Home » 2013 - 14 Academic Year » Simply Not Sustainable: On Meat Eating

Simply Not Sustainable: On Meat Eating

by Hayden McCall, VI Form

For thousands of years, humans have been meat-eaters. Originally, animals were hunted and the livestock and poultry “farms” that we have today did not exist. Before the meat and processed food industries came to be and before supermarkets existed, people did not have much of a choice about what they ate. Therefore, there was an economical advantage to eating meat, as it was almost always available and though people had to hunt, they did not have to trade in valuable crops or currency to acquire meat. Socially, there is no question that eating meat was sustainable; people killed animals that roamed freely and were not cooped up in an overcrowded pen or fed growth hormones to increase output and, ultimately, profit, as many animals are today. Environmentally, eating meat was originally sustainable, as the impact did not immediately alter the food chain, as people were hunting just what they needed to survive. However, over time and through over-hunting due to, in some cases, a fear of certain animals, such as wolves, humans depleted many resources and caused many animal populations to decline, thereby altering the flow of energy in the ecosystem.  From a social, economical, and environmental standpoint, eating meat was sustainable, however, the same cannot be said in today’s age.

Humans have rigged the process of eating meat by creating our own food chain. Rather than consuming animals that are part of the wild, we have formed a meat industry that over breeds and mistreats livestock and poultry in order to maximize profit. Humans now control every part of the ecological pyramid in relation to meat. We grow the grass, or more typically the grain, that these animals eat, and we systematically slaughter and process these innocent animals. We raise livestock and poultry for the sole purpose of slaughtering them as soon as they have enough meat on their bones. Though the end result is meat, as it was when our ancestors hunted animals years ago, the way that meat is acquired and processed today offers no similarities to our ancestors’ practices.

Socially, society has yet to grasp how horrifying the process of eating meat has become. Our nation, and the global community, must realize that the mistreatment of animals, the unnecessary spread of disease and harm to human health by the meat industry, and the support of an industry with eyes only for profit have made it absolutely socially unsustainable to eat meat in today’s age. The meat industry has been sheltered from the truth by huge brand names, such as Perdue, who label their chicken as “humanely raised” when, in fact, they are raised in “large, dimly-lit, horribly smelly and crowded barns”[1] and farmers are not “allowed to speak or… [have a] say over how [they] operate [their]  farm and the raising of [their] chickens.”[2]   Cattle that are raised on grain, whose stomachs are built to accommodate a grass diet, pose another issue: health risks for those who consume the beef. The beef from grain fed cattle is “contributing to health problems among the world’s…citizens — heart disease, some types of cancer…and diabetes[3] because the cows themselves are regularly given antibiotics to fight the diseases brought on from their unnatural diet.[4] It is neither socially sustainable nor responsible to continue to support such a corrupted and solely profit-seeking meat industry.

Economically, being a meat-eater is not a sustainable choice. When looking at an ecological pyramid with a human at the top, a cow in the middle, and corn on the bottom, it is clear that eating meat is an expensive and economically unsustainable process. For just “2,000 calories of beef — the average daily calorie requirement for one person — a cow must consume 20,000 calories of corn.”[5] From this figure alone, it is evident that it would be much more economically sustainable for a human to receive his or her calories directly from plants. Though the nutrients found in beef are different than those in corn, it is undeniably less expensive to eat primary producers rather than primary consumers because there are many more primary producers available and it is more economical to get energy directly from plants rather than from a third party, such as a cow or a pig. In an example menu given by www.learnvest.com, a “vegan [diet] would save [the consumer] nearly $1,280 over the course of a year” over a diet that consisted mostly of meat[6]. Obviously, it is necessary to consume protein, but the same nutrients can be obtained by eating vegetables, tofu, or beans, which are less expensive alternatives to meat. In the situation given above, the person eating the 2,000 calories of meat forgoes corn that could provide ten days of the average daily calorie requirement in order to consume one day’s worth of meat. The current consumption of meat is an economically illogical and unsustainable practice, and that is why we, as a global community, must eat less meat.

Lastly, the environmental impact of eating meat is shocking. In California, 2,464 gallons of water are needed in order to produce one pound of beef, whereas only 25 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of wheat.[7] To put these figures into perspective, 2,464 gallons of water are “same amount of water you would use if you took a seven-minute shower every day for six entire months.”[8] Wasted water is not the only environmental problem that the meat industry poses. Beef contributes “more than 13 times as much [greenhouse gas emissions] as vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils and tofu”[9] and  “51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture.”[10] The staggering facts continue, and it has been determined that “switching from a standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight against climate change than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid.”[11]

Humans need to take action now. We must consume less meat and implement quotas on the number of animals that the meat industry can process. The meat industry is in dire need of regulation, and there is no better way to regulate than for meat-eaters to start eating less meat. Depending on if you are a woman or a man, you only need to receive 46 or 56 grams of protein, respectively, daily. On average, we are consuming far more protein than necessary. Men are taking in “101.9 grams and women [are] taking in 70.1.”[12] Not only can humans reduce the amount of protein that we are consuming, but also it is much more environmentally sustainable to receive that protein from a non-meat source. If you consider yourself a socially, economically, and environmentally responsible citizen, it is time for you to understand the truth: being a meat-eater is not sustainable, and now is the time for change.

Hayden McCall, VI Form, is from Dedham, Massachusetts. She lives in Gaccon, plays squash and field hockey, and is a monitor. She is interested in politics and economics. 

[1] (Warner, 2010 )

[2] (Bedard, 2012)

[3] (Bittman, 2008)

[4] (Bittman, 2008)

[5] (Schuna, 2013)

[6] (Hadley, 2010)

[7] (Ogden)

[8] (Ogden)

[9] (Gunther, 2012)

[10] (“Meat and the,” )

[11] (“Meat and the,” )

[12](“Adults’ daily protein,” 2012)


Adults’ daily protein intake much more than recommended. (2012, July 16). Retrieved from          http://nchspressroom.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/adults’-daily-protein-intake-much-     more-than-recommended/

Bedard, M. (2012, May 07). ‘Food, inc.’ chicken farmer goes rogue – says goodbye to factory farms. Retrieved from http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/05/06/goodbye-factory-farm-food-incs-chicken-farmer-Carole-Morison-goes-rogue

Bittman, M. (2008, January 27). Rethinking the meat-guzzler. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?pagewanted=all

Gunther, M. (2012, December 06). Should environmentalists just say no to eating beef?. Retrieved from http://e360.yale.edu/feature/should_environmentalists_just_say_no_to_eating_beef/2599/

Hadley, B. (2010, october 21). Is a vegetarian diet actually cheaper?. Retrieved from http://www.learnvest.com/knowledge-center/do-vegetarians-save-money/

Meat and the environment. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-and-environment.aspx

Ogden, L. (n.d.). The environmental impact of a meat-based diet. Retrieved from http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/the-environmental-impact-of-a-meat-based-diet/

Schuna, C. (2013, October 15). The advantages of not eating meat. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/508119-the-advantages-of-not-eating-meat/

Warner, M. (2010 , May 21). Perdue’s “humanely-raised” chicken: the latest misleading food claim. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505123_162-44040837/perdues-humanely-raised-chicken-the-latest-misleading-food-claim/

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