Foodbyte #6: Even eating less meat is a miracle, so become a Lessmeatarian

The recommended 5.5 oz of meat a day represents a 30% reduction from the average 8 oz American's currently eat

The recommended 5.5 oz of meat a day represents a 30% reduction from the average 8 oz American's currently eat

“Even eating less meat is a miracle.” I love that quote by Thich Nhat Hanh (see his Diet for a Mindful Society). In keeping with Buddhism’s Middle Way, it acknowledges that being responsible for our planet and our fellow creatures does not have to be an act of extremism. While I’m sure most animal rights groups would disagree with that statement, I’d like to look at this logically.

Let’s look at three facts about meat consumption:

  1. Meat consumption at current levels (about 200 lbs a year per capita in developed nations) is a tremendous strain on our environmental resources.
  2. Meat consumption at its current levels forces the market to meet the supply by growing meat in extremely inhumane conditions.
  3. Meat consumption at its current levels is bad for our health

Now, three facts about people:

  1. The vast majority of people eat omnivorously.
  2. The vast majority of people value their meat-eating experiences. To them there is nothing wrong with eating meat. Plus, meat-eating is a very pleasurable experience, gastronomically, emotionally, and socially.
  3. It takes a lot of conviction and self-denial to become vegetarian or vegan. Many people go in and out of vegetarianism. I know a lot of animal-loving, nature-loving people who tried to be vegan or vegetarian, and found it difficult to sustain.

To me, I think it’s a LOT more realistic to motivate people to eat less meat rather than cut it out completely. Not only more realistic, but perhaps accepting collateral damage in the animal world by asking our meat-eating friends to simply eat less meat instead of no meat would overall save animal lives, save water, save land, save our health.

Think about two scenarios: One in which 20% of the US becomes vegetarian vs. another in which the entire population of the country is motivated to eat 30% less meat.

Scenario 1: At the rate of 200 lbs of meat eaten a year, if 20% of 300 million people became vegetarian, that would save 12,000,000,000 lbs of meat or about 30 million cows (assuming all that meat eaten was beef and that each cow yields 400 lbs of meat.)

Scenario 2: Getting the same 300,000,000 people to cut down on their meat-eating 30% (for example, say you reduced your meat-eating by one meal, or about 2.5 oz of meat daily) you save 45 million cows.

But, which scenario is more likely? According to a Harris Interactive poll in 2003, only 2.8% of people polled in the US said that they NEVER eat meat, poultry, or fish–which is the basic definition of a vegetarian (recognizing that there are lots of different kinds vegetarians, according to how strict you are).

To get that 2.8% up to 20% would be a tremendous challenge, because of ingrained attitudes about meat that I mentioned above.    If you are vegetarian, you might feel encouraged by a rise in vegetarian restaurants in midtown Manhattan, but just travel to Kansas City and talk to people about taking their meat away from them.

Maybe you could convince those same people, however, to try eating meat at only one meal a day instead of two, or two meals a day instead of three. So, you skip the bacon at breakfast one day. Or the cold cuts at lunch on another. You could educate them into realizing that that small gesture can make a world of difference in terms of their own health, and the health of the planet.

Mark Bittman, the food columnist for the New York Times offers a challenge on his website.  The Food Matters Challenge (named after his book, Food Matters), asks people to pledge to become Lessmeatarian–and to make a commitment  (and sign up on the website, if a formal commitment will help you) to reduce  consumption of meat, dairy, over-processed carbohydrates, and junk food.    As a motivator, you might want to read a great article of his, published in the Times on January 27, 2008 called “The World–Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.”

He is not a vegetarian.  Nor is Michael Pollan, who explored that option in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.   They both recognize that moderation and prudence are good things when it comes to taking responsibility for ourselves, our planet and our fellow creatures. 

Some of us may eventually evolve to eating less and less meat.  I did–in 1998 I determined to eat meat at only one meal a day.  Then I said that if I had the option, I would always choose the non-meat option.  Then I cut out meat and poultry entirely.  I do eat fish occasionally, and I do eat dairy.  On Thanksgiving I eat a turkey raised at a local poultry farm.  On St. Patrick’s Day, I eat corned beef and cabbage.

We all have our own paths to take and the path can meander.  God bless those who are dedicated to living out their convictions on a straighter, narrower path in terms of compassion for animals or concern for the planet.  But for most of us, maybe our commitment is to just cut down, and that’s enough.  That’s doable.

Doable–and a miracle in itself.

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Comments

  1. Well said!
    Thich does it again …as he so oftern does.

    Also, apparently, there is a looming shortage of phosphate (and no phosphate = no food grown) and cattle use far more phosphate per kilo of protein than vegetables/beans. Just as the conversion by cattle of vegetable protein into meat protein is 10:1 That is, it requires 10k of say soy protein to produce 1k of meat. Can we afford to waste that much protein?

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