiotics and the like though. That's another related issue.

Anonymous said...

I read parts of this article aloud to my husband. He was appalled. I'm a vegetarian (he's not), so while also appalled I feel less personally affected (though would still like to figure out how to change things). But I drive a Camry and now I feel bad about that, too...

Anonymous said...

Great post! We've stopped eating CAFO meat since reading Omnivores Dilemma, and now I'm working on cutting down our meat consumption (even though we only eat the good stuff) because I think it's important. Isn't it amazing what a little knowledge can do? It can change you forever.

mom said...

Meg, great post! I clicked on "these farmers" to see how many local farms there are and I was shocked. I thought I knew most of them throught the farmers markets I go to but now I know that I am really missing out. After looking at this list and what people can do, I know you guys can do this too someday.

Patrick said...

I don't think the price of factory farm meat is going up anytime soon. About a decade ago it was estimated that if there were no subsidies, a McDonalds cheeseburger would cost about $13. I think as long as energy prices go up, more subsidies will just make up the difference.

Meg said...

FM, :D

Katie, we've got that issue sitting in a pile of mail somewhere, but haven't had a chance to really look through it yet. I'll be on the lookout for that article!

I've been to the Local Harvest site before, but I think it was fresh in my mind from when you posted it last week or whenever. Eat Wild is new to me, though, so I've been spending some time checking that out. It's a great site.

Kate, we don't eat much meat here--I haven't eaten any for years and Kelly gets it usually only when we go out someplace--but I'm on board with eating it if we find local sources of the good stuff. We live close to a lot of Amish communities, so they at least will probably be good suppliers of totally organic meat.

Jenny, I feel the same way you do--I can't really cut back my consuption of CAFO meat since that's already at nothing, but that doesn't mean I don't wish they'd change how they do things...

Angie, thanks! I've seen some of the food you've posted about for the Dark Days challenge, and boy, does it look awesome! I wonder if more people would change their habits if they knew that eating responsibly could look that good. I think a lot of people are of the impression that we eat dandelions and squirrels or something.

Mom, maybe Carol can find a new source for chicken feet through there.

Patrick, good point. That's actually what makes me angriest about the whole thing--the fact that the government underwrites the whole messed up process and most of the poplulation is none the wiser. People don't realize that they pay the difference of that $13 one way or another.

Mike (tfb) said...

Thought-prodding post! Reading this reminded of a book, Diet for a Lonely Planet, that I'd totally forgotten about partly reading/skimming quite a few years ago, well before my New Life in the market garden. This was at least 10 years ago, and the book itself is nearly 40 years old and was some sort of bestseller at the time (I just looked it up). Anyhow, I remember at the time being a little obsessed with the "meat-grain conspiracy", a description of how grain was passed through all of these profitable middleman stages to feed cattle to produce beef to sell at a vastly greater cost-to-nutritional value compared to the original grain. IOW, the idea was, we could be eating healthily at a tiny fraction of the cost if we weren't so fixated on MEAT.

I've always disliked scams and being tricked (I guess, don't we all), and this struck me as a pretty large scale bit of fiscal alchemy, turning "cheap" grain into high-profit beef, with all the participants taking a little profit down the line, except, of course, for the consumer, who's doing all the paying.

(BTW, Bittman has a great book for people who don't really like cookbooks, but want to cook more, called How to Cook Everything. Its worked for me!)

Mike (tfb> said...

Sorry, it's Diet for a Small Planet!

Meg said...

Hi, Mike. I've know exactly which book you're talking about! I haven't read it, but it's one of those that's been on my to-read list forever. Your summary of it is going to give it a boost in the queue.

Your description of the whole issue as a scam is right on. I remember seeing an info-graphic type picture in a magazine or something years ago that showed, like, fifty bushels of corn equaling two cows and the cows equaling, say, ten people, while the other side of the equation showed the same amount of corn equaling a couple hundred people. It's a classic pyramid scheme, huh?

Good to know about the Bittman book. We don't really use cookbooks either--we are of the throw-it-in-a-pot-with-olive-oil-and-garlic school of cooking--but we pretty often wonder how we could use a particular ingredient if we decided to grow it.

mom said...

Meg, she needs a new source for chicken feet! It makes all the difference in the chicken broth.


Anonymous said...

LOL!! I agree about the misconceptions! And thanks for the compliments on the food. That's really what drove me to sign on for the Dark Days Challenge, I wanted people to see that it is possible to eat local, and well, year round, particularly in the north.

Kim said...

As The Onion so aptly put it, America's favorite condiment is another beef patty!

We live in Western PA, and though we don't eat much meat, we've found wonderful sources of local, sustainably raised beef, pork, and chicken in our county, just a few miles away.

Nice post, great blog.

Meg said...

Ha! The Onion is always right.

Kelly's family is in Western PA and there are some farmer relatives out there--definitely a great place to find good local food.