The End of Meat?

We have no idea what a world of carnivores would look like. Except that it wouldn’t look anything like the present. Author Paul Roberts attempts to take a peek into this cloudy crystal ball in “Carnivores Like Us,” a story in this month’s Seed that’s drawn from his new book The End of Food.

We all know by now that the net environmental impact of a globalized American diet would be devastation. We also know that Asian meat consumption is rising far beyond our cultural expectations. Apparently, “vegetarian diets had less to do with health or spiritualism than with economics: In nearly every country where meat consumption was low (even in countries such as China, where some Buddhist practices encouraged vegetarianism), per capita intake has paralleled economic development.”

For the first time, as Roberts points out, “meat-eating [has] graduated from the category of lifestyle choice to that of collective responsibility.” Nearly everyone who’s paying attention agrees that something’s got to be done. Problem is, nearly no one agrees on what, or even on what lens to look through. Here’s a lengthy quote from Roberts, but it nicely cuts to the heart of it all.

For example, many who approach meat from a largely ethical standpoint, such as animal rights, argue for a completely meat-free culture; others accept some level of meat-eating as long as the animals are produced using ‘free range’ or other humane methods. Among consumers motivated by health concerns, meat eating may be acceptable as long as livestock are fed organic grains or better yet, are raised on grass. The eco-friendly consumers, meanwhile, might tolerate a steak as long as the cow was raised on a carefully rotated pasture (to avoid erosion and over-grazing), or on a local ranch, thus reducing the ‘food miles’ traveled and the associated carbon emissions. And yet, for all the awareness, and despite the eagerness of the food industry to exploit these concerns with a full range of ‘correct’ meats (organic, cruelty-free, local, even soy-based), the result has been a confusing cacophony of choices whose benefits—to health, to the animals, to the planet—are hard to discern.

Hard to argue with that, at least.

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