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Meat is much more expensive than most people realize. When it comes to meat, we pay for it many times over. Here are a dozen major ways we pay for meat and it’s busting our personal, local, national, and global budgets.
1. We pay for meat at the cashier when we buy it in markets and restaurants. People who eat plant-based diets save an average of $750 per year. Some of the healthiest, tastiest, most compassionate, most sustainable foods are plant-based and inexpensive: rice, beans, lentils, carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, beets, squash, tofu, peanut butter, pasta, and others.
2. We pay for meat through massive government subsidies, money that could be allocated in productive ways that help people, animals, and the environment, such as organic agriculture, food programs, and education about plant-based diets.
3. We pay for meat through massive environmental destruction, including air and water pollution, soil degradation, wasting resources, deforestation, species extinction, and more. The livestock industry is a leading cause of nearly every environmental problem.
4. We pay for meat through our climate crisis, which affects all countries and all species. The livestock industry is the leading cause of climate change, resulting in record heat, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, submerged coastlines, evaporating lakes, extreme weather events, droughts, wildfires, floods, spreading disease, ocean acidification, the destruction of infrastructure and other property, higher insurance rates, environmental refugees, and other disasters, making tragic instances of hunger, ethnic violence, terrorism, and war more likely.
5. Animals pay for our meat — their formerly-living bodies — through their abuse, torture, and death. This happens every single day to billions of animals, despite the fact that we can survive, indeed thrive, on plant-based diets. They deserve better.
6. We pay for meat when workers on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, disproportionately people of color, get repetitive stress injuries, amputations, nightmares, PTSD, antibiotic-resistant diseases such as MRSA, and other health threats. As the most dangerous jobs in America, some workers also tragically, though unnecessarily, die there.
7. We pay for meat through inefficiency and wastefulness. According to a study in Science, meat and dairy account for only 18% of calories, but 33% of fresh water withdrawals, 56% of air pollution, 57% of water pollution, 58% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and 83% of farm land. Beans, lentils, rice, wheat, vegetables, and fruits are much more efficient, inexpensive, healthy, socially just, and sustainable.
8. We pay for meat by paying higher prices for water, fuel, crops, and other resources, which get inefficiently diverted to the wasteful and inefficient livestock industry. And for those at or near subsistence level — about a billion people — these higher prices result in higher levels of hunger and starvation.
9. We pay for meat through heart disease and heart attacks, various cancers, strokes, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, gout, etc. and also doctor visits, surgeries, and medicines to treat these serious health problems as well as the pain, suffering, and loss of productivity as a result. In the U.S. every year, there are about half a million open-heart surgeries at a cost of $117,094 on average for each heart bypass surgery, totaling over $58.5 billion per year, regardless of whether those people survive or not. With heart disease the number one killer by far, many do not survive.
10. We pay for meat with shorter lives with more disease. Vegetarians and vegans live longer than meat-eaters, extending their healthy lives by 7.8 years on average.
11. We pay for meat by having it deplete our spirits. We know what we are doing to animals is wrong — especially to cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and fish — and most of us don’t want to watch it or know too much about it because it’s absolutely and disgustingly horrifying. This weighs on our conscience, even when we are not explicitly thinking about it or directly involved in it.
12. We pay for meat by creating the conditions for pandemics to arise. Whether it is the Spanish flu or Covid-19, swine flu or bird flu, AIDS or MRSA, Ebola or others, all of these and other deadly diseases that have become epidemics or pandemics originated in exploitative human interactions with animals, costing us millions of lives, trillions of dollars, and untold suffering. Wouldn’t it be better to stop the next pandemic before it happens?
The costs of meat are impoverishing and killing us. We can save a lot by ditching meat and dairy, while creating a more compassionate, healthy, just, and environmentally-sustainable world.
Copyright 2021 Dan Brook
Dan Brook, PhD teaches in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University, is on the Board of San Francisco Veg Society and the Advisory Board of Jewish Veg, and is the author of the free Eating the Earth: The Truth About What We Eat and editor of the non-profit cookbook Justice in the Kitchen.