Is Eating Less Meat a Good Idea in 2024?

Is Eating Less Meat a Good Idea in 2024?

You may have caught some headlines about the quality of meat taking a nosedive in the United States recently. There’s plenty of evidence that meat just isn’t what it used to be. And—since Americans are meat-loving people—it’s affecting our health.

Now, you probably have your own opinions about meat, so we won’t cast any judgment about meat consumption in general. But here are some facts about what you’ll find in the meat aisle in the USA today. 

How Much Meat Do We Eat? 

Let’s start with quantity. How many cellophane-cased styrofoam trays of reddish-pink protein leave grocery stores every year? According to the USDA, the average American consumes 224.6 pounds of meat per year, which includes beef, pork, and turkey. 

Americans reached an all-time high in meat consumption in 2021. Recent surveys1 from 2023 show that we’ve been keeping a similar pace. To put that in context, the average American eats about 3 times as much meat as the global average2

But why? 

One likely reason is because most Americans can afford to buy meat, and frequently. The industrialization of meat in the United States—the processes by which meat is raised, packaged, and shipped—makes meat plentiful and accessible.

Plus, animal fats simply aren’t as villainized as they were at the turn of the century. Many Americans are aware that sugar and processed carbohydrates are actually the greatest players in weight gain, not necessarily animal fat, like grocery stores had us believing for decades.

In other words, “low fat” isn’t the golden checkbox for healthy choices anymore. That makes meat look even better than it already did. 

So, we have the budget for meat. Industrialization makes sure there’s plenty of it. And we’re no longer as afraid that bacon grease will immediately latch on to our hips and thighs. Oh, and meat is delicious.

Maybe it makes sense that demand for meat in the United States is high. 

But, as with anything, as demand increases, quality tends to decrease. 

What’s Changed with Meat Production in the United States? 

It’s no secret that you’re not getting the same quality of cuts or the same production processes as you were a few decades ago when it comes to meat. Ask anyone who remembers what ground hamburger meat looked like in the 80s. 

And there are a few reasons for that.

A Few Companies Make Most of the Meat

First, the US meat industry has seen serious consolidation of meat providers, with a few large companies controlling most of production. When only a few companies are producing the meat, profiting is no longer a matter of competition with other companies, it’s a matter of how fast you can make more meat. This can lead to pressure to maximize efficiency and profit at the expense of animal welfare and meat quality.

CAFOs (Where the Meat Gets Made) 

The rise of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) has led to large-scale, intensive production of meat. While efficient, these facilities put stress on the animals which, believe it or not, impacts meat textures and flavor. 

Not to mention that the relentless pursuit of cost efficiency can also lead to prioritizing quantity over quality. What that looks like is cheaper cuts, fillers, or lower-quality feed, which impacts taste and nutritional value. 

When Antibiotics Backfire 

Because CAFOs are *ahem* crowded, farmers have to feed the animals powerful antibiotics to keep them from catching and spreading diseases. Some of these diseases are even becoming resistant to antibiotics. (These are the kind of bacteria you really don’t want in your food.) 

Some of these include pathogens like E. coli, cryptosporidium, and salmonella, all of which can cause sickness or death in humans and animals.

While some regulations exist, concerns remain about the long-term health effects for consumers—consumers essentially playing Russian roulette with every chicken breast and pound of ground beef they touch or put on their counter. 

Extra Additives in Your Meat

Supermarket meat often undergoes processing and packaging techniques to extend shelf life and make it look appetizing.

For example, to slow down oxidation of the meat (the brownish/grayish coloring), providers will use carbon dioxide and nitrogen to decrease the oxygen content. Doing so keeps the outside from turning gray so fast.

How Does a Meat-Heavy Diet Affect Your Health? 

We all know that protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, but piling your plate with meat at every meal might not be the best health strategy. 

Your Ticking Heart 

The number one killer in the US is still heart disease. And an extended, heavy-meat diet puts you in the danger zone. Red meat is high in saturated fat, which can elevate cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Processed meats, like sausages and bacon, are even worse culprits, often containing sodium and nitrates that further burden the cardiovascular system.

Cancer Risk 

Coming in at a close second for total deaths in the US is cancer. Research suggests a link between excessive red meat consumption and certain cancers, particularly colorectal cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer even classifies processed meats as carcinogenic.

That Gut Feeling

We’re learning more and more about how your overall health depends on your gut health—the various populations of healthy bacteria versus less-helpful bacteria in your digestive tract. 

Gut health affects your brain, how you absorb nutrients from food, and even your personality! (Okay, maybe your whole personality is a stretch. But gut health is proven to affect your mood and has been closely linked to mental health.)

A meat-heavy diet means less fiber, which is crucial for gut health and digestion. This can lead to constipation, bloating, and even an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease. If you’re dealing with symptoms like these, we recommend Natural Balance herb-based soothing bowel formula with rhubarb and ginger to support a healthy digestive tract. 

CAFOs and Disease 

Let us not overlook that the meat you pick up in the grocery store doesn’t have to pass the same safety checks that other food does. After all, the label does warn you to cook completely at a high temperature before eating, right? 

But just because you take the meat home and cook it, doesn’t mean that you won’t contaminate kitchen counters, cabinets, clean dishes or cooking utensils with whatever bacteria that raw meat might be carrying. 

Is it worth the risk? 

Environmental Impact

Meat production casts a long shadow on the planet. 

For example, every juicy burger requires gallons of water and over 100 pounds of corn feed to produce. From feed production to manure management, livestock farming belches out greenhouse gasses, fueling the fires of climate change. And deforestation? They’re fueled, in large part, by the insatiable demand for meat pushing bulldozers through forests. 

So, while that sizzling sirloin might seem like a simple meal, it’s a story writ large across the Earth—a tale of resource depletion and environmental cost woven into every bite. 

So, Should You Eat Less Meat in 2024?

There’s no easy answer. It’s a personal decision with complex factors to weigh. You’ve explored the quality concerns, health risks, and environmental impact of America’s meat industry. Ultimately, the choice is yours: prioritize taste and affordability, or seek alternatives for health and environmental reasons.

Here are some considerations to guide your decision:

If Health Is Your Top Priority:

  • Consider incorporating more plant-based proteins into your diet for gut health, heart health, and potentially reduced cancer risk.
  • Explore alternatives like fish and poultry, which tend to be lower in saturated fat than red meat.
  • Be mindful of processed meats, opting for fresh cuts whenever possible.

If Environmental Impact Is Your Focus:

  • Reducing your overall meat consumption, even slightly, can significantly lower your carbon footprint.
  • Research sustainable meat options raised ethically and humanely.
  • Explore plant-based meat alternatives to satisfy cravings without the environmental burden.

If Cost Is a Key Concern:

  • Experiment with budget-friendly cuts of meat.
  • Utilize plant-based proteins as main courses to supplement meat in dishes.
  • Look for deals and shop in bulk when possible.

Remember, change doesn’t always have to be drastic. Start small, explore new recipes, and find what works for you. Whether you choose to do meat-free Mondays or simply reduce your portion sizes, every step makes a difference.

Ultimately, the decision to eat less meat in 2024 is about taking control of your health and your impact on the world. Weigh the information, explore your options, and make an informed choice that aligns with your values.

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