Eating meat is a mind-bogglingly complex issue: emotions, culture, morality, religion and even a little logic are at stake.
The facts are impossible to disentangle from the propaganda created by the astonishingly powerful and profitable meat industry on one side and the (underfunded) non-profits like Peta on the other.
Yes, I am biased. You are biased. None of us can think about eating meat without entire lifetimes of experiences and barrages of advertising coloring our choices.
Because of that, I’m not going to ask you to stop eating meat. I swear, there are even some links to Earth-friendly sources of meat at the end of this post!
I am going to ask you to think about why you eat meat and to consider the implications – on your health, the environment, and the world population – of that choice.
If you think you can handle that responsibility, read on.
What Would You Do For Meat?
Hungry? What would you do for a nice juicy burger or a pulled pork sandwich right now?
Would you make your neighbor sick? Would you poison a river? Would you kill someone else’s child?
No, I didn’t think so. And yet, eating meat props up an industry that does all of those things (and worse) on your behalf.
Some of you may have read that last sentence and instantly shut down. You don’t want to know, you just want your burger, right? That’s normal. That’s how most of us live.
If we ignore the problem, then we don’t have to change.
If you want to be ignorant about your own impact on the world and the people you share it with, that’s up to you. If not, stick with me.
One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison
A hog produces its own weight in shit about every two weeks. A typical hog farm, with 35,000 animals, produces 4 million pounds of shit per week. Per week!! Oh, and there are about 70,000 hog farms in the US.
That is a mighty big pile of shit.
You country kids might be imagining a lovely heap of clean manure that enriches the soil and wafts its earthy scents across the landscape.
Not so much.
Have you ever driven by a hog farm?
That smell comes from a lake of highly toxic manure, filled with pesticides, antibiotics, blood, crushed piglets, and all manner of other atrocities. This is the kind of lake where if you fall in, you’re never coming back out.
In the industry, they call these shit lakes “lagoons”. Lagoons are supposed to store this toxic shit stew safely but the truth is, there’s 4 millions pounds of it to get rid of each week. Lagoons often leak, overflow, or spill their contents into the neighboring countryside.
The ones that don’t fail still need to be emptied. The meat operations pay farmers to allow them to spray the excess liquid shit and contaminant combo across their fields. The delightful term for this is “fecal mist”.
That’s Kind of Gross, But So What?
Keep in mind now, that this toxic shit stew is a direct result of us buying beef at the supermarket or ordering a pulled pork sandwich at our local taco stand.
People who live near meat manufacturing facilities (they do not deserve to be dignified with the word “farm”) report a range of diseases from headaches, nausea, diarrhea, to truly grotesque stuff like spontaneous abortions and blue baby syndrome, from which infants die shortly after they’re born.
Just take a second to think about that.
Your choice to eat meat is a personal one.
But that personal choice is propping up the animal factories which continues to pollute, poison, and destroy the health of the earth and the people who live here.
Can you live with that?
(If this all sounds a little abstract to you,Meet some people who have lived through it.)
Eh, I Still Don’t Really Care
Keep in mind that this is just one of the myriad ways the meat industry is quickly destroying our earth. Here are a few others:
- Producing a tomato only requires 13 liters of water, while producing a hamburger requires 2,400 liters of water. There is a fresh water crisis on Earth, in case you haven’t heard.
- There are at least 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states (the EPA reports) that are polluted by animal agriculture. Did I mention the fresh water crisis?
- Livestock eat more calories than they yield. For example, during its finishing period, the average beef cow eats 2,800 pounds of corn. The worldwide food crisis is also kind of a big deal.
- Grazing occupies 26% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production uses about 33% of all arable land. Much of both of these take place on land formerly known as rainforest and more forest is destroyed every year to feed animals. Have you heard of a little thing called the CO2 crisis?
What Can I Eat Instead?
I’m so glad you asked.
There is meat out there that is not farmed in this (literally) shitty way. In fact, it is grown in a way that actually improves the land and leaves it a little more fertile. It also doesn’t fill your meat with antibiotics and other questionable substances. Plus, the animals aren’t forced to subsist in a completely unnatural and hostile environment.
There are a couple of downsides to this earth-friendly meat.
It is arguable (though not necessarily correct) that ethical meat production may not be able to feed all the hungry meat-eaters on the planet. Also, this friendly meat is more expensive and it’s way harder to find, which means you’ll have to make a little extra effort to find your food.
The simple solution is to just cut back a little. You don’t need meat at every meal or even every day. In fact, you don’t need meat at all, so when you eat it, consider it a treat, not a staple.
The upside of buying this sustainable meat? You won’t be responsible for poisoning anyone or any place when you eat it and your meat won’t be poisoning you.
On those days you’re not eating meat, you have about a million other choices. I like to focus on the endless varieties of legumes, beans, and grains that are out there. There are also slightly more processed options like tofu, seitan, and tempeh. And you can, of course, get great meat mimickers like Quorn and Gardein to fool your palate and fill your belly.
I admit, it’s a bit of a learning curve when you start to back away from meat. You’ll have to experiment and learn a few new recipes. People might look at you weird and your Mom is totally gonna freak out.
But it won’t kill you to try – and it just might save someone else’s life.
Where Can I Find Out More?
Meet Lynn Henning, a family farmer who fights back against meat pollution
Read the NRDC’s environmental report on factory farm lagoons
Learn about some other environmental impacts of meat inRethinking the Meat Guzzler
Should I Eat This? The Complete Series
- Should I Eat This? A Guide To Food In The 21st Century
All about the series and why I feel compelled to write it.
- Should I Eat This? Part One: Fast Food
Think you know everything there is to know about fast food? This might just surprise you.
- Should I Eat This? Part Two: Junk Food
You know junk food is bad for you, right? You don’t know the whole story.
- Should I Eat This? Part Three: Fake Health Food
Food companies lie to you every day. Here’s how to spot the fakes.
- Should I Eat This? Part 4.0: Meat & The Environment
Meat isn’t just about animal welfare. It’s people welfare, too.
- Should I Eat This? Part 4.1: Meat & Your Health
Pesticides, painkillers, and slime? Can these really be ingredients in meat? And why does meat have ingredients anyway?
- Should I Eat This? Part 5: Fish
What’s in a plate of sushi? And what does the military have to do with fishing?
- Should I Eat This? Part 6: Eggs & Dairy
Cruelty and environmental destruction by the dozen.
Should I Eat This? Part 7: Grains
Finally, something you should totally eat. Possibly.
- Should I Eat This? Part 8: Fruits & Veggies
Not only should you eat these, you should eat more.
- Should I Eat This? Cheat Sheet
The quick and dirty guide to eating clean.
- Should I Eat This? The Flowchart
A decision-making chart for those insoluble food conundrums.