Americans Are Gorging Themselves on Cheap Meat

Other countries advise eating less meat. Why is US meat consumption spiking?

This year will be the highest for meat consumption since 2006. Shutterstock/KP PhotoStudio

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


  

While the Dutch and other nations are advising consumers to cut down on red meat, it’s estimated that Americans will eat more beef this year than we have in the last decade.

The Netherlands Nutrition Centre’s new dietary guidelines suggest eating no more than 500 grams (just over one pound) of meat per week, including no more than 300 grams (0.7 pounds) of red meat, which it describes as “high carbon.” The agency wants the Dutch to scale back red meat for health reasons and sustainability. After all, the meat industry produces 14.5 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and land for grazing takes up a quarter of the Earth’s non-ice surface. The Dutch agency’s new guidelines also decrease the recommended fish consumption from twice to once per week, and they encourage protein from sources such as unsalted nuts and legumes.   

In the United States, on the other hand, diners are piling more meat onto their plates. The USDA has predicted that 2016 will be the biggest year in a decade in Americans’ consumption of beef. We’ll eat an estimated 53.4 pounds, nearly half a pound more per person than last year. 

Bloomberg Business compares US chicken and beef consumption since the 1970’s. Source: Bloomberg

According to Bloomberg, the increase could be due to cheaper prices on red meat and the popularity of protein-heavy diets like the paleo diet. Also, there are more cows. Droughts that plagued the Southwest in 2014 meant fewer cows and higher beef prices. However, cattle counts from earlier this year show there are nearly 3.5 million more cows than two years ago.

The Dutch aren’t the only sustainability conscious eaters. Sweden altered its dietary guidelines in 2009, and in 2012 Brazil called for cultivating and eating foods that had “environmental integrity.” Last week, the United Kingdom released its EatWell Guide, which advised Brits to eat less red meat.

It’s unclear whether the USDA will change its guidelines to reflect sustainability any time soon. When “My Plate,” the Obama administration’s food group

The USDA’s “My Plate” guidelines were released in January. The guidelines advised more vegetables, fruits and lean meats, and less sugar. Source: ChooseMyPlate.gov

recommendations, came out earlier this year the government played it safe and only mentioned eating leaner meats. The guidelines instead came down hard on limiting sugar intake.

 

 

 

 

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.