Yes We Can

There are a lot of good reasons to eat less meat. I offer the following.

There are 20 billion head of livestock on Earth, more than triple the number of people. According to the Worldwatch Institute, global livestock population has increased 60 percent since 1961, and the number of fowl being raised for food has nearly quadrupled in the same time period, from 4.2 billion to 15.7 billion.

The 4.8 pounds of grain fed to cattle to make one pound of beef represents a colossal waste of resources in a world teeming with hungry and malnourished people. According to Vegfam, a 10-acre farm can support 60 people growing soy, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn–but only two raising cattle.

Food First’s Frances Moore Lappé says to imagine sitting down to an eight-ounce steak. “Then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls … For the feed cost of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains.” Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer says that reducing U.S. meat production 10 percent would free grain to feed 60 million people.

We’re not meatless but we eat less by far than we once did. We prefer it to be well-known animal protein from locally grown pastures. So we’ve been buying it to save for longer than next week’s table.

In the absence of a freezer (that keeps the e-meter spinning) Ann has returned again this year to the notion of canning meat (we use propane, wondering how we’d do it over an open pit fire as wood just keeps on growing, gas on the other hand…. Hmmm.)

We have pork chunks, beef chunks and sausage patties in pint jars upstairs on the canning shelves among this years tomatoes, green beans and pumpkin.

I’ll admit glass-canned pork looks a bit like goulish belljar specimens from the Museum of Meat (I keep looking for the two-headed piglet) but it’s good to know it’s up there and that we can buy meat when it’s on sale and keep it in this lower energy fashion. And we’ll think more and more highly of beans and plant the garden accordingly.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Amen! And it’s good to know that there are omnivores with energy and sustainability on the brain. We need more of those in the world!

  2. As always, Dad, y’all make me proud. My main focus these days has been on studying just that: the connection between ecology/sustainability and how the plight of the poorer several billion humans (not to mention the billions to come) depends on living differently. But while I’m reading about it, here you and Mom are doing it. Do keep your eyes out for that two-headed piglet.