Eating beef – starting on the road to disapproval?

Posted in emerging issues, energy, environment, ethics, food, sustainability by thenextwavefutures on 24 May, 2007

beefcattle.jpgWhen is eating beef going to become the subject of open social disapproval?

I need to do some research into this, but the thought came into my head while talking to a conservator at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust earlier this week. He works with marmosets in Brazil, now endangered by Brazil’s continuing growth as the world beef production capital.

Three or four reasons why it might:

  • its highly energy-intensive (the energy required to produce one kilogram on a table in the UK is among the highest for any foodstuff)
  • its water consumption is big (instant data from Fred Pearce’s book: 11,000 litres “to grow the feed for enough cow to make a quarter pound [100g] hamburger” – compared with 500 litres for a kilo of potatoes)
  • commercial beef ranching creates a monoculture – and can even lead to desertification of the area.

These issues are all becoming more pressing, especially in the face of the triple challenge of population growth, resource shortage, and climate change. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before beef starts to become the subject of apology, or perhaps eaten rarely, with a guilty conscience, on special occasions (as it used to be in England when people were poorer and would have lamb or beef, if they could afford it, on Christmas Day.


8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Becky R said, on 24 May, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    This raises an interesting quandry. For quite a long time beef, for me, has been one of the most ethically acceptable meats. A number of different reasons for this:- much harder to rear them in a really badly intensive way, so less cruelty (unlike chickens), quite often reared in the UK so less air miles (unlike lamb), no dwindling stocks – so more sustainable (unlike fish)…
    however, your points affect all meat – and beef more so, because of their scale. Out of interest… I wonder how many ‘beef’ portions you get from one cow, versus the same mass of lamb, chicken etc

  2. thenextwavefutures said, on 24 May, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Thenextwave replies:

    Becky makes a really interesting point here, and it made me reflect on the original post. I think the distinction is whether you’re thinking about the welfare of the animals or the welfare of the ecosystems they create. I imagine it is possible to have a humane beef industry which doesn’t destroy its local ecosystem (I’m sure they’d say they have such a think in Wales, for example) but it wouldn’t be possible for such a system to meet current or anticipated levels of demand for beef without significant ecological side-effects.

  3. Becky R said, on 25 May, 2007 at 10:38 am

    A further point. I am not sure if people will respond in the way you suggest (or at least very quickly) to the issue of the food they eat coming from an unsustainable source.

    An example: I totally expect people to choose not to eat fish that is caught from unsustainable sources. It has been known for many years that cod stocks are dwindling. Yet, it is still socially acceptable (not in my house or in my company I have to add) to eat cod – almost every restaurant I have been to in the last 2 years now has put cod on their menu! It isn’t just a high end restaurant thing either – it is v. difficult to buy non-cod fish fingers, even though cod is expensive and fish fingers could be made out of any other sort of white, flakey fish

    It seems that the general public are a bit slow to change their behaviour when it comes to giving up food that they like, in order to save the planet / protect species / ecosystems.

  4. thenextwavefutures said, on 5 June, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Becky makes a good point.

    But it raises an interesting question: what might it take to have people be more aware of species impact?

    Would it be the actual or imminent disappearance of a high profile species such as the polar bear?


  5. Becky R said, on 5 June, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    a lot of it is about education I think – and the TV chefs (gotta love ’em) are actually doing some really good work in this area.
    Some types of rare breeds have been brought back from near extinction simply by increased interest and special requests.

    I also think talking about the benefits of replacements is v. important. E.g. in the fishfingers example – a ‘nicer than cod, cheaper and better for the environment too’ message might work. Currently it relies on people being well read (not really associated with bulk of the fishfinger buying demographic).

    I think a big species going extinct is actually quite an interesting one. I am not sure it would have any effect at all. Lots of animals are currently near extinction but few people have batted an eyelid. After all, polar bears will exist forever on the tellybox won’t they – and the concept of a real polar bear living in the wild is so far from most peoples imaginations.

    Also, my focus is very uk based as it is much easier to influence – but how much (if we are to believe what we read) do some asian cultures care about species going extinct?

  6. nextwavenotes 13:09:07 « thenextwave said, on 14 September, 2007 at 12:11 am

    […] blogged a while back that beef consumption might become socially criticised. Today the Worldwatch Institute reports on a study by The Lancet which says the only effective way […]

  7. […] posts of interest:  ‘Word free food’, and ‘Eating beef – starting on the road to disapproval?’ Explore posts in the same categories: affluence, consumers, food, health, social, sustainability, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: