If We Eat Less Meat, Can We Save the Planet and Ourselves?

Mark Bittman had a remarkable piece in the New York Times yesterday about the true costs associated with all the meat we consume. According to Bittman, growing more industrialized meat, growing the feed the associated animals eat, and eating the resulting animal flesh, are collectively having dire consequences on the environment and our health. Bittman's story even gave a passionate, enthusiastic carnivore like me pause, and that's saying something. Bittman makes a compelling case for eating less meat, which of course people like Michael Pollan have been advocating for some time now.

I've been eating less meat on my diet, and I must admit I feel better. I don't miss the meat "hangover" that I used to get after polishing off a steak. Last night I went out for my birthday and brought home half the portion of delicious pork I was served at my favorite neighborhood restaurant.

Here are a couple of eye-opening lines from the story:

Two academics "calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by 20 per-cent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan--a Camry, say--to the ultra-efficient Prius."

"Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

"If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals."

Bittman is no vegetarian, nor does he advocate that we all become vegetarians. But if eating less meat can impact the world in so many positive ways, we all ought to do our part.

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