Changing Our Diet

Wednesday, the government released new dietary guidelines which emphasize weight loss in addition to dietary health. There’s been a lot written about the US’s poor eating habits, but what I find most interesting is average meat consumption in the US. At 8.2 ounces per person per day, even more when you consider that nearly 3% of american adults claim to be vegetarian, we well outpace the recommended 5.5 ounces per day.

The new recommendations call for 5.5 ounces of meat and protein per day. Our national average exceeds this by nearly 50%, not to mention the lack of other sources of protein in our diets. Okay, so americans are unhealthy, that's old news.

The undeniable truth is that a lot of human-consumable food is used to produce meat for the american consumer. Ranging from 5:1 for chicken up to 16:1 for beef, the ratio of consumable grain/soybean to edible meat is astounding. These rates of course assume that these animals are raised on a diet that could be used to feed humans. Traditionally, beef cattle were raised on field grass, but for efficiency, beef cattle are now mostly raised on grains suitable for human consumption. Within the last 75 years, we've progressed from eating cattle slaughtered at 4 to 5 years old to cattle slaughtered at just over a year old thanks to their new diet. However, this dietary shift also requires antibiotic protection as this is a rather unnatural diet for cows. Source.

So, americans are unhealthy and the market for meat represents a sinkhole for natural grains. In addition, the US and state governments spend billions on subsidizing the meat industry. On top of that, add this administration's questionable agricultural subsidies policy and we get a grand total of our money being wasted. One, the government recommends that we eat only 2/3 of our current average meat consumption (at most). And two, the government intervenes financially to keep costs of meat production low. How can we get a policy that will benefit everyone? Decreasing the amounts of government subsides to the meat industry will certainly cut governmental costs and cause meat prices to rise, thereby cutting demand, and hopefully consumption. There are a few problems still.

What about american farmers? Well, rather than simply trimming meat subsidies, we can shift them towards subsidizing something we can all agree on: decreasing dependance on foreign oil. By shifting meat subsidies to farmers growing corn for the production of ethanol, we keep farmers employed and at the same time enjoy a renewable resource that displaces 7 gallons of imported oil per gallon produced. Additionally, with a decrease in meat production, the grain which would have gone to feed animals can be used to produce ethanol as well.

What about the american public? This is the remaining problem: our culture's obsession with meat consumption. Would Americans stand for the government's role in an intentional rise in the cost of meat? Does this go too far? In my opinion, it is too far for the national and state governments to pour billions into keeping meat production costs artificially low. All this plan requires is that Americans accept a shift in culture, in this case prodded by rising meat costs.

Posted by Andrew Parker at January 14, 2005 12:17 AM