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
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This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
Today, literally thousands of alternative transportation vehicles are coming out of the woodwork and they nearly all have the same problem – no place to drive them. Most are banned from biking and hiking trails, and they are neither licensed, nor licensable, for use on the streets. I’d like to discuss some new possible solutions and why Colorado is poised to take the lead in the alternative transportation marketplace.
In a recent conference promoting not only their latest gizmos but their company's animating vision as well, Google executives declared they were working toward a future in which technology "disappears," "fades into the background," becomes more "intuitive and anticipatory." Commenting on this apparently "bizarre mission for a tech company," Bianca Bosker warns that their genial and enthusiastic promotional language masks Google's aspiration to omnipresence via invisibility, an effort to render us dependent and uncritical of their prevalence through its marketing as easy, intuitive, companionable.
Occasionally during meetings one of my staff – an avid birder – will elbow me and I’ll look up and glimpse a bald eagle. Each time, I am in awe. I live in Washington State, which is home to a plethora of eagles, where pods of Orca ply the waters near the San Juan Islands, and where roads are sometimes blocked by herds of elk.
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