How Efficient is Your Meat?

Bryan RNovember 26th, 2007
By: Bryan R

It's not very often, but once in a while I really crave a burger. And when I crave a burger, it's not for a thin fast food burger or even a Dick's burger. I need something thicker... more substantial... with a standout flavor. Usually, I head to one of my favorite local restaurants, 22 Doors, because I love their ground beef. They source it locally from a small-scale Vashon Island farm, Misty Isle Farms, and the hand-formed patty is exquisite. The meat is tender, juicy, crumbly and jam packed with flavor. Does it make you hungry because I'm sure getting hungry.

But sometimes that burger makes me think twice. It’s not because it’s meat- this meat at least is humanely grown and processed. It’s because it’s a lot of food on my plate …and I don’t mean the burger is huge and at the end of the odyssey my stomach is a mess.


Cows enjoying grains and straw

Most beef is grown on huge lots jam packed with cows that are usually fed corn, soybeans, and other similar grains. It turns out that most of the corn grown in the U.S. isn’t for human consumption but for bovine enjoyment. And these cows eat a lot (they also poop a lot, but that’s a whole other issue). By the end of its life, each 1,100 pound cow has eaten seven to eight times its weight in feed (Washington Post, March 2007). So that half pound burger (pre cooked weight) is really about four pounds of corn… which is a whole lotta corn.

Of course, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (who have an invested interest in the production and consumption of beef), apparently it only takes a partly 2.6 pounds of grain to grow a pound of beef.

Most other meats fare a bit better. Pork requires about 3.5 pounds while chickens gobble down about 3 pounds of feed per pound of meat produced. Fish (farmed salmon), the most efficient of the bunch, requires 1.2 pounds of feed for every pound of fish. Since the average American consumes 200 pounds of meat per year (up 22 pounds since 1970 according to the USDA), this translates into a tremendous amount of grain. And all this grain puts a strain on our environment in terms of fertilizer use, the loss of natural lands converted to farms, methane emissions (a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more insulating (per ton) than CO2) among other issues. There’s also the social cost of the persistent hunger of billions in the developing world.

Beef " it’s what’s for dinner, right? Or any meat for that matter. But maybe it's best if it's not for every dinner.

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