Is Meat Really the Worst Thing for the Planet?

For most people in developed nations, a meal without meat is a pretty rare occurrence. We simply got used to having some part of an animal at least once or twice a day. Just a few decades ago, meat was considered a luxury product and most of the world had at least a couple of days a week eating meat-free meals. So, what changed and how does that affect our bodies and our planet?

The Debate

There is an ongoing battle between meat eaters and those who claim that meat is not good for you. This battle spilled over into every facet of life, including social, political, scientific, and economic. Taking this last one into consideration first, meat is one of the least efficient ways to feed the planet, and meat production wastes resources on a massive scale. Scientists estimate that the numbers of animals we currently keep for food purposes only are absolutely crazy:

  • 1,500,000,000 cows
  • 25,000,000,000 chicken
  • 1,000,000,000 pigs
  • 1,000,000,000 sheep

These animals require food and water. We have transformed the Earth into a giant farm trying to keep up the meat production at the current level. We use up to 83% of farmland to produce food for the animals we eat. Translating that into a global scale, it’s more than a quarter of the total land area of Earth. Similarly, a quarter of freshwater consumption is used up by meat and dairy production processes. When we look at things a little deeper all this gets even scarier. To create one kilogram of steak, a cow needs to eat between 20-25kg of grain. This process also requires more than 10.000 liters of water. The problem is that only about five percent of calories a cow eats are actually available to us in the final meat product we eat.

But at Least the Meat Is Good for You, Right?

Well, sort off. Heavy proponents of meat-eating as a healthy way of dieting often don’t take into consideration the quality of meat we produce, and the amount of processing meat undergoes before it reaches our guts. The most often used example is the Inuit diet. Living in the areas where not much vegetation can be found, Inuit eat mostly meat and more than 80% of their diet is based on what they hunt or fish. Despite that, their cardiac-related deaths are half as common as the average for North America or Europe. The reason for this can be found in the meat quality. Most of their food is either eaten raw or barely cooked, without any industrial processing.

Western nations, on the other hand, get the majority of their meat either conserved or treated with various chemicals to preserve them longer than natural. The animals this meat comes from are usually pumped full of antibiotics and various hormones in order to speed up their growth and increase profitability. So, the debate here is not if the meat is bad for you, but if the meat you have available is bad for you.

The last thing scientists warn us about is the effect that meat has on our diet and our bodies. Studies show that people who base their diets primarily on meat tend to introduce larger quantities of processed sugar as well into their diet, with the fibers and naturally occurring fats taking a hit. This is a cultural issue that started negatively affecting our bodies as the fast food industry, which is primarily based on heavily processed meat, started to grow and shape our eating habits. Nowadays, with a large bucket of fried chicken come a large soda and a sugary treat.

Meat in itself is not all that bad for the planet, but the meat as we make it and like to eat it definitely is.

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