Commentary: Less meat, more bull

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This trend is driving me crazy.

First, let me provide some background. According to most reputable news and information sources, nearly one-third of all Americans now report that they’re eating less red meat on a regular basis. (We won’t get into the fallacy of switching to “healthier” chicken—much of it fast-food fried and breaded—right now. That’s for another day).

People aren’t not necessarily going vegetarian or vegan, but simply purchasing, preparing and consuming fewer animal protein products overall.

Why? One, because anti-industry activists have done an outstanding job publicizing legitimate concerns—a lifestyle with excessive meat-eating appears to be associated with a number of cancers and other chronic diseases. And two, they’re even better at demonizing red meat’s (alleged) contribution to climate change, casting suspicion on its nutritional status and flogging endlessly the issue of animal welfare and the “outrage” they’re so good at ginning up over various production practices, issues on which, truth be told, the industry has often left itself wide open for criticism.

Add in ad hoc PR bonanzas such as pink slime, well-heeled campaigns like Meatless Mondays and the occasional food-safety recall—plus rising prices—and you have an environment in which it begins to make economic, if not philosophical, sense to dial down the meat-buying and meat-eating.

Not to mention that if you host anything from a backyard barbecue to a formal dinner party these days, you’re likely to be confronted with a guest (or guests) who doesn’t eat meat, won’t touch dairy and/or is allergic to eggs, soy, gluten and seafood.

Like it or not, the days of slapping a stack of burgers on the grill and calling it good are over.

Just a side order of meat

All that is the backdrop to what has been a slow decline in per capita consumption of meat over the last generation, which is understandable and not necessarily a net negative for the industry long-term.

But what’s aggravating is the eagerness with which all too many self-styled foodies have seized on this trend as some sort of watershed moment that history will record as the day the (meat) diets died.

For example: Mark Bittman, a New York Times food critic, has spent the last several years writing books advocating for something he calls the “less-meatarian” diet: As he describes it, “Making and consuming tasty, affordable meals without making meat the center of the plate.”

“Combining vegetables with meat makes them much more interesting, and this is historically how people ate,” Bittman told ABC News (a Times online news partner). “Meat and fish were treasures. They were treats. They were things you couldn’t count on. It’s only in the past 50 years that you could count on putting meat on the table every night and every day.”

Fine, but here’s the part that gets me.

Bittman makes a big deal out of the fact that eating less meat has helped him improve his health.

“I lost 35 pounds, my cholesterol level went down below 200, which is where it’s supposed to be, and [my] blood sugar went down to where it’s supposed to be,” he said.

Dude, I got a news flash for you: Lose 35 pounds any which way—dieting, working out, fasting—and all your baseline health parameters will look way better. We already know that obesity is the nation’s single biggest health challenge, and it’s common knowledge that nearly every chronic health problem—diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis—improves markedly when people shed those excess pounds.

It’s not about cutting back on beef, it’s about shrinking your BMI.

But such obvious conclusions aren’t good enough for Bittman and his cohorts, though. Instead, ABC News Nightline producers engaged celebrity chef Angelo Sosa, a “committed omnivore,” as he likes to be labeled, to go on the “less-meatarian” diet and see what happens.

Here’s the kicker: He did it for three whole days, meaning he had to curb the meat and amp up the veggies “for a full 72 hours” (the show’s characterization, not mine).

Wow. And you thought The Great Escape was challenging.

So what happened? I’m sure you can predict the outcome.

After his 72-hour, life-changing ordeal, Sosa said, “I’m excited. I’m energized. I feel like I don’t need to be weighed down.”

Now he’s a convert to the less-meatarian diet, which is fine, but the one factor nobody considers in these “now-I’m-eating-less-meat-and-I-love-it” scenarios is the source of all those fruits and veggies we’re supposed to be substituting for beef, pork and chicken.

Who’s growing all that produce? Where’s it coming from, given its year-round availability? How sustainable is the current system of sourcing fresh foods from around the globe? And how “natural” a diet is it, really, if we’re subsisting on jet-freighted produce grown somewhere across the world in tropical climates using the same outsourcing business model that has devastated domestic manufacturing?

Don’t expect answers to any of those questions from either veggie activists or the less-meatarian crowd.

Ain’t gonna happen.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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JC    
Sioux Falls  |  September, 09, 2012 at 01:10 PM

The fastest mitigation to climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 and takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act! "As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?" "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow" “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting video

Steve    
wisconsin  |  September, 10, 2012 at 06:16 PM

JC, you forgot to mention that meat consumption is also responsible for dandelions in the lawn, spotty cell phone coverage, leap years, and terrorism. Seriously, you are wasting your time posting your vegan propaganda on a cattle website. Cattlemen that use this website aren't buying it.

JC    
Sioux Falls  |  September, 09, 2012 at 01:37 PM

Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.org "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." ~ Albert Einstein

Rick    
Leader Mn.  |  September, 10, 2012 at 10:44 AM

i will have a nice fat bloody steak if you please Cows are the original vegan To Drovers Journal, why do you preach to the choir get commentary like this out where people can see it

Jasper    
Montana  |  September, 11, 2012 at 11:26 AM

Hell, even the USDA has been chafing to move people to a meatless Monday fashionista lifestyle. We need to clean house over at USDA. It is becoming heavily infiltrated by anti-farm activists. The tried and true USDA foot soldiers no longer guide coherent policy. Activist infiltrators derail USDA to the detriment of agriculture. Soon will be the US Dept of Veganism.

Dan    
Florida  |  October, 09, 2012 at 09:01 PM

Lets get real guys. I love my steak just as much as the next guy, but it doesn't take a genius to see that eating it everyday is going to be bad for my health, a lesson I've learned and paid for with my health. My beloved America is the most obese country in the world, its no coincidence we consume the most meat in the world. So wake up and stop pretending you dont know meat is bad for your health.


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