Food for Thought

According to the UNFAO, thirty percent of the earth’s usable land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production. What’s more, it’s said that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases – more than all fossil-based transportation.

University of Chicago Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pam Martin calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be equivalent to switching from driving a standard sedan (e.g., Camry) to a hybrid Prius.

The Japanese National Institute of Livestock Science estimates that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Energy consumption and food production are intimately related, with large animals being disproportionately more energy intensive than other food sources. As fuel costs skyrocket, so does everything else, especially food. Last year, the UNFAO’s worldwide Food Price Index shot up 40%. In one year.

The EPA estimates that U.S. agriculture – much of which now serves the demand for meat – contributes to “nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.” The use of antibiotics in cattle is said to be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, along with increased incidence of diet-related disease.

It gets even more personal. Stanford professor Rose Naylor shows that roughly 800 million people suffer from malnutrition, while most of the world’s corn and soy is used to feed cattle and pigs. Depending on animal and process, up to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption. For U.S. grain-fed beef, this imbalance is up to ten times higher.

Diets heavily reliant on large animals are not only unhealthy and unnecessary, but one might say, unholy. By eating fewer large animals, we (1) use far less energy, (2) generate far less CO2, (3) potentially improve our health, and perhaps most importantly, (4) contribute to a more equitable and just distribution of calories into the world’s neediest communities. That, I believe, is Christ’s heart.

The proteins, aminos, vitamins, and other nutrients we need can be found, in abundance, in foods other than big meat. Caveat: I’m not a vegetarian, but our family’s diet is rarely based on big meat.

4 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. This is one of the reasons why grass-fed, free-range cattle and chickens are so important. Not only can you not “mass produce” them, their food products (from milk and eggs to their flesh) is immensely better for you…not to mention better for the planet.

    Sorry…small soapbox of mine….

    And don’t get me started on grains, especially corn and soy, as major sources of protein, either.

    All grains need to be properly prepared (soaked or sprouted) in order to neutralize the phytic acid, and corn need to be properly treated with lime (resulting in maise) as well. Soy protein has too many problems because of its phytoestrogens (I’m not feeding it to the males that I love ;^) ) and soaking doesn’t adequately neutralize its phytic acid for human consumption.

    Big meat, as you call it, is important to the diet but only if raised properly and when eaten in moderation.

    And don’t get The Abbess talking about the importance of moderation and restraint, either. :^)

    Thanks for pointing out the important facts about bovine methane as being the bigger problem.

  2. Peggy said, “Big meat, as you call it, is important to the diet but only if raised properly and when eaten in moderation.”

    Important, perhaps, but it’s not essential. The Harvard School of Public Health claimed recently that “animal protein and vegetable protein have the same effects on health.” The caveat is knowing where to find the big-meat equivalents.

    Soy – agreed, not the best choice.

    I tend to eat mounds of spinach and broccoli, which believe it or not has a fair amount of protein – I get about 15g/day in plant protein, with the added benefits inherent in raw greens.

    The rest (FDA says 50g/day) I get from fish, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, eggs, a bit of dairy, and some poultry. Beef and pork are rare around here.

  3. The issue of feeding these animals with what would be considered third world food, and the amounts it takes to feed them is a really good point.


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