To start, if we cut out red meat, fish and/or poultry one day a week without changing any other part of our diet, we would reduce animal protein consumption approximately 8.4 ounces a week, the daily amount the average U.S. citizen eats. That comes out to 27.3 pounds a year. Multiply that by the 304 million people in this country (as of July 2008) and collectively we would reduce our meat, fish and poultry consumption over 8 billion pounds!
That’s a lot of meat and would have an enormous positive impact because reducing your meat consumption saves you money, is better for your health, curbs climate change, helps save the environment, and lessens our dependence on foreign oil. Really. All that from cutting back on the amount of meat you eat. To help even more, make sure the meat you do eat is from local sustainable farms.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these reasons.
Saves you money.
Meat can be expensive, oftentimes the most expensive item in the grocery store, so it can take a big dent out of your weekly food budget. A good way around this is to simply cut back on the amount of meat you eat. The 8.4 ounces of red meat, poultry and fish Americans consume per day comes to almost 192 pounds per year.
By cutting out meat just one day a week, you’ll be cutting out 27.3 pounds of meat per person each year. The amount of money you save will vary greatly between where you live and the type of meat, but if you buy ribeye steak on Long Island, NY, you’d pay around $7.99 a pound, so if you ate the 8.4 ounces an average American eats, you would save over $218 a year. Cutting back on a pound of meat a week would save you over $415.00 a year. And if you’re a family of four and you buy 2 ½ pounds of steak, that’s a savings of $20 per week or over $1000 a year!
Better for your health
Diets high in red meat like hamburgers and steaks and processed meats like cold cuts, bacon and hot dogs have been linked to an increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer. (The risk from fish and poultry is less.)
The National Cancer Institute studied over 545,000 people from 50 to 71 years old and followed their eating habits for 10 years. There were more than 70,000 deaths during that time. The report, released in March of this year, states that middle aged to older Americans who ate only a quarter-pound hamburger (that’s 4 ounces) a day were 22 percent more likely to die from cancer and 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease, in comparison to individuals who ate only 5 ounces of meat a week. Women had a 20 percent higher risk of dying of cancer and a 50 percent higher risk of dying of heart disease than women who ate less.
In addition, the American Cancer Society undertook a 20-year study of 150,000 men and women from 1982 to 2001 and also found that people who ate a large amount of red and processed meat had a 30 to 40 percent higher chance of developing colon cancer. Those who favored processed meat like sausages, hot dogs and cold cuts increased their colon cancer risk by 50 percent. And to make matters even worse, “high meat consumption” was considered to be 3 ounces a day for men and 2 ounces a day for women. The lowest risk for colon cancer was found when men ate less than 1.5 ounces a day of red or processed meat and less than 1 ounce a day for women.
Adding to this, the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health (SCVPH) confirmed in 2002 that the use of hormones in beef and dairy cattle poses a health risk for consumers.
With regard to fish, today there are concerns about high levels of mercury so fish consumption should be limited, and industrially-raised poultry have shown problems with high levels of arsenic.
There is no doubt that Americans would benefit from reducing their meat consumption, but it must also be pointed out that in these studies no difference was made between industrially raised, factory farm meat and grass-fed sustainable meat. Grass fed sustainable meat is lower in saturated fat, lower in cholesterol (both which contribute to heart disease), lower in calories and will not have any added hormones – so it will always be a better option than factory farmed meat.
Healthcare costs in 2007 were 2 trillion dollars with 75 percent of that amount (1.5 trillion dollars) going toward the treatment of chronic preventable diseases, so reducing your meat consumption can also help lower your healthcare bills down the road.
The message here isn’t to necessarily cut out meat, but if you care about yourself and your health, you might want to limit your intake. And an easy way to do that is to simply cut it out one day a week. And when you do decide to eat it, look for meat from animals that were raised in a sustainable way. Your health depends on it.
Start by pledging to go meatless on Monday.
Use the Eat Well Guide to find sustainable meat in your area.
To be continued….
(Diane Hatz is the Founder of Sustainable Table, Executive Producer of The Meatrix movies and co-Founder of the Eat Well Guide. This is the 18th installment in her series Sustainable Table’s Guide to Good Food.)
Change Food is a nonprofit whose mission is to connect and transform the food we eat, the people who produce it, and the world in which it is grown. To read and learn more, visit The Guide to Good Food blog.