What’s the Deal With Red Meat, the Environment and You?

While meat consumption in the United States is about four times the global average, many Americans don’t stop and think about what they are consuming. The media bombards us with health messages about how red meat is just as bad as smoking (eggs and dairy too), red meat changes the gut’s bacteria to cause heart disease, and red meat is linked to memory loss, just to name a few.

Oy vey! We get it, red meat probably isn’t the best for our health.

Yet, other (positive and negative) implications of eating red meat are rarely publicized. While choosing to eat or not eat red meat is often considered a “personal choice,” it is much more than that — it’s about health, the environment and the ethics of killing animals.

Fortunately, Harvard University’s Sustainability Department is running a series — Red Meat, the Environment, and You — that teases out the importance of the individual’s relationship to red meat and the environment, in more complexity.

Throughout the series, Hanna Evensen, Harvard ’16, is exploring: “How are individual choices, the meat industry, and climate change connected? How is what I eat connected to politics, health, and the environment?”

Enjoy a few of the highlights from Evensen’s quest from the series.

Red Meat and Mortality?

A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health research study “linked red meat consumption to increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality.” On the flip side, the study found that substituting red meat for leaner proteins (e.g. fish, legumes and nuts) was linked to a lower mortality risk.

Eat Red Meat, Save the Planet?

Despite this study, Evensen points to recent research from Dr. Mathieu Lalonde, from the Harvard Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, that questions the connection between red meat consumption and increased mortality rates. Dr. Lalonde pointed to flaws in the methods and conclusions of the 2012 study; he also found that trying to find a link “may be too large of a question.”

Harvard’s Food Law Society hosted the Eat Red Meat, Save the Planet event where Dr. Lalonde noted the flaws. The event highlighted “how pasture-raised herbivores are ideal for human consumption,” and Allan Savory discussed how Holistic Planned Grazing “has reversed desertification and is bringing back to life once unusable land.”

Desertification and Global Warming

Can livestock animals really remedy desertification and reverse global warming? Savory says yes.

Savory’s grazing program is unique in addressing nature’s needs and complexities, and he discussed how it can help to reverse global warming. According to Savory, “Left in nature, animals keep moving all the time, and don’t overgraze any single plot of land.”

Savory’s program copies the patterns already found in nature (e.g. the seasonal life cycles and the natural movement of the animals). His Holistic Planned Grazing program was successful in Africa. While his work isn’t new, Savory insists that: “It’s been there all along. Now it’s imperative that we return to what works.”

Ethics of Eating Animals

It also seems like since time immemorial, humans have been consuming red meat.

Yet, Evensen highlights Christine Korsgaard, Harvard University’s Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy, and the philosophical and ethical questions around eating animals that she poses. According to Korsgaard, “humans do not have a right to kill animals.”

Despite the differences between humans and non-human earthlings, they are just differences. Yet, these differences are usually interpreted as “superiority on the part of humans.” This type of superiority has its roots in speciesism.

Korsgaard also highlights the ethical implications of factory farming. Korsgaard poses, “Can we still imagine ourselves as a natural link in a chain of life when there is nothing natural about the way we raise and eat our food?”

Korsgaard calls for solidarity with other sentient beings, and she believes that hurting other earthlings isn’t ethical.

The Harvard red meat series shows how individual scale matters. It matters if you eat meat everyday, do Meatless Mondays, are a type of vegetarian or just choose to celebrate the Great American Meatout (it’s a real holiday, and it’s on March 20). Despite eating meat for seemingly ever, we’ve yet to come to a consensus, but it’s interesting to highlight recent research and new points of view.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

122 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

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Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga3 years ago

go vegan

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Julia H.
Past Member 3 years ago

Cont.

You state that you judge other people based on what they choose to eat. That speaks volumes and it is not a good thing. If they eat meat, you just assume they are horrible people who want to harm animals and would have slaves if possible. What a very closed mind you have. That is so sad and superior thinking. That is how wars start and if more people would realize that, this world would be a much more peaceful place. To each his/her own. Live and let live. How many more ways can I say it before vegans get it?

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Julia H.
Past Member 3 years ago

@ Frederik D.

Not everyone feels good eating veggies and fruits alone. I have had to give up so much already because of our toxic food supply here in the USA. I don't want to give up meat and I feel better by eating meat. My body, my choice. I don't feel the need to justify why I want to eat meat to anyone other than stating that it is my personal choice. I will never be made to feel guilty for my choice. To compare me with someone who would own slaves is ridiculous and insulting.

I do agree that doctors are pretty clueless when it comes to diets and what they recommend as healthy to their patients. I don't follow their recommendations that is for sure.

To assume all who choose to eat meat are causing harm to animals or that they breed them or keep them locked up is so ignorant. Where did you get that garbage from? You made it up in your mind as it is not based on reality. I don't eat any meat that has come from animals that were harmed. There are plenty of options to avoid that. The more people who avoid supporting those types of operations, the better and the sooner they will hopefully go away completely. I get my beef from local farms who sell grass-fed beef. Same goes for eating eggs and chicken that were raised without harm to them. All without antibiotics or hormones.

You state that you judge other people based on what they choose to eat. That speaks volumes and it is not a good thing. If they eat meat, you just assume they are horri

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