(MEAT-FREE/VEGETARIAN LIFESTYLE) Over the past 50 years, meat has become a staple of the American diet, and this primarily meat-based diet has spread to much of the world.
But in the past, meat wasn’t always so easy to access and was considered a rare treat. Mark Bittman suggests that we go back to viewing meat as a food to be consumed only once in a while. What do you think? — Global Animal
New York Times, Mark Bittman
KAŞ, TURKEY — I sit on this peaceful peninsula marveling at how long it’s been since Odysseus sailed the eastern Mediterranean. Then I realize that those millennia are nothing compared with how long our species might take to adapt to the inexorable spread of the American diet.
Once, we had to combine hunting skills and luck to eat meat, which could supply then-rare nutrients in large quantities. This progressed — or at least moved on — to a stage where a family could raise an annual pig and maybe keep a cow and some chickens. Quite suddenly (this development is no more than 50 years old, even in America), we can drive to our nearest burger shop and scarf down a patty — or two! — at will.
Because evolution is a slow process, this revolutionary change has had zero impact on the primal urge that screams, “Listen, dummy, if you can find meat you’d better eat it, because who knows when you’ll eat it again!” At some point our bodies may adapt to consuming unlimited quantities of meat or — a better alternative — our minds will crave less. Right now, primal urge and modern availability form a deadly combo.
We’re crack addicts with a steady supply. Beyond instinct and availability, there’s a third factor: marketing. When you add “It’s what’s for dinner” to the equation, you have a powerful combination: biology, economics and propaganda all pushing us in the same direction.
Those who were born in mid-to-late 20th century America take this for granted; I grew up eating meat seven days a week, usually for lunch and dinner, sometimes for breakfast, too. But the phenomenon is global: there’s more than twice as much meat available per person than there was in 1950. Citizens of most developed nations have gone down the same path, and as the poor become less so, they buy more meat, too.
Now, some European countries appear to be leading the way out of the abyss, not only with the food they call “biologically” produced (a term roughly equivalent to “organic”) but in saner ways of eating, which start with cutting back on some animal products; Germans’ per capita consumption of meat is down about 20 percent since 1990. (American meat consumption has dropped ever so slightly in recent years, most likely the result of a decline in income and an increase in both population and exports, which reduced supply and increased prices. Maybe conscious eating gets some credit also.)
As better-educated citizens of wealthier nations change direction, however, those whose opportunities and privileges have been delayed until now have every intention of catching up, not only by buying cars and TVs but by “enriching” their diet. Remember, it’s our nature.
Instinct, availability and marketing leave us addicted to meat.
The extreme example is China, whose soaring meat consumption is dramatically affecting the global markets for corn, soy, poultry and pork. But even here in Turkey, which is hardly an economic miracle, the diet is rocketing into the 20th century, moving away from the traditional and toward the inevitable.
Turkey’s diet was classic Mediterranean, of course, high in all kinds of plants, olive oil, some dairy (yogurt and feta, mostly) and a bit of fish, lamb or goat. Now it’s a jumble: a rural grocery store I visited displayed American-style breakfast cereal and plenty of soda front and center, along with (good) local vegetables, industrially produced dairy, and a small supply of expensive, stylishly packaged legumes and grains. There was no fish, lamb or goat, but there were at least 10 cuts of beef and lots of chicken. (Chicken consumption has nearly tripled here in the last 20 years.)
As in much of the world, the local fish is mostly gone. A fish store had wild sea bass, a half-dozen farm-raised species, and a freezer full of commodity fish from elsewhere. A restaurant in Istanbul that had blown my mind 10 years ago with its local variety was offering wild turbot (decidedly not local) and swordfish, along with a few fish that the waiter kindly un-pushed: “These are from the farm,” he said, “so why bother?”
As much as we like eating animals, naturally crave them and are encouraged by misinformation (often a better word than “marketing”), the waiter’s advice — “why bother?” — holds true for at least 90 percent of the animal products we’re offered, no matter what their form. They’re produced badly, they cause immeasurable damage to both our bodies and the earth, and — compared with the real thing — they don’t taste that good.
In limited quantities, meat is just fine, especially sustainably raised meat (and wild game), locally and ethically produced dairy and eggs, the remaining wild or decently cultivated fish.
No matter where we live, if we focused on those — none of which are in abundant supply, which is exactly the point — and used them to augment the kind of diet we’re made to eat, one based on plants as a staple, with these other things as treats, we’d all be better off. We can’t afford to wait to evolve.
More New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/meat-why-bother/?hp