1 September 2018
In western industrialized countries our diets revolve around meat. But rumors abound that being vegetarian is better for the environment. Could there be some truth to it? We investigate the evidence.
Death row inmates in the United States put a lot of thought into their final meal choice. After all, it’s the last food they will eat on this Earth. And their choice is telling, for overwhelmingly they want meat. Pork chops, filet mignon, steak, hamburger, meatloaf, fried chicken, sausages…with not a lentil, slice of halloumi or vegetarian lasagne in sight. Prisoners on death row might not be the most representative of social groups, but their choices give an inkling of the central role meat plays in everyday diets.
The very earliest fossil evidence of human eating habits bears the unmistakable signs of animal consumption and our dental structure is designed for a diet that will tackle anything, whether animal or vegetable: canines and incisors for cutting and tearing, pre-molars and molars for grinding. Today, the human diet, especially that of Westerners, revolves around meat.
Livestock products provide one-third of humanity’s protein intake. In Australia, livestock production is a critical export industry and contributes to high domestic consumption of meat products. According to a 2005 report from Australian government research agency, the CSIRO, an average Australian eats 35 kg of beef, 21 kg of pork, 36 kg of chicken and 13 kg of lamb each year – roughly 290 g of meat per person, per day
To satisfy the meat requirements of Australians takes 16 million sheep, 8 to 9 million head of cattle, 5.6 million pigs and nearly half a billion chickens. There’s a central reason we eat so much meat: it’s a great source of protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. But there are other, perhaps less well known, facts about meat consumption.