The message to eat less meat, if successfully taken up by those in industrialized countries where per capita consumption is high, could reduce a portion of the ecological pressures from meat production. But "eat less meat," on its own, does not really get to the heart of the matter, and the campaign could have unintended consequences. Namely, it could result in people merely eating less of what is still a polluting product (e.g., factory-farmed meat) or more of another (e.g., factory-farmed soy), all while justifying their continued detrimental consumption habits during the rest of the week on the false belief that they have "done their part" to protect the planet.
IN recent years, it has seemingly become an irrefutable truth: The production of animals for meat is unsustainable. Land is being eroded and destroyed, water resources overdrawn, greenhouse gases over-emitted, and energy and grains unnecessarily diverted--all to satiate a growing, unhealthy, and inequitable global pattern of meat overconsumption. For many concerned about this unsustainable relationship between meat and environment, the logical way to reduce one's "ecological hoofprint" is to dramatically reduce or reject the consumption of meat and animal-based products.
But does it have to be so? Is all meat unsustainable? The suggestion strikes us as perhaps too simplistic a claim, an ostensibly singular truth that masks a vast, complex array of competing truths. Many political ecologists and political economists studying the environment, for instance, have emphasized a wide array of biases underlying various claims to what is or is not "sustainable," such that any claim about what is "good" or "bad" for the environment ultimately must be interpreted as a political statement.
Sustainable food systems are multiple and varied, and represent the diversity and complexity we see in the world. In turn, there is a range of socio-ecological and political-economic challenges and solutions related to the question of whether sustainable meat consumption exists. We differentiate between various forms and scales of animal agriculture and different practices of meat consumption--an important nuance which seems to be absent from the popular discussion of the subject. Is there a fundamental problem with "animal agriculture," or do we need to engage in a discussion about the way that various political economic forces at work within the food system have (re)shaped and universalized contemporary livestock production and meat consumption relations? In short, if indeed we can start to think of "sustainable meat" or "green meat," what might such a thing look like?
In industrialized countries, shifts in public interest in animal welfare, human health, and the environmental implications surrounding meat are manifested in popular culture and the media. This is perhaps most notable in the corporate world's response to changing consumer demand: for instance, fast-food chain A&W has centred its entire marketing strategy around the notion that its hamburger patties are free of hormones and steroids, and it has been rewarded handsomely with a major boost in sales for being an industry "leader" in this regard. Their competitors have followed suit. For its part,...