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THURSDAY’S THOUGHTS: The Meat Industry

by Sarah on August 18th, 2011

I was at a dinner party last night and ended up in a very heated debate with one of our family friends about why I don’t eat meat. I’m pretty used to the snide comments that I get, it happens at every single dinner party or braai (barbeque) that I attend, but last night’s debate was a big deal to me. It made me realise that I need to be more “armed” with information about why I’m doing what I’m doing. So that when a well-read, well-versed person takes me on, I’m able to hold my own.

Here are the hard facts as to why I don’t want to support the meat industry (most of the research is based on the US industry):

  • “Cows, calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and other animals live in extremely stressful conditions:
  1. Kept in small cages or jam-packed sheds or on filthy feedlots, often with so little space that they can’t even turn around or lie down comfortably
  2. Deprived of exercise so that all their bodies’ energy goes toward producing flesh, eggs, or milk for human consumption
  3. Fed drugs to fatten them faster and keep them alive in conditions that could otherwise kill them
  4. Genetically altered to grow faster or to produce much more milk or eggs than they naturally would (many animals become crippled under their own weight and die just inches away from water and food)” (Peta.org)


  • “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million… More than half the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans… Although grain production is increasing in total, the per capita supply has been decreasing for more than a decade.” (Cornell Science News). Figures on actual starvation are difficult to come by, but according to the FAO, the less severe condition of undernourishment currently affects about 925 million people, or about 14 % of the world population. (FAO). Why can’t the grain being fed to the cattle, be distributed to undernourished humans instead? It could feed 800 million of them, and that’s from USA’s grain alone.
  • “With only grass-fed livestock, individual Americans would still get more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of meat and dairy protein” (Pimentel’s report, “Livestock Production: Energy Inputs and the Environment.) In other words, feeding grain to cattle is unnecessary (it’s just cheaper and easier, plus farmers get tax cuts from buying the grain too).
  • Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient, because while animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, they only produce comparatively small amounts of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. This is why more than 70 percent of the grain and cereals that we grow in this country are fed to farmed animals. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat.” (Peta.org)
  • “Factory farms concentrate an unnatural number of animals in one place, which creates an unmanageable amount of waste. The creation and disposal of such enormous quantities of waste has a devastating effect on the air, water and soil surrounding factory farms”. (Sustainable Table)
  • “Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein, according to the Cornell ecologist’s analysis”. (Cornell Science News). In other words, we can get great nutrition from plant products, with FAR less fossil fuels being used.
  • “Animal agriculture is a leading consumer of water resources in the United States, Pimentel noted. Grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food. Raising broiler chickens takes 3,500 liters of water to make a kilogram of meat. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters for kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500 liters.” (Cornell Science News). Water is such a precious resource, and it is being wasted on growing grain for animals, when they could rather be eating grass.
  • Raising cattle on pasture not only makes sense for their digestive systems, but makes sense for humans too, by turning something we can’t eat – grass – into something we can – meat and dairy products. Cattle raised on grass provide meat that is leaner and lower in calories, and higher in omega-3s and vitamin E. Grass-fed dairy products also have five times the levels of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) than their grain-fed counterparts.” (Sustainable org). If you are going to eat meat, make sure it’s from an animal which has been raised eating grass and not grain.
  • Forests are being destroyed so that people can eat meat. ”According to the United Nations, raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass. More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals… According to Greenpeace, all the wild animals and trees in more than 2.9 million acres of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season in order to grow crops that are used to feed chickens and other animals in factory farms”. (Peta.org)

The list could go on and on. If you are interested in reading more about the negative impact of the meat industry on Nature (the animals themselves and the environment), you can read the following sources of information:

Also, a book which I have yet to read, but which I believe is an excellent source of non-biased information on the subject, is called “Eating Animals“. It’s written by Jonathan Saffran Foer’s and it is high time that I buy myself a copy.

Lastly,  the big question is what can we all do about this?

At the very least, you can buy your meat produce from sustainable farmers or, you can cut out meat all together. The more of us who stand together against the meat industry, the sooner it will be forced to change its production methods and the sooner the environment, the animals and the starving masses on our planet will be benefited. I guess the real question is, how much do you care?

  • Nikki

    Hi Sarah, thank you for
    this post. It is so interesting to me that people feel that it’s any of their
    business as to whither you choose to eat meat or not. I wonder if it would cross
    your mind to randomly ask someone at a dinner party why they do eat meat? I do
    understand that clearly us veggies are normally in the minority but I do find it
    rather odd. However it is what it is and it will not be the last time I am sure.
    I sympathise though I really do! Like you I choose not to eat meat partly based on your reasons above (only now
    do I understand the full extent of it!) and partly because I have recently read
    a book called “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell. I
    am sure you would find it very interesting. To quote the back of the book ” By
    any measure, American health is failing. We spend more, per capita, on health
    care than any other society in the world, and yet two thirds of Americans are
    overweight, and more than 15 million Americans have diabetes. We fall prey to
    heart disease as often as we did thirty years ago. The war on Cancer, launched
    in the 1970’s has been a miserable failure. Half of all Americans have a health
    problem that requires taking a prescription drug every week, and more than 100
    million Americans have high cholesterol. To Make matters worse, we are leading
    our youth down a path of disease earlier and earlier in their lives. One third
    of the children in this country are overweight or at risk of becoming
    overweight. Our kids are increasingly falling prey to a form of diabetes that
    used to be seen only in adults, and children now take more prescription drugs
    than ever before. These issues all comes down to three things: breakfast, lunch
    and dinner. The China Study presents a clear and concise message of hope as it
    dispels a multitude of health myths and misinformation: if you want to be
    healthy, change your diet.”

    When you read the book you quickly realise that the bottom
    line is, and I quote again: “ The findings from the China Study indicate that
    the lower the percentage of animal-based foods that are consumed, the greater
    the health benefits.”

    So for me, a plant based diet makes sense.

    When people ask me why I am a vegetarian I try to keep my
    answer vague and short, then change the subject. I’ve come to realise it  is impossible to try
    and change someone’s opinion in that sort of debate. Even if you are armed with
    all the knowledge in the world, that is their belief system, they are wearing
    those rose tinted glasses and no matter what you say, that is what they see. I
    so feel your pain! It is something I grapple with myself and I sometimes allow
    myself to get caught up in the debate where in fact I think its better to
    quietly get on with your life the way you choose and if someone doesn’t like it,
    that’s up to them. But like I say, I am working on that approach. :)

    Thank you for your awesome and relevant
    posts.

    Have a happy, healthy day xx

  • http://pampoenspook.blogspot.com/ giselle

    oh yes…i have this argument with people all the time. guess i need more veggie friends :)

  • Lauren

    I am proud to be a vegetarian. I never get stressed when people give me slack about not eating meat. I actually love it because I don’t have to go to bed at night thinking about what the animal I ate had to go through to get onto my plate! But I do agree it’s a good idea to have your ducks in a row with regards to the knowledge. 

  • Robyn

    I have been a vegetarian for almost half of my life, and years of experience at such debates around the dinner table have taught me that most often the people who feel the need to put down your belief systems aggressively, are the ones most threatened by it. I have found that it is most often not the right place to share knowledge, as that is not the intention of the person on the other side of the argument. So these days, when asked why I am a vegetarian, I simply tell people that my reason is that I can be. It really sums it up nicely for me. I came into this world with the consciousness to choose what I eat, and because I can survive and live in much greater harmony with my own internal system, and the external one I call home without eating meat, I choose not to. This usually settles it and I think it is because the response is not confrontational and also not inviting  further discussion. If I am chatting to someone who is genuinely interested in learning more, the opportunity still exists for further sharing if appropriate x

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, ladies, for your informative and wise advice. It’s always helpful to know that other people have similar experiences in life, and to hear how you handle them.

    I was still very emotional when I wrote the post, and now, a few days later, I am 100% that there is no point in trying to argue back. If someone is interested in knowing the facts, I will gladly share them, but definitely not when under attack.

    Lots of love!