People certainly benefit and enjoy eating meat, but concerns for animals and the environment are leading people to leave it off the menu entirely.
Everyone has a responsibility to make more sustainable choices, but conscience contradicts behavior on occasion, and well-meaning meat eaters value convenience over more cautious dietary habits.
Vegetarianism is a committed lifestyle and vegans even further reduce their meal options. It’s not necessary for someone to eat meat to get enough protein, but it’s certainly more convenient. Meat is rich in nutrients like complete proteins, B-12, iron and other important minerals and is an easier choice for consumers.
People tend to make economic decisions over ethical ones, especially when the ethics of meat consumption are hidden behind friendly neighborhood butchers and restaurant kitchens. Populations in urban centers may be unlikely to have any firsthand experience farming, which isolates the population from the brutal reality of animals as sentient living things.
Food from animals raised in better conditions also tends to cost more, limiting people’s access to it. Truly ethical animal husbandry is not just about paying more for cage-free eggs — it’s a fundamentally different lifestyle choice that’s labor intensive and deeply personal.
Livestock, like cows, are an essential part of a permaculture farm, and have been successfully utilized to reverse desertification in Africa, according to the United Nations. Eco-agriculture tries to synergize human habitation, farmland and livestock within a natural ecosystem.
The success of these measures is astonishing. These practices attempt to reconnect civilization to nature, but not everyone will want to or be able to participate in a more sustenance-focused lifestyle. If people don’t even have time to plan their meals, it’s silly to expect them to grow food and care for animals.
However, the state of the planet is in crisis because human institutions are designed to meet human needs, and these institutions are failing humans. Food inequality is a result of these failing institutions, particularly famine caused by political conditions.
Traditionally, meat has served a role in providing food security in case of crop failures. For example, livestock is highly valued as a source of food security in sub-saharan Africa, according to a study by the Agricultural Sciences for Global Development, which conducts research in agriculture.
Today, domestic livestock make up the majority of the planet’s animal biomass, according to a 2018 study published by the National Academy of the Sciences.
Eating meat is ingrained in society, even though it’s not fair to the planet, and won’t disappear anytime soon. Most people typically want to do the right thing, but when it comes to animals it’s often more difficult to make necessary changes to their lifestyle.
However, people can still eat meat while keeping the planet in mind and minor dietary changes can benefit the environment. Between 1990 and 2009 consumers have begun to prefer chicken and fish over beef, according to a 2014 study by University College Cork in Ireland. These meats are also more environmentally sustainable according to University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems.
Humans and animals deserve access to a healthy and equitable environment. The environment is both instrumentally valuable as a sustainer of human life and it’s intrinsically valuable as an interconnected network of life itself. Perhaps more people will adopt vegetarianism as it becomes more mainstream, but until then people will eat according to their needs rather than adjusting their lifestyle for animals.