One of the weirder tasks I have as Food Policy Director for The Humane Society of the United States is reading (lots of) meat industry publications. Sometimes they’re boring (no more articles on quarterly financial results, please), sometimes they’re gross (think: ads for something called a “leaf lard puller”), and sometimes they’re uplifting.
One recent publication that falls into that last category is a CME Group Daily Livestock Report forecasting a reduction in American meat consumption this year. As the report shows, total poultry and meat consumption has been generally on the rise since 1960, with poultry consumption specifically seeing the sharpest incline. But then came 2009, when meat and poultry consumption substantially dropped for the first time in almost half a century. That decline has continued, and in 2012, CME reports, the data “indicates that the average American will consume 12% less meat and poultry…than they did in 2007.”
So why is this good news? Well, for one thing, it means fewer animals will be factory farmed. That means fewer cramped cages and fewer terrifying slaughterhouse experiences, among other benefits. (And with almost 30 million animals slaughtered for food each day in the U.S., 12% less meat means about 4 million fewer farm animals killed every single day.) It also means good things for the environment. Environmental Defense said that if each American replaced chicken with vegetarian food at just one meal per week, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it’d be like taking half a million cars off the road. And one meal each week is just a 4.7% national reduction, so a 12% reduction would be like taking 1.3 million cars off the road! That’s a lot less cars, and a lot less carbon.
Finally, it’s also good for us. It means that Americans are finally starting eat a little bit healthier. With heavy-on-the-meat diets being linked to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and many other “diseases of affluence” that plague our nation (and tax our health care system), less meat in this case may mean a healthier America. The animals make out. The environment gets better. We get healthier. It’s a real win-win-win.
Okay, so you know your neighbors and co-workers and friends and family must be reducing their meat at least a little bit. How can do it, too? (Drum roll please…) How about Meatless Monday? Originally a campaign by the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, Americans were encouraged to be vegetarian each Monday as a resource-saving measure. The campaign returned during World War II and was revitalized again in 2003, this time as part of the war on chronic diseases and environmental degradation.
Meatless Monday has mushroomed (slight pun intended, sorry). The idea is simple: go meat-free one day a week. It’s easy. From tofu and veggie burgers to meat-free BBQ ribs and vegetarian chicken fingers (and even, gasp!, vegetables themselves) there are loads of great foods to kick each week off with. And you’ll be in good company: The AARP, The World Wildlife Fund, Oprah, Sir Paul McCartney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Russell Simmons and many more public figures and groups are touting the benefits of Meatless Monday. (Watch this fun, three minute video about Meatless Monday if you want more information.)
Small changes multiplied by millions make a big difference. It’s great to see people paying more attention to this issue than ever, and if millions of us participate in Meatless Monday, going meat-free just one day a week, we can make an even bigger impact on the world. You hold the power on your plate, now go forth and conquer!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Prescott is Food Policy Director for The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization with more than 12 million supporters. Follow him on twitter for more updates like this one.