Eat Right to Change the World

The past few days, all kinds of depressing new information about the environment has come out. Mostly, global warming is here to stay; the ice is melting all over Antarctica; and things are going to get hotter and hotter over the next 100 years, which will seriously impact food supplies, especially in areas where hunger already is a problem.


So it was refreshing to turn on NPR yesterday and hear an interview with Mark Bittman about his book “Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.”

According to Bittman, Americans average 200 lbs. of meat per person, per year. (I believe he’s talking all kinds of meat – beef, pork, chicken, fish.) He pointed out that’s about half a pound a day per person.

If each of us eats 10 meals with meat, he says, and we gave up meat at two of those meals, that would eliminate about a pound of meat a week — and reduce our annual intake by almost one-fourth.

What would that do for the planet?

Well, Bittman said, we slaughter 100 billion animals per year in the United States.

100 BILLION. That’s about three animals per man, woman and child. Some of those animals are little. But some of them are really, really big (like cows).  All those cows produce methane, a gas that is key to greenhouse gas production and global warming. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that cattle produce 28 percent of the global methane emissions from human-related activities.

If we cut our consumption by 20 percent, we could significantly reduce those emissions.

What would it do for you?

Bittman said that he previously ate “typically American.” That means lots of meat — surely at least those 10 meals a week. This is a man, after all, whose “How to Cook Everything” includes diagrams of which cuts of meat come from where.

Now, he says he avoids meat at breakfast and lunch, but might eat meat at dinner.

After just a few months of the new diet, Bittman says, he noticed improvements to his health: “I lost 35 pounds — which is about 15 percent of my body weight — my cholesterol went down 40 points; my blood sugar went from borderline bad to just fine; [and] my knees, which were starting to give out as a result of running at too high a weight, got better.”

On air, he also said he eliminated his sleep apnea, which was probably related to being overweight.

Read the whole interview summary (and listen) here.

Editor’s note: There are also a few recipes at that link. However, on air he said it’s a good idea to cut eggs and dairy — milk, butter — out of your diet as much as you can, for the maximum benefit all around. But the recipes are a breakfast bread pudding (with eggs and butter … and who has 1.5 hours to prepare breakfast?!), and a yogurt-and-egg-laden chocolate pudding. But they’re probably tasty.


9 thoughts on “Eat Right to Change the World

  1. wasters says:

    A different focus, but a fairly similar message to another book I love, Michael Pollen’s In Defense of Food ( His view can be summarised as”Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
    One of the interesting historical points he raises in that book is that the original healthy eating guidelines were drafted as “Eat less meat and dairy”. There was a huge outcry from the Meat and Dairy lobbies, and to appease them it all got reformulated in terms of calorific intake, saturated fats, etc. This message is so much harder for people to understand and adopt, and really opened the way for all those spurious, generally processed, “healthy options” that fill our stores today.

  2. JAM says:

    Thanks – I just requested the book from the library. I went veggie in July (for environmental, animal cruelty and health reasons) and am very happy with the choice. I’ve tried being vegan, and I like the way I feel but have a hard time doing it completely – I like his approach of having vegan meals most of the time without being completely vegan – sounds a lot more doable to me.

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    @wasters – Yes, Michael Pollan was there first! Actually Mark Bittman mentioned his book in the interview. Many of our nutrition standards are influenced by the meat and dairy lobbies, I’ve heard.

    @ JAM – Finding balance is a much easier and saner way to go — since it’s not about judgment, it’s about helping the world, right?

  4. badhuman says:

    We’ve already incorporated one meatless meal a week into our diets and are working on two. Since my husband and I both eat leftovers one meal actually turns into 2 or 3 which is nice. I haven’t noticed any health difference since we are already in great shape but it certainly saves me money.

  5. L'an says:

    I’ve always found these kinds of statistics fascinating and kinda mind-boggling because if I figure I’m counted into the average, and the average person eats 200 lbs of meat per year, but I probably eat around 20 lbs of meat (including fish) per year, then somewhere someone is eating a lot more than 1/2 lb per day. Given my own eating habits, I can’t quite wrap my head around that. That said, I am a cheese fiend so I’m probably making up for someone else’s lack of cheese/dairy consumption. 🙂

    In any case… hooray that more people in prominent places are talking about these things!

  6. Stormie says:

    We have recently purchased a quarter cow and a half a pig for our family to last a year. The cost of the meat is drastically more than what we pay at the conventional grocery store, but it is well worth it. We purchase from a family farm who pledges not to use chemicals and allow their animals to forage and eat what nature intended. Because of the expense, however, we use meat only as a side dish and rarely as a main dish. I have found that many countries view meat this way as well, mainly because meat is so expensive. Lately, we have been trying ethnic cuisine which feature more legumes, nuts, tofu as the main protein and we have been really loving the meatless meals and saving money in the long run (not to mention greatly improving our family’s health). I agree that Americans eat too much meat, but I know that I could not be 100% vegetarian either. Eating consciously as well as supporting those farmers who raise their meat humanely is our family’s goal. What a great topic!

  7. erin says:

    I have been vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, vegan and carnivore. I discovered something interesting about myself…I must have protein. If I don’t have protein, I am a wreck. I get depressed, I get grumpy. And it generally has to be meat. Now it can be a small amount (I have an organic breakfast sausage in the morning it is maybe 2.5″ long and 1/2″ wide plus one egg) but nuts or beans or other proteins don’t do it for me. I generally have small amounts of meat at most meals. I am not sure how to solve this dilemma.

  8. Harper says:

    I was a vegan for 2 months [missed cheese too much], a vegetarian for my twenties, and an omnivore since then. Many of my home-cooked meals are vegetarian and I used meat more as a condiment when I did use it but I have noticed my meat intake [chicken, pork, and beef] has been creeping up and I’m not sure why. Eating out more may account for some of it but not all.

    Erin — perhaps it isn’t the protein from meat you need but something else, like iron or fat.

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