Is meat on your menu?

July 5, 2012 —

If you attended a family gathering that included a big meal, would you be surprised if meat weren’t on the table? When you plan to host a special occasion, do you always include meat on the menu? In America, that’s very often the case – and much more here than in other countries. National Public Radio’s “The Salt” blog recently provided a fascinating explanation of why Americans eat more meat per person than anywhere else on earth.

Is meat on your menu today?

The reasons? Economics, for one; economist Mark Rosegrant tells NPR that “all countries eat more meat when their incomes grow and they have the economic wherewithal to eat more meat.” Meat is relatively cheap in the U.S., too, compared to other countries, including similarly wealthy ones.

Our nation’s history plays a role, too. Historian Roger Horowitz notes in the blog post that meat was easier to find in early America than in other countries, grazing lands were close to cities and farmers quickly realized that raising animals was good business. The livestock industry flourished early in America and further benefited from technology like refrigeration and railroads.

Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that meat eating across the country fell from the 2004 high point of 184 pounds per person to 171 pounds in 2011, a level that is expected to fall further this year. That’s a good thing for the environment: “The Salt” reports that producing just one quarter-pound hamburger requires 52.8 gallons of drinking water and feed-crop irrigation; 74.5 square feet of land for grazing and growing feed crops; and 1,036 BTUs – fossil fuel energy – for feed production and transport.

We’re also told to limit red meat consumption by our doctors. Studies like this recent one from the Archives of Internal Medicine have linked high red-meat consumption to high cholesterol levels, heart disease and certain types of cancer. How much meat is too much remains a matter of debate, and it likely depends on whether you are dining on chicken, munching hot dogs or gorging on bacon.

Where do you stand on meat consumption? Have you decreased how much meat you eat? What other sources of protein do you consume to maintain good health?


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