Feb 21, 2012
01:48 PM
Café Connecticut

Are You a Flexitarian? (Part 1)

 

I’m a vegetarian wanna-be—I’ve never been quite able to make the break—and a recent piece by Mark Bittman in the New York Times got me thinking about meat consumption. I eat a fraction of the meat I used to (lamb chops, my favorite meal, are now a once-a-year Christmas Eve treat), and I know many others who eat this way—more fish, more turkey, lots more vegetarian meals.

Still, America consumes more meat than any other country in the world—about one sixth of the total, with just 5 percent of the population. But change is afoot, says Bittman, Times columnist and prolific author (How to Cook Everything, Food Matters). He cites the Department of Agriculture projection “that meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007.”

The meat industry blames draught, recession, growing exports to China (which, they say, leaves less meat available for Americans), and ethanol, which due to increased costs to producers, causes prices to go up. They’re also blaming the federal government for waging war on meat.

But Bittman says there is no war on meat—far from it. He points to the government’s “history of subsidies for corn and soy fed to livestock; its unwillingness to meaningfully limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed; and a nearly free pass on environmental degradation and animal abuse. He also assails “what amounts to a refusal” on the government’s part—“despite the advice of real disinterested experts, true scientists, in fact—to unequivocally tell American consumers that they should be eating less meat.”

And while draught, recession, etc., are certainly factors, there's another reason that industry types don’t want to acknowledge, he says. “We’re eating less meat because we want to eat less meat.” He’s not talking about eliminating animal protein, just eating a lot fewer meat-heavy meals, and smaller meat portions. There’s even a word for it, “flexitarianism,” which The Values Institute at DGWB Advertising and Communications named one its top five consumer health trends for 2012.

There are plenty of us out here, though we may have gotten here by different routes. Some are cutting back to reduce their chance of heart attack, hypertension and colon and other cancers; others fear the high rates of contamination that result from factory farming. Some cite the environmental impacts: How do you dispose of the 20 tons of livestock manure produced annually for every U.S. household (from the Union of Concerned Scientists), for example? Then there’s the bothersome matter of all that methane cows produce, a gas far deadlier to the ozone layer than the carbon dioxide emitted by cars.

One of the most compelling arguments—for me, anyway—is the scale of brutality to our fellow creatures. You may have read of chicken “farms,” where tens of thousands of birds are suspended in cages (with as many as six crammed into a space the size of an album cover, according to E Magazine), their feet never touching the ground, covered in the excrement that rains down from those above, while being pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones. Their beaks are often hacked off by workers so the overstressed birds won't harm their cellmates. Many go mad. (Male chicks, of no use, are simply thrown away alive.) Think about that the next time you eye a plate of buffalo wings.

Pigs, which are smarter than dogs, never lie in hay or roll in mud, or ever even see the sun, for that matter, according to a piece Morley Safer once did on "60 Minutes." “Sows live in tiny cages, so narrow they cannot even turn around," he said. "They live over metal grates, and their waste is pushed through slats beneath them and flushed into huge pits.”

It’s a far cry from the cozy family farms depicted in the books we read our kids at bedtime.

I could go on and on, but I haven't the heart. And we haven’t even touched on the implications for America's obesity epidemic. So let’s hear it for flexitarianism. Eating less meat is good for you—and the planet.

Are You a Flexitarian? (Part 1)

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