At the heat of the horse meat crisis in Europe, UNEP published ‘Our nutrient world’, a report that looked closely at the massive impact of nutrient use by agriculture and especially in meat production. The report proposed many actions to improve the management of nutrients in agriculture. But one recommendation received the most media attention: the plea for voluntary lowering of personal meat consumption. The enthusiastic responses that followed may suggest that the size of meat on the plate in affluent societies goes down in the coming decades. A remarkable trend, given that eating more meat is one of the first habits that people take up when they get wealthier.
Indeed, there is an almost perfect correlation between growth in GDP and growth in meat consumption. The case of China’s development shows this very clearly. In 2050 many of the nine billion people may have more income and better diets, as they are lifted out of absolute poverty. However, another share of those nine billion may turn into people like us Westerners, risking over-consumption of meat products combined with loads of refined sugary foods and drinks, and embarrassing little physical exercise.
The global meat production needed to fulfill that appetite would require enormous nutrient inputs. That means potential pollution to ecosystems, risking land degradation, food insecurity and exacerbating loss of natural ecosystems. That is what UNEP warns for. Global awareness of the importance to moderate meat consumption would help a great deal. But would we humans be able to cut ourselves loose from our intrinsic desire to portion up on meat as soon as we can afford it?
Slowly but clearly, the numbers are showing that this is getting a significant trend. The rising meat prices may provide a partial explanation, as well as awareness of animal welfare issues, and meat related scandals and disease outbreaks. In addition, ever more people consider lowering their meat intake as a statement of making a sustainable lifestyle choice. Meatless monday is becoming a true global initiative, engaging consumers, restaurant holders and retailers to plate up vegetarian food. Flexitarians, demitarians, part-time meat eaters are gaining influence.
What we eat is very much an expression of culture. Despite the biological appeal of meat eating, most of our appetite and preferences are shaped by our communities. Changing our food habits through shifted cultural perceptions is not impossible and very much what we are seeing right now. It could be that over the course of this century we’ll learn to appreciate new diets that have a lower impact on ecosystems globally. We might even pick up new or unfamiliar foodstuff like test tube meat or insects. So what do you think that you will have on your plate in 2030?
Food on our plate. Some meat and a lot of vegs.Photo credits: Flikr
Read more of our blogs at Futurista
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
KEEP UP WITH WFS NEWS & UPCOMING EVENTS
March 26, 2015 - When we think of NASA these days we have an impression of an agency that has lost its way for a number of reasons. One is budgetary constraints with NASA receiving little in the way of net new money from the federal government to initiate new programs.
March 25, 2015 - In the last two weeks climatologists and oceanographers reported the outcome of two studies, one focused on glaciers in the Antarctic, the other on ocean circulation patterns and trends. In both cases the news was disturbing.
Antarctic Glaciers Destabilizing
March 24, 2015 - Watch the video put out by Magic Leap and you get a sense of where augmented virtual reality is taking us. This Florida start up has gotten some very big companies interested in its potential led by Google and Qualcomm.
March 23, 2015 - Yesterday was World Water Day. This day, mandated by the United Nations, is meant to focus on the importance of freshwater to humanity. The truth of course is with our human population continuing to grow and freshwater a finite resource, we are heading for a crisis of our own making.
March 22, 2015 - Our drive north from Florida has ended and now it's time to get back to the last throes of winter here in Toronto. Today as I walked my dog, Maya, we heard the sound of Redwing Blackbirds in the local park. The males were staking out territory at treetop level. So this may mean a real spring is not far from breaking out here in the Great White North. It will be most welcome.