Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Mark Bittman asks, “Why are we eating less meat?”

with 10 comments

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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2012 at 10:58 am

10 Responses

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  1. Are we eating less meat because the majority of Americans want to? Or is it because the majority of Americans eat much more processed food which in turn means less meat consumption? Or could it be the raising meat prices at the market?

    It is much cheaper to feed a family of four pasta with sauce then it is to serve pork chops or grilled chicken breast.

    I honestly believe it is a combination of all these things that is swaying the consumer at the market.

    Sweepstakes Lover

    11 January 2012 at 11:07 am

  2. Perhaps people are beginning to listen to the small growing movement of organic and plant-based diets. I know there have been some popular documentaries like “Food, Inc” and “Forks over Knives” that describe the horror that is the meat industry and more research is being done on the potential health benefits of a vegan diet, especially following the publishing of the China Study.
    Sara from


    11 January 2012 at 12:14 pm

  3. There is of course another school of thought (which I don’t necessarily subscribe to, although it has important elements of truth). There is growing evidence that the shift from meat and fat to simpler carbohydrates has largely driven the current obesity epidemic. The scientific evidence is fairly strong that among a large proportion of people, the most effective way to control weight long term is to move away from refined carbs and to focus more on vegetables, fruit, animal protein and fats.

    We must also be very wary of cross-cultural studies, e.g. Asians eat lots of rice and smaller amounts of animal protein, yet they may well be genetically designed to do so after many thousands of years of evolution,. Similarly, the Northern native populations have thrived on animal fat and meat only, only to be decimated by obesity and diabetes after adopting the “white-man’s” diet even way before the advent of simple-carb commercial foods.

    This is not to say that vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, etc., can’t be perfectly healthy. But neither does it mean that meat-eaters are any less healthy. The key is to find the right proportions of nutrients that work for your genetic makeup, family history, etc.


    11 January 2012 at 12:36 pm

  4. @Anonymous: I notice you post frequently. 🙂 I agree that the simple refined carbs are highly suspect. In my own weight-loss effort, I noticed that simple carbs (bread and potatoes, mostly) really had a negative immediate impact. I generally eat less than 1 carb serving in a meal (e.g., 1/2 cup is a typical carb serving of a cooked carb, and I will generally eat 1/3 cup as a serving), and I try to eat more complex carbs: whole grains (oats, brown rice, black rice, hulled barley) or converted rice (lower glycemic index).


    11 January 2012 at 1:32 pm

  5. LOL…didn’t notice I wasn’t logged into WordPress (it does that sometimes, kick me out without warning).

    Of course, as a diabetic you would, by definition, have Metabolic Syndrome, so the impact of simple carbs would likely be dramatic on both weight and blood-sugar. But Metabolic Syndrome underlies a host of other diseases including heart-disease, so the relationship between carbs and blood sugar is very important for everyone to understand. Many people will process carbs very effectively for many years without any problems due to their genetics. Many others wont’ especially if they chronically struggle with weight or have a family history heart disease – it’s very likely they have Metabolic Syndrome.

    So there is no blanket answer. Life is a gestalt; a constant interaction between us in the foreground and our background or context.

    Perhaps I should adopt Ulysses’s pseudonym, “Nobody”, in future posts. 🙂


    12 January 2012 at 5:06 am

  6. In shaving, as you know, we commonly encounter YMMV situations. On wicked_edge a guy posted this question:

    I was on a mission to make sure my face and neck were ready for my shave today. So I was in the shower forever, then hot towel over proraso preshave for a minute, then added some lather and hot toweled again. I know it is overkill but I really am tired of ingrowns/irritation on my neck. Anyhow, I ended up with MORE irritation after my shave. It could have been from my new moisturizer (Clinique) but I very much doubt it.

    Do you think I made my skin even more sensitive by prepping too much?

    My response:

    Could be, but given individual variation in skin, beard, etc., what I’m going to say will have a certain familiar ring to it: Try a shave with less prep and see how that goes. Go ahead and use the Clinique. If you still get irritation, try a shave with extended prep without the Clinique; then a shave with modest prep without Clinique; etc.

    In other words, this situation is so dependent on your own physiology and procedure, your best answer will be to experiment.

    He answered that he had sort of knew this would be the course of action. I offered this encouragement:

    I think you can greatly reduce the frustration level by looking at it from a different perspective. I think it was Isaac Asimov who observed that the greatest discoveries typically were accompanied, not by “Eureka!”, but by, “Huh. That’s funny…” The unanticipated result perhaps could best be approached as if it is a mysterious present in strange wrappings: figuring out why results diverged so much from expectations can be fun, revealing, and transformative.

    The connection here is that if YMMV is so frequently encountered in shaving, no surprise that it is encountered even more frequently in nutrition. One thing I’m emphasizing in the book on weight loss is to learn how your own body responds to the foods you eat by keeping a timely log of intake, exercise, and weight: in other words, run your own experiment to find out the way you must eat. And for me that is definitely lower carbs. I think you are probably right about the mechanism, but even without knowing that, I have learned to watch out for those guys. (173 lbs yesterday)


    12 January 2012 at 5:29 am

  7. What is of course galling, is that the weight creeps back almost immediately if you aren’t vigilant almost from one day to the next. So the message is that for those of us who struggle with weight (pretty much the majority of the West), we must accept that we aren’t wired the same way as those who don’t struggle as much. In fact, I think that we (the ones who gain weight easily) are actually the more evolved (stop snickering) because we are designed to eat as much as possible when food is available; a huge genetic and evolutionary advantage.

    The problem is that our gestalt has changed: Food is always available, so that genetic advantage works as a disadvantage….but we aren’t the problem, the environment is. Understanding this gestalt is crucial.

    Secondly, many “thin” people have actually displaced food as our natural emotional soother, with other much deadlier vices. There is a near consensus among scientists that all addictions operate on the same principle of the endocannabinoids, and in the same area of the brain. So you’ll find many thin sanctimonious assholes who are addicted to cigarettes, booze, gambling, dope, shopping, etc., and they have the gall to criticize fat people!

    I do accept that if you’ve been overweight for a long time, it is much more difficult to discern signals of hunger and satiety as they relate to actual biological “fuel” requirements. This is an area for serious work with mindful or intuitive eating, but it’s critical to remember that the first two impulses above are equally “intuitive” for us.


    14 January 2012 at 2:24 pm

  8. Well, my own weight loss occurred over a long enough period of time—and involved only my own foods and cooking—that it’s actually proved pretty easy to maintain weight. I now have the definite sense that I know what I’m doing, so if my weight goes up, I immediately can figure out why, and I know how to eat to bring it down. I was up to 184 rather suddenly, but now I’m back to 173 and going to 170. A lot of the mystery has gone from my own diet: I know what the foods I eat do to me, and I know how to pick foods that work well for me. It’s like learning to shave with a safety razor: at first requires a lot of attention and care and mistakes will be made; but gradually one’s unconscious picks up the skill, knows what to do, and you can shave without thinking about it. Food and weight are pretty much like that, so far as I can tell: at first I had to be highly conscious of what I was doing, and I struggled and would make mistakes, but now I can pick food and prepare and eat meals without spending any real time thinking about it. I know what a meal for me must contain, and I know how much to eat, so things move along pretty easily for now.


    14 January 2012 at 2:55 pm

  9. Yes, but your gestalt is very supportive of these changes, i.e. you are master of your environment; you’re not going to business lunches, eating by the clock, cooking for kids, have a spouse who eats junk food and never gains weight etc., etc. That’s my point.


    14 January 2012 at 6:59 pm

  10. Good point: “YMMV” with a vengeance, as it were. Still, I will pretty much describe my experience and let readers take and adapt what things from it they choose. Some things are under one’s control, and it’s probably best to focus on those (rather than the other…). 🙂


    14 January 2012 at 7:09 pm

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