Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Dan Brook: The Cost of Meat

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.

16 comments on “Dan Brook: The Cost of Meat

  1. Violet's Vegan Comics
    April 23, 2021

    Excellent post – thank you Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathleen Willey
    April 19, 2021

    Thank you for this excellent, intelligent article! I have always been an animal lover and feel so much better now that I am plant based and I am aligned with my values. I am also the healthiest I have ever been! My lifelong asthma, painful heartburn, IBS and unexplained hives all disappeared. All of which I went to medical doctors for years where they prescribed drugs that just did not work. So sad that most medical doctors are not trained in preventative medicine. I am also shocked that most people have no idea how environmentally destructive animal agriculture is. Our planet is in big trouble if people continue eating animals at the rate they are now. It is 100% not sustainable for our growing population.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Brook
      April 19, 2021

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and I’m so glad you found plant-based health!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. thedogboarder
    April 18, 2021

    Dan, thank you so much for this superb article. The typical American meat- and dairy-centric diet is responsible for the destruction of our ecosystems as well as the generally poor health of Americans. Most people are not aware that huge subsidies flow to multinational corporations like Cargill, Smithfield, and Tyson that basically have the monopoly on industrial production of animals and their slaughter. They reap the profit while leaving others to bear the “outsourced” costs – pollution, health problems, greenhouse gas emissions, and pandemics, just to name a few. Here is an excellent background (https://foodprint.org/issues/raising-animals-industrial-system/).
    Fewer people yet are aware that we taxpayers are tapped $38 billion a year to subsidize these operations (https://www.veganjusticeleague.com/).
    The solution is to break away from our indoctrination and the mythology that meat and dairy are actually good for us. They aren’t. The typical American diet gives us the typical American diseases: heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, etc.
    A plant-based diet gives us abundant good health while reducing our footprint in every way – water, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, etc. Plus, it just feels good to know you are not causing the suffering of sentient beings.
    Thank you again for this excellent article. I’ll be referring to it again and again in my advocacy work!


    • Dan Brook
      April 18, 2021

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful, fact-based response, as well as for the good work I’m sure you do!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. בת-ציון שלומי
    April 18, 2021

    Excellent article. True and extremely important. We’re a vegan family and Thank G-d enjoy good health and moral inner peace for the reason you wrote.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Dan Brook
    April 17, 2021

    Meat is not healthful, which is why vegetarians and vegans live longer with fewer deadly diseases than meat-eaters. And whatever you want to say about wild game, it’s not what 99% of Americans are eating 99% of the time, so this issue is basically a distraction.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Vox Populi
    April 17, 2021

    Culling prey animals is necessary to maintain the health of the wild lands; in Pittsburgh, hunting is not allowed in the parks and deer are destroying the forests and gardens. However, hunting is not a substitute for public policies which encourage veganism and discourage factory farming. We cannot have 7 billion people killing wild animals for food.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sherm Yee
      April 17, 2021

      What a privileged, white supremacist place you come from. Only a white supremacist would presume that indigenous peoples, their customs and diets are inferior. Eating meat is how most people of color and indigenous folks survive. Shame on you, racist.


  7. Barbara Huntington
    April 17, 2021

    Well done. I love my plant-based diet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Brook
      April 17, 2021

      Thanks! You are doing what’s best for personal, public, animal, and environmental health.

      Liked by 2 people

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