Meat, from a Wisconsinite

Yes, we have a lot of cows.

Thus the cheese, and cheeseheads. CIMG1344

We also see a lot of beef.

Hamburgers, meatloaf, casserole, steak.

Grain-fed, industrial-raised beef.

It's delicious, I know. But I don't eat it. I can't afford it. And neither can you. Nor the environment.

The average US American consumes 275 pounds of meat a year, according to James McWilliams, author of Just Food. Well, that's over double my body weight, and a disgustingly high figure, once you figure in the costs involved in producing that meat.

McWilliams also cites the following statistics on meat eating:
1. It causes 1/5 of the effects of global warming.
2. It uses 50% of nitrogen, in the use of fertilizers.
3. 30% of land surface in the world is used to raise livestock.

He claims that cutting meat from your diet just one time a week is the carbon footprint equivalent of eating all your food locally.

(Listen to his comments in the NPR Piece "Sizing Up Sustainable Food" with guests Michael Pollan, James McWilliams, and Brian Halweil, August 21, 2009). 

I decided a long time ago that meat was not necessary in my daily diet. I am not a vegetarian: that would be an insult to actual vegetarians who are committed to avoiding meat products. I enjoy my Thanksgiving turkey, the occasional hamburger, and a good steak now and then. If it is served, I will eat it. But I rarely order meat in restaurants unless I know the quality, and I don't cook it at home.

For me, limiting my meat consumption is a way of making a statement about industrialized meat processing in the US agricultural system. Who needs all those hormones and chemicals, anyway? Bovine growth hormone has been known to cause early menstruation in young girls and is definitely a cancer-causing agent, and by all means nothing I need to be consuming.

The US eats an astronomical amount of meat because we are rich. Other countries use rice, potatoes, and grains as their base. In the Midwest, people don't know how to make a meal without basing the menu around the meat dish. In other countries, people don't understand the concept of vegetarian because meat is such a prized and rare commodity that there is no reason to reject it.

Peru cornucopia
Think about what you can do to change the food system. Pick one day a week, and cook vegetarian for you and your family. Try out the local produce and make squash, quinua, potatoes, or salad take center stage.

IMG_1742_2 Alexandra Buck is a Midwesterner at heart currently living in Lima, Peru. She works with artisans in the Bridge of Hope Fair Trade program, an effort of the Joining Hands Network of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She made hamburgers for her Peruvian friends to celebrate the 4th of July.