Meaty Truths

Choosing Meat that’s Sustainable and Safe

In his essay The Pleasures of Eating, Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer and poet, writes: “If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.” He, like a growing number of conscious eaters, wants no part of the industrial meat system in which animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations.

Media coverage has helped educate consumers previously unaware of how their food is produced and why it matters. The documentary film Food Inc., as well as books like Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser and The Chain, by Ted Genoways, describe common livestock industry practices that mistreat animals, pollute water and air, endanger workers and threaten public health. With increased understanding of the connections between diet and health, climate, environment and social justice, even many Americans that still like the taste of hamburger and steak have sided with Berry; they want sustainably raised, humane and healthful red meat.

Unsustainable Corporate Lobby

Every five years, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are revised to reflect the latest nutritional science. In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee attempted to include the concept of sustainability. The committee, which included top nutrition scientists, defined sustainable diets as “a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being and provides food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations.” It made the case that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods both promotes health and protects the environment—resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions, and less energy, land and water use.

But political pressure from the livestock industry prevailed, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell jointly announced, “We do not believe that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.” Instead, they advised the committee to focus solely on nutritional and dietary information.

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