Mark Bittman asks, “Why are we eating less meat?”
I’ve noticed, of course, that my own meat consumption has fallen off significantly, but then my consumption of food in general is less than it was (250 lbs then, 173 lbs now). But, even so, the proportion of my meal that is meat has gone down a lot, and I frequently eat completely meatless meals, with the protein source being tofu or tempeh or beans+rice or eggs. I’m not sure the role of fish/meat (they’re both animals, right?), but when I do include animal protein, quite often it’s fish rather than chicken, pork, beef, or lamb (the main meats I eat, though I also enjoy bison, duck, goose, and so on).
Mark Bittman in the NY Times takes a look at the diminishing amount of meat Americans eat:
Americans eat more meat than any other population in the world; about one-sixth of the total, though we’re less than one-twentieth of the population.
But that’s changing.
Until recently, almost everyone considered their dinner plate naked without a big old hunk of meat on it. (You remember “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner,” of course. How could you forget?) And we could afford it: our production methods and the denial of their true costs have kept meat cheap beyond all credibility. (American hamburger is arguably the cheapest convenience food there is.) This, in part, is why we spend a smaller percentage of our money on food than any other country, and much of that goes toward the roughly half-pound of meat each of us eats, on average, every day.
But that’s changing, and considering the fairly steady climb in meat consumption over the last half-century, you might say the numbers are plummeting. The Department of Agriculture projects that our meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007. Beef consumption has been in decline for about 20 years; the drop in chicken is even more dramatic, over the last five years or so; pork also has been steadily slipping for about five years.
Holy cow. What’s up?
It’s easy enough to round up the usual suspects, which is what a story in the Daily Livestock Report did last month. It blames the decline on growing exports, which make less meat available for Americans to buy. It blames it on ethanol, which has caused feed costs to rise, production to drop and prices to go up so producers can cover their increasing costs. It blames drought. It doesn’t blame recession, which is surprising, because that’s a factor also.
All of which makes some sense. The report then goes on to blame the federal government for “wag[ing] war on meat protein consumption” over the last 30-40 years.
Is this like the war on drugs? The war in Afghanistan? The war against cancer? Because what I see here is:
- a history of subsidies for the corn and soy that’s fed to livestock
- a nearly free pass on environmental degradation and animal abuse
- an unwillingness to meaningfully limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed
- a failure to curb the stifling power that corporate meatpackerswield over smaller ranchers
- and what amounts to a refusal — despite the advice of real, disinterested experts, true scientists in fact — to unequivocally tell American consumers that they should be eating less meat
Or is the occasional environmental protection regulation and whisper that unlimited meat at every meal might not be ideal the equivalent of war? Is the U.S.D.A. buying $40 million worth of chicken products to reduce the surplus and raise retail prices the equivalent of war?
No. It’s not the non-existent federal War on Meat that’s making a difference. And even if availability is down, it’s not as if we’re going to the supermarket and finding empty meat cases and deli counters filled with coleslaw. The flaw in the report is that it treats American consumers as passive actors who are victims of diminishing supplies, rising costs and government bias against the meat industry. Nowhere does it mention that we’re eating less meat because we want to eat less meat.
Yet conscious decisions are being made by consumers. . .