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

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.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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10:34AM PST on Feb 26, 2015

thanks for sharing :)

4:48PM PDT on May 25, 2014

go vegan

5:58AM PDT on Mar 24, 2014


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?

5:57AM PDT on Mar 24, 2014

@ 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

6:50PM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

Educating pro-lifers about animal issues IS pro-life activism! Abortion and war are the karma for killing animals. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada said in 1974:

"You are killing innocent cows and other animals--nature will take revenge. As soon as the time is right, nature will gather all these rascals and slaughter them. They'll fight among themselves--Protestants and Catholics, Russia and America... This is nature's law. Tit for tat. 'You have killed. Now you kill *yourselves.*

"They are sending animals to the slaughterhouse, and now they'll create their own slaughterhouse... You'll kill your own child--abortion. This is nature's law.

"Who are these children being killed? They are these meat-eaters. They enjoyed themselves when so many animals were killed and now they're being killed by their own mothers... If you kill you must be killed. If you kill the cow, who is your mother, then in some future lifetime your mother will kill you. Yes. The mother becomes the child, and the child becomes the mother.

"We don't want to stop trade, or the production of grains and vegetables and fruit. But we want to stop these killing houses. Every ten or fifteen years there is a big war--a wholesale slaughterhouse for humankind... by the law of karma, every action must have its reaction."

6:49PM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

In his 1987 booklet, The New Abolitionists: Animal Rights and Human Liberation, subtitled, "An introduction to the ascendant animal rights movement, framed in the historical context of human emancipation and explained in the terminology of progressive thought and politics," B.R. Boyd similarly writes:

"With more and more people sensing connections between the looming global violence of environmental collapse and thermonuclear war, on the one hand, and our various 'localized' or specific violences of child abuse, sexual assault, class exploitation, etc., on the other, the message of the animal rights movement echoes an ancient Chinese Buddhist saying:

"If you wish to know
"Why there are disasters
"Of armies and weapons in the world
"Listen to the piteous cries
"From the slaughterhouse at midnight"

"Whether viewed spiritually as karma or in secular, psychological terms as the natural result of our individual and collective psychic numbing to the suffering we inflict, it does seem that our violence comes back to haunt us -- as we have sown, so are we reaping -- and that the roots of our ecological and nuclear dilemma reach deep into our history and our psychology.

"It seems increasingly clear that a thoroughgoing solution to the big problems we face will require a radical change in many of our ways of thinking and feeling and being in the world..."

6:28PM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

Interesting article and comments. I don't eat a lot of meat, but have to admit that I used to enjoy a big juicy steak. Ever since I joined Care2 and have become more aware of the issues with factory farming and animal abuse in slaughter houses etc., my appetite for meat has diminished. The article doesn't touch on the subject of the precious resources that are wasted on the production of meat. For met this is one more factor to take into consideration when I contemplate becoming a vegetarian.

5:21PM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

It's not what you eat that matters, but where it comes from and how it was produced.

Red meat, like almost any other food, can be produced either ethically or unethically.

Sadly most foods (and most products of any kind for that matter) are cheaper to produce by unethical means that exploit the earth, animals, workers in the industry, and finally the end consumers themselves.

10:47AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

But it also gives me the chance to judge other people by the fact if they eat meat, or cause other froms of suffering.

It's their choice, just as much as slavery was a choice. Human and non-human animals are not the same you will probably answer. Exactly what a lot of white human animals thought about black human animals 200 years ago. It's a matter of perspective (I think).

10:40AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

Julia H, your got sick when you tried eating veg. For how long did you try? I really don't believe in people becoming ill because of a veg diet (and definitely not after only a few years, and cértainly not a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet). Lots of doctors are still very conservative when it comes to diets, and often their dietary knowledge is very small (yes that sounds strange, but that's definitely my experience). I think if you do a small effort, look after the things you eat, ask people how have some experience with veganism, it must be perfectly possible for everyone to go vegan. In what you write, I feel that the 'I eat meat and I love it' part is more determinative and more important then the 'and my body needs it' part.

Survival of the fittest, I don't know. Living in a (more of less) safe society, I think it's just morally wrong to breed animals, imprison then, and afterwards murder them, while you (again the rather safe society) do everything you can to isolate yourself from all natural threats. I don't want a wild animal (non-human of human animal) to kill me or my loved ones, so I keep myself protected from those threats as much as possible (and of course chance to get killed by anothe human animal is bigger than by another non-human animal, which is definitely crazy), but I also try not to hurt any other animals.

You have the choice, either you cause pain and suffering, or you don't. What's the best option then... Free speech is important, I agree. But i

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