|The Hidden Cost of Meat|
The Myth of Scarcity
In his 1975 bestseller, The Eco-Spasm Report, futurist Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock and The Third Wave, suggested a positive hope for the world's food crisis. He anticipated "the sudden rise of a religious movement in the West that restricts the eating of beef and thereby saves billions of tons of grain and provides a nourishing diet for the world as a whole."
Food expert Francis Moore Lappé, author of the best-selling Diet for a Small Planet, said in a recent television interview that we should look at a piece of steak as a Cadillac. "What I mean," She explained, "is that we in America are hooked on gas-guzzling automobiles because of the illusion of cheap petroleum. Likewise, we got hooked on a grain-fed, meat-centered diet because of the illusion of cheap grain."
According to information compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture, over ninety percent of all the grain produced in America is used for feeding livestock - cows, pigs, lambs, and chickens - that wind up on dinner tables. Yet the process of using grain to produce meat is incredibly wasteful. For example, information from the USDA's Economic Research Service shows that we get back only one pound of beef for every sixteen pounds of grain.
In his book Proteins: Their Chemistry and Politics, Dr. Aaron Altshul notes that in terms of calorie units per acre, a diet of grains, vegetables, and beans will support twenty times more people than a diet of meat. As it stands now, about half the harvested acreage in America is used to feed animals. If the earth's arable land were used primarily for the production of vegetarian foods, the planet could easily support a human population of twenty billion and more.
Facts such as these have led food experts to point out that the world hunger problem is largely illusory. The myth of "overpopulation" should not be used by advocates of abortion to justify the killing of more than fifty million unborn children worldwide each year. Even now, we are already producing enough food for everyone on the planet, but unfortunately it is being allocated inefficiently. In a report submitted to the United Nations World Food Conference (Rome, 1974), Rene Dumont, an agricultural economist at France's National Agricultural Institute, made this judgment: "The overconsumption of meat by the rich means hunger for the poor. This wasteful agriculture must be changed - by the suppression of feedlots where beef are fattened on grains, and even a massive reduction of beef cattle."
It is quite clear that a living cow yields society more food than a dead one - in the form of a continuing supply of milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and other high-protein foods. In 1971, Stewart Odend'hal of the University of Missouri conducted a detailed study of cows in Bengal and found that far from depriving humans of food, they ate only inedible remains of harvested crops (rice hulls, tops of sugarcane, etc.) and grass. "Basically," he said, "the cattle convert items of little direct human value into products of immediate utility." This should put to rest the myth that people are starving in India because they will not kill their cows. Interestingly enough, India recently seems to have surmounted its food problems, which have always had more to do with occasional severe drought or political upheaval than with sacred cows. A panel of experts at the Agency for International Development, in a statement cited in the Congressional Record for December 2, 1980, concluded, "India produces enough to feed all its people."
If allowed to live, cows produce high quality, protein rich foods in amounts that stagger the imagination. In America, there is a deliberate attempt to limit dairy production; nevertheless, Representative Sam Gibbons of Florida recently reported to Congress that the U.S. government was being forced to stockpile "mountains of butter, cheese, and nonfat dried milk." He told his colleagues, "We currently own about 440 million pounds of butter, 545 million pounds of cheese, and about 765 million pounds of nonfat dried milk." The supply grows by about 45 million pounds each week. In fact, the 10 million cows in American provide so much milk that the government periodically releases millions of pounds of dairy products for free distribution to the poor and hungry. It's abundantly clear that cows (living ones) are one of mankind's most valuable food resources.
Movements to save seals, dolphins, and whales from slaughter are flourishing - so why shouldn't there be a movement to save the cow? From the economic standpoint alone, it would seem to be a sound idea - unless you happen to be a part of the meat industry, which is increasingly worried about the growth of vegetarianism. In June 1977, a major trade magazine, Farm Journal, printed and editorial entitled, "Who Will Defend the Good Name of Beef?" The magazine urged the nation's beef-cattle raisers to chip in $40 million to finance publicity to keep beef consumption and prices sky high.
The meat industry is a powerful economic and political force, and besides spending millions of its own dollars to promote meat-eating, it has also managed to grab an unfair share of our tax dollars. Practically speaking, the meat production process is so wasteful and costly that the industry needs subsidies in order to survive. Most people are unaware of how heavily national governments support the meat industry by outright grants, favorable loan guarantees, and so forth. In 1977, for example, the USDA bought an extra $100 million of surplus beef for school lunch programs. That same year, the governments of Western Europe spent almost a half-billion dollars purchasing the farmers' overproduction of meat and spent additional millions for the cost of storing it.
More tax dollars go down the drain in the form of the millions of dollars the U.S. government spends each year to maintain a nationwide network of inspectors to monitor the little-publicized problem of animal diseases. When diseased animals are destroyed, the government pays the owners an indemnity, For instance, in 1978 the American government paid out $50 million of its citizens' tax money in indemnities for the control of burcellosis, a flulike disease that afflicts cattle and other animals. Under another program, the U.S. government guarantees loans up to $350,000 for meat producers. Other farmers receive guarantees only up to $20,000. A New York Times editorial called this subsidy bill "outrageous," characterizing it as "a scandalous steal out of the public treasury." Also, despite much evidence from government health agencies showing the link between meat-eating and cancer and heart disease, the USDA continues to spend millions promoting meat consumption through its publications and school lunch programs.
Another price we pay for meat-eating is degradation of the environment. The United States Agricultural Research Service calls the heavily contaminated runoff and sewage from America's thousands of slaughterhouses and feedlots a major source of pollution of the nation's rivers and streams. It is fast becoming apparent that the fresh water resources of this planet are not only becoming polluted but also depleted, and the meat industry is particularly wasteful. In their book Population, Resources, and Environment, Paul and Anne Ehrlich found that to grow one pound of wheat requires only 60 pounds of water, whereas production of a pound of meat requires anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water. And in 1973 the New York Post uncovered this shocking misuse of a valuable national resource - one large chicken slaughtering plant in America was found to be using 100 million gallons of water daily! This same volume would supply a city of 25,000 people.
The wasteful process of meat production, which requires far larger acreages of land than vegetable agriculture, has been a source of economic conflict in human society for thousands of years. A study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition reveals that an acre of grains produces five times more protein than an acre of pasture set aside for meat production. An acre of beans or peas produces ten times more, and an acre of spinach twenty-eight times more protein. Economic facts like these
were known to the ancient Greeks. In Pato's Republic the great Greek philosopher Socrates recommended a vegetarian diet because it would allow a country to make the most intelligent use of its agricultural resources. He warned that if people began eating animals, there would be need for more pasturing land. "And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?" He asked Glaucon, who replied that this was indeed true. "An so we shall go to war, Glaucon, shall we not?" To which Glaucon replied, "Most certainly."
It is interesting to note that meat-eating played a role in many of the wars during the age of European colonial expansion. The spice trade with India and other countries of the East was an object of great contention. Europeans subsisted on a diet of meat preserved with salt. In order to disguise and vary the monotonous and unpleasant taste of their food, they eagerly purchased vast quantities of spices. So huge were the fortunes to be made in the spice trade that governments and merchants did not hesitate to use arms to secure sources.
In the present era there is still the possibility of mass conflict based on food. Back in August 1974, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published a report warning that in the near future their may not be enough food for the world's population "unless the affluent nations make a quick and drastic cut in their consumption of grain-fed animals."
But now let's turn from the world geopolitical situation, and get right down to our own pocketbooks. Although not widely known, grains, beans, and milk products are an excellent source of high-quality protein.
Pound for pound many vegetarian foods are better sources of this essential nutrient than meat. A 100-gram portion of meat contains only 20 grams of protein.(Another fact to consider: meat is more than 50% water by weight.) In comparison, a 100-gram portion of cheese or lentils yields 25 grams of protein, while 100 grams of soybeans yields 34 grams of protein. But although meat provides less protein, it costs much more. A spot check of supermarkets in Los Angeles in August 1983 showed sirloin steak costing $3.89 a pound, while staple ingredients for delicious vegetarian meals averaged less than 50 cents a pound. An eight-ounce container of cottage cheese costing 59 cents provides 60% of the minimum daily requirement of protein. Becoming a vegetarian could potentially save an individual shopper at least several hundred dollars each year, thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. The savings to America's consumers as a whole would amount to billions of dollars annually. Considering all this, it's hard to see how anyone could afford not to become a vegetarian.