food lifestyle shopping sustainability

Meat is a luxury

meat47hands01This is a bit of a tricky post to write, because I do appreciate a good bit of meat, but if we’re going to be talking about sustainable lifestyles, the issue of meat has to come up sooner or later. Here’s why:

It takes 13 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.

Extrapolate that fact across an entire beef eating nation and you get this: “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.” (David Pimentel, Cornell University, report here) To put that another way, to feed the 20 million people who die of malnutrition every year, the US would only need to lower its beef consumption by 2%. (Celsias)

I don’t want to bash Americans – their stats are just more readily available (sorry), and solving world hunger isn’t that simple, but you get the idea of how wasteful beef production is. We need to think carefully about meat consumption.

  • Think seriously about vegetarianism. Some people twitch nervously at the sound of it alone, but get used to the idea, because our current meat consumption is unsustainable. A BBC report claims ‘it’s going to be almost impossible to feed future generations the kind of diet we have now in western Europe and North America.”
  • Not all meat is bad – chickens and pork aren’t as wasteful as beef, and even beef can be okay – pasture-fed animals are much more environmentally friendly, and the animals have much better lives too. But, this takes more skillful farming, can’t be industrialised, and so it’s done by smaller farms. (eatwild) That means it’s more expensive, which means if we want to eat ethical meat we just won’t be able to eat it as often. That leads me to my main point.
  • Meat is a luxury. That is a fact that most of the world knows full well, but it seems we in the west expect luxury every day. Where I used to live in Madagascar, most people couldn’t usually afford meat. That made it special. We need to have a similar attitude. If we consider cheap meat to be an unacceptable compromise, and good meat is expensive, then we’ll just have to live like the rest of the world and not eat it every day. Sounds fair to me.

Read more – CIWF’s ‘The global benefits of eating less meat‘ report.

PS – the grain to beef ratios are contested figures. I’ve seen vegetarian sites say it takes 21 pounds, and beef industry sites saying it takes just 2.6. The 13 pound figure comes from the book ‘Eating‘, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, and seemed like a realistic medium.


  1. Ace site, very professional. I’ve been trying to tell people for ages that eating meat is bad for the environment and that the grain being fed to the cows should be fed to the god damn people. Argh, makes me so angry. It’s all about being veggie-it’s better for everyone and everything.

  2. Vegetarian food to me can be just as tasty. Lentils are a great substitute and adding herbs and spices and some cheese really perks them up on a jacket potato. You can also get beans, sweetcorn and breadcrumbs and some herbs and spices and make tasty bean burgers. Onions will also perk up any vegetable dish. Vegetables and legumes are super cheap and healthy and that is why I like using them. I will eat chicken and beef occasionally (I really don’t like pork products and I am not a huge lamb fan although I can tolerate it unlike pork) but it’s just so expensive most of the time I end up cooking meat free meals.

  3. Really a very informative blog I have read since long Thanks for taking the time to write the blog.. and really this is useful for everyone and a thumps up by my side to subscribing to your blogs to get the same forever and enjoy the reading.

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