The Role of Meat in the Modern-Day Diet
This past month, I’ve discussed various aspects of nutrition and the modern foodscape. Last week, I wrote about antibiotics in livestock feed. After decades of debate, the FDA is finally phasing out their use in animal feed, a move consumers began demanding with their dollars several years ago. This week, we’ll take it a step further and discuss how to find affordable sources of meat that are raised locally and humanely, and are fed a good diet, preferably grass.
Meat production in the United States is heavily industrialized. While industrialization has made meat more available and affordable than ever, there are significant costs to our health and the environment that shouldn’t be ignored. Meat is an excellent source of protein and iron. Despite what some devout devotees of veganism claim, we did evolve to eat meat.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, paleo enthusiasts claim that we should regularly eat large quantities of red meat. Both sides veer too far from the center. The average American consumes 12 ounces of meat every day, twice as much as the recommended amount. We’ve developed a culture around meat eating (take the current fascination with both the Paleo diet and bacon, for example.) Too much of a good thing can lead to higher risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. We don’t need this much meat.
The energy expended in producing all the meat we consume is considerable. Animal protein takes 100 times the amount of water to produce than plant protein does. One calorie of animal protein requires ten times the amount of fossil fuels to get from farm to table than plant protein does. Factory farms that house livestock are also a significant source of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Studies have shown that going meatless (even just once a week) can make a big difference. Nutritionists recommend that we limit consumption of red meat to two or three times a week and consume no more than 2.5 ounces per day.
The best way to find sustainable meat is to purchase it at a local farmers market. Check out farmers markets in your area (a quick Google search should suffice, but you can also check out the USDA and Local Harvest websites) to find a small-scale farmer with
meat for sale. Meat purchased at the farmers market can be expensive, at least compared to the fare available at the grocery store, but if consumers limit their intake of meat to the recommended amount, the burden is lessened. Find farmers committed to pasture-raised animals and natural (if not organic) feed. Buying your meat from a farmers market stimulates the local economy, reduces the amount of fossil fuel used from farm to table, and provides you and yours with a healthier option.
The concept of nutrition is impossible to fully address in a four-article series. Thanks to the Internet, there’s a new super food around every corner and another hidden poison lurking in the pantry inside a seemingly benign product. Food is fascinating, never more so than now as we use chemistry and technological advances to create foods never before imagined and grow record yields. So much is changing, it’s all too easy to let fear take over our food choices, or to get swept along in the latest fad diet.
Over these last four articles, my point has been to simplify. The best diet advice anyone ever gave came from Michael Pollan in 2007: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A diet plan of whole ingredients, thoughtfully chosen and cooked at home is the surest way to improve your health and the health of your family.