Meating A New Standard

Every five years, a committee composed of highly qualified academics and researchers gather to review the latest research regarding health and nutrition. Together, they release the US Dietary Guidelines, which basically tell Americans what to eat to live the healthiest lifestyle. This time around, they made a pretty radical suggestion.

Professor Hestenburg, head of La Salle’s Nutrition Department, broke down the report for the class, but focused mainly on the most significant change- limiting red meat. The USDA committee decided upon this mainly because of the environmental affects of the meat industry, which marks the first time in the committee’s history that individual health benefits were not the deciding factor.

Source: Environmental Working Group

Source: Environmental Working Group

The most eye-opening research that ignited this change came out two US studies. Professor Gidon Eshel, of Bard College’s Environmental Policy department, found that the red meat industry requires 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork or chicken, resulting in five times more emissions. According to Eshel, cattle make far less efficient use of the grains and grass they consume. Growing and maintaining feed crops for cattle produces more emissions than the farming of crops for human consumption.

The other revealing study was published by Eric Davidson of the The Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Davidson found that the nitrous oxide, which is released by fertilizers and animal manure, is the most potent greenhouse gas. The major culprits in this contamination of the air are factory farming and the meat industry. Davidson projects catastrophic climate changes by 2050 if humans continue to consume red meat at the current rate and the industry continues to pollute the air.

The good news is, as Hestenburg pointed out in her presentation, is that there is a huge push in popular culture to limit beef. Health and nutrition are infiltrating society through fad diets like juicing, veganism, and paleo. The international campaign for Meatless Mondays is appearing across schools and workplaces around the globe. Modern restaurants are capitalizing on the “farm to table” craze (check out Philadelphia’s most popular F2T restaurant here) as well as offering more and more vegetarian options on their menus to appeal to a larger client base. Hip City Veg anyone? With the recently released Dietary Guidelines, even more changes are predicted, so keep a look out and think about your environmental footprint next time you’re considering chompin’ on that Big Mac.

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