Eat Less Meat: A Small Change with a Big Impact

Industrial agriculture is reshaping the world, from our atmosphere to our dinner plates. Familiarize yourself with the current landscape: Meet your meats.


eat less meat

Further reading and data sources

American poultry and livestock consumption through history

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s meat-eating study

The climate price of meat production

The growing demand for meat products worldwide

The Meat Atlas 2014

OECD’s global per-capita meat consumption data

The Nation that Eats the Least Meat per Capita

The concentration of animal agriculture in the U.S.

Average farmed chicken size

The Chinese government’s unease over the country’s shifting meat-eating habits

China wants to cut meat-eating in half

The real reasons why Americans are cutting back on their meat consumption

Eat Less Meat, We’re Told. But Americans’ Habits Are Slow To Change

Ag-gag laws across the country

The largely untapped promise of carbon farming

Carbon Farm plans

And the bad news: American meat-eating is likely to rebound from its modest dip

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  1. Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
    We urge everyone to join our Meat-Free Monday campaign and spread the word!!
  2. Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
    Surely your 2017 consumption graphic should say "per year" instead of "per day"! We eat a lot of meat, but 217.8 pounds per day? I think not. It's more like 9.5 ounces per day. This is still far more than necessary to get the protein we need.

    Also, it would be helpful if you'd define "meat." A vegan would include fish and seafood in this category, but you don't seem to. Are you including only beef, pork and chicken? What about turkey, duck, venison, goose, lamb, goat, bison and other meats -- are they included in your figures? Do you account for consumption from personal hunting? Let us know your parameters and assumptions.

    Thank you.
    • Matthew Wheeland
      Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
      We've updated the statistic at the top - thanks for flagging that.
    • Stefhan
      Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
      The stat is for meat availability, not meat consumption. meat consumption is closer to 135 lbs annually ...

      Other stats cited are also wrong. . The 18% number for emissions is from LS 2006, which is a fabrication that attributed all land use change to livestock and used the IPCC numbers for the transportation sector which were only for tail pipe emissions not LCA's for the transport sector. Most beef cattle are not in CAFO's. Most beef cattle are on cow//calf and stocker operations. (68 mill out of the 82 mill head of beef cattle are on grass NOT in CAFO's). Beef cattle isn't vertically integrated like pigs and chickens. So the article doesn't even understand the numbers and stats it cites.
  3. Sunday, June 4th, 2017
    Why no love for What's The Matter With Meat? Its a consumer primer on how the industry works in five major production centers around the world?
  4. Ed Bourgeois
    Monday, June 5th, 2017
    don't forget #notilltuesday
  5. Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
    Great work, Ms. Cagle. I'm also excited about this new study in Climatic Change,https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1007/s10584-017-1969-1?author_access_token=Zs3wpwVZtW0AwMlkn8pS_fe4RwlQNchNByi7wbcMAY75CqHhAN5_Wyo4jzaY0FuFl94d-sN09Y-qYWZhw5j1hkGsv681rnln0LOrahh1FroJfkhAKQMJJiTjEp-l4HlRZZrCHWQ-6KcTycwnzntFxA
    which recommends swapping beans for beef as a way to significantly reduce GHG. Researchers include Gidon Eschel, who contributed to FAO's Livestock's Long Shadow, the seminal work linking livestock production to climate change and Joan Sabaté, a leader in the field of human, as opposed to global health. For a bean geek like me, this is very exciting news.
  6. Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
    A few thoughts:
    You should look at the USDA meat consumption numbers adjusted for loss, which is the ACTUAL consumption, at 5.6oz per day. The numbers you have here are what's produced, live weight. You're being misleading. You're also not mentioning the devastating impact of vegetable and grain production on our soils. So if we eat less meat, what do we eat more of? Will that really be better? How about switching to grass-fed herbivores that can utilize non arable land, which we can not grow crops on in the first place. US cattle currently graze on 85% non arable land - meaning we would not be able to crop it. Cattle don't spend their entire lives in a feed lot, the way chickens and pigs spend their entire lives in a CAFO - and they eat 100% grain, not the same situation as beef. You need to consider land use! Also, rice and almonds for example, are horrific in terms of environmental impact - why did you happen to leave these out. In my opinion, this is a very naive and overly simplistic article - please go a level deeper in your analysis and recommendations.
    • Daniel
      Friday, June 23rd, 2017
      Most of that "devastating" plant harvest is fed to livestock. The total amount of land needed for crops in a vegan world would be less than our current land use. Just google "energy and trophic levels."

      Also, it is possible to be vegan and not consume rice and almonds. I didn't receive a lifetime supply of those two items when I became vegan...

      And why do we have to do anything at all with non arable land? Just let it return to a natural state.
    • Stefhan Gordon
      Saturday, June 24th, 2017
      Again, you're oversimplifying Daniel. Let's start with soybeans, 90% of soybeans are pressed for soybean oil. Soybean oil isn't fed to livestock. Neither are biofuels, alcohol, ethanol, sugar, styrofoam, soy lecithin, high fructose corn syrup, biodegrablde plastics, etc. In our biobased economy, different parts of the plants go to different uses so there are a number of co- and by- products with pretty much every crops, and livestock eat a lot of the items that can't be used for other uses. The feed industry started as a by-product industry. Cattle now are fed almond husk and palm fruit as well. They get a lot of the waste that humans can't eat.

      Though I'm all for growing less soy and dent corn, as well as palm oil trees, but's that's because I get my cooking fats from lard pigs and use eggs for emulsifiers. I don't need the vegetable fats or other additives.

      Regardless, pretty much all tilled Ag is devastating for soil ecosystems. Plows tear apart the mycorrhizal fungi. Most organic Ag is tilled, heavily irrigated, and done leaving ground exposed. There are better no- till ways to grow organic produce but these methods aren't widely practiced. And, no, hydroponics don't provide eco friendly solution because their nutrient solutions are agrochemicals derived from industrial processes...Just take a look at where the phosphorus comes from...plenty of sentient animals died to mine that phosphorus.

      So you're just providing cliches rather than real arguments...especially since livestock can be grazed in intact natural ecosystems like grasslands, and silvo pasture...and this is where the vast majority of the globe's ruminants are being raised.
  7. Stefhan
    Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
    This is a grossly oversimplified presentation, since there are numerous ways that growing produce are environmentally detrimental (e.g. tillage and monocrops, nitrogen inputs - note 1/3 of the atmosphere's carbon is from the plow https://youtu.be/hgVJUjEyC5g not fossil fuels), while there are ways that raising livestock can be environmentally beneficial especially from a GHG perspective (see this peer reviewed research- http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.full.pdf - one of the authors is Nobel Prize winning soil scientist Rattan Lal).

    So this isn't a simple dialectic of "meat bad" and "plants good." All food production comes down to soil health. What's promotes soil health is what should be championed. Industrial Ag doesn't promote soil health...a lot of organic Ag involving tillage doesn't either. Why is soil health so important from a GHG perspective? Because healthy soils build up and sequester carbon. More carbon in the soil makes soil retain more water. More water retention combined with continuous cover creates favorable soil ecosystems for methane oxidizing bacteria . Thus healthy soils are banks for carbon,water AND methane.

    Thus what we should be doing is reduce and eliminate consumption of factory farmed livestock using industrially farmed crop by-products for feed..while simultaneous eating MORE meat from producers using regenerative and integrated forms of farming/ranching that improve soil health. We should also be encouraging more farmers to use non-till organic methods. How do you do this? With your consumer dollars.

    Additionally land isn't interchangeable. Farming and ranching are land specific. You need to do the appropriate form of ranching and farming on the appropriate piece of land. In some places ranching makes the most sense (eg grassland ecosystems), in other places integrated farming makes the most sense, and in some places (eg more humid environments), livestock aren't as essential for sustainable food production.
    • Daniel
      Friday, June 23rd, 2017
      Just because you can make something less bad doesn't make it right. Why fight so hard to preserve an intrinsically wasteful and unnecessary industry? Even animals that convert the highest percentage of feed into animal flesh don't come close to 100% efficiency. Every nutrient in animal flesh is derived from plants. Eating only plants uses less land than animal agriculture ever will, and there are sustainable methods of farming that don't require animal inputs. We would also be ingesting all of the plant's nutrients instead of wasting most of them by feeding them to and then eating livestock.
    • Stefhan Gordon
      Saturday, June 24th, 2017
      There is a major problem with your efficiency argument Daniel, and that's very little of the earth's land mass is arable (on average per continent only 12%) whereas a lot more of the earth's land mass is grazable (on average around 35%) . So if you live in regions of the world where the earth is grazable but not arable, the only way you get food off the land is via grazing, not crop production. Ruminants turn inedible grasses into proteins humans can consume.

      But even arable land has to be re-supplied with nutrients, and be protected from erosion. The best way to do this, especially in more brittle environments, is with integrated livestock. Ruminants build soil a lot faster than conservation systems without ruminants because they increase soil ecosystem biodiversity plus provide minerals without the needs for inputs, especially phosphorus. Tilled Ag systems destroy soil ecosystems, and when left exposed lead to a lot of soil erosion. At the current rate, farms are losing topsoil, there won't be any soil left if 50 or sixty years. Integrated livestock also can be used to grazed down cover crops and crop residues....and again, crop residues are portions of crops that aren't digestible by humans. So again the efficiency argument again fails, if you have depleted soils that are input dependent for any yields.
  8. Coral Kingwell
    Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
    I became a vegetarian when I found out what meat was as a child. Back then not eating meat was considered a bit crazy and certainly not healthy. Times have changed and I hope they will continue to change for the sake of the environment, health and who knows, maybe World peace. The raising, killing and eating of our fellow creatures is, in my view an archaic and barbaric practice and so unnecessary.
  9. Natasha Bates
    Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
    I stopped eating beef & dairy products not long after I saw the film Cowspiracy. I really don't miss either.
    • Stefhan Gordon
      Saturday, June 24th, 2017
      Cowspiracy was nothing but vegan propaganda. There are many ways that beef cattle can and are being raised that improve and regenerate land including reducing GHG emissions by sequestering carbon and oxidizing methane.
  10. Sue Thomas
    Tuesday, June 13th, 2017
    I'm a little weary of demonizing meat. Why doesnt Civil Eats report on the heroes using holistic range management practices with cattle restoring ecosystems. Articles with Alan Savory. Publish the positive over countless negatives on beef and the pushing the demise of a ranching culture.
    • Daniel
      Friday, June 23rd, 2017
      Meat is demonized so often because any good that you can legitimately find in animal agriculture is vastly outweighed by the negative impacts.
  11. Monday, June 19th, 2017
    Along with price, health and environment, animal welfare should be another reason people cut back on their meat consumption.
    THANK YOU for this awesome infographic! I found you on Marion Nestle's Food Politics Blog :)
  12. Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
    You should also mention the collateral damage done by ranchers in the production of beef; They have the BLM round up mustangs and corral them for all of their lives or until they disappear (or are slaughtered). Also, sheep and cattle ranchers call for the murder of wolf packs that may take livestock (sometimes setting up the wolves to fail by putting their herds near dens). People should be encouraged to eat less meat for this reason. Also how about the degradation of streams and our public lands caused by cattle? And how they protest when they have to care about endangered species? And that ranchers encourage/force the slaughter of bison outside of Yellowstone, and probably do the same to mountain sheep. Thank you for listening.
  13. Judy Marvelli
    Monday, August 14th, 2017
    I stopped eating meat 3 years ago, stopped all animal products 2 years ago. Funny when I tell people that they immediately think I did it for MY health, but I explain did it for the health of animals and the planet.