Our Earth is a macrocosm of us. The oceans are our lungs, the trees and ground filter the circulation of water like kidneys, like our skin the atmosphere protects us from the dangers of the cosmos, and volcanoes are vents to the blood of the earth. Nature is beautiful in symmetry, and yet as a species we fail to see the parallels of these micro and macro Universes. As someone who spends a lot of time in the water, I see the impact of human action first hand. I grew up in Indonesia, and much has changed in the Indian Ocean since my youth.
In Bali, what was once a haven of oceanic forests are now receptacles of rubbish, runoff, and even more threatening the result of changes in global temperatures. Coral reef forests are fragile ecosystems that thrive to host the most diverse biomass in the seas, yet even a seemingly small change of 2 degrees Celsius in oceanic temperatures will lead to a point of no return in coral health. As climate change accelerates it has a profound effect, and coral bleaching has become rampant across the equator. Masses of reefs have turned white as a result of the symbiotic microorganisms vacating the reef, leaving a white calcium skeleton (1). It is still unclear why this phenomenon is happening but researchers predict that it has much to do with the increases in global sea temperatures and the changes of nutrient densities in the water column.
Since the 1950’s fish populations have declined over 90% due to overfishing, yet we still continue take vast amounts of oceanic species for consumption each year (2). Companies are stockpiling soon-to-be extinct oceanic fish, just so they can sell it at astronomical prices when they are no longer alive (3).
At this rate of population growth, the human species is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2060, yet we are having difficulty feeding and housing the population we have now. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests in Indonesia, Africa, and South America are clear cut everyday to make room for monocropping and cattle production.
This post is not intended to solely highlight the grim future of future generations however it’s obvious that our current practices and methods we employ are no longer sustainable. As a physician, we take the Hippocratic oath to first and foremost do no harm, and this series of blog posts will be dedicated to providing information about ‘global wellness’. For the next few weeks I will be posting health related issues that reflect the parallels of our own health on our environment, and the changes we can make for the benefit of our bodies which collaterally improve the health of our place in the world. In the most literal sense, the foundations of our wellbeing begins in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the soil we stand on.
The Peril of Beef
I find that to my palate, there are few things that are as savory and satisfying as a rare, slightly salted, marbled steak. Our omnivorous coding is designed to yield a significant amount of nutritious value from red meat; protein is the essential building block of life, Carnitine is imperative in fat transport and assists in mitochondrial function, iron is most bioavailable in red meat, and other vitamins and minerals are found in beef. When our ancestors found out how to get meat regularly in their diet they became the alpha-brain of the time, which set them in the trajectory of becoming a hallmark-species of the globe. It is arguable that meat was the foundational factor that ushered the humanoid as the dominating organism of the world.
Yet each bite that I enjoy, is bittered with a flavor of remorse…when I know the beef is unsustainable. The way that the western world mass farms cattle is one of the most unsustainable food practices. In the United States, 90% of land used for raising livestock is used for beef cattle production. What are the stats to raise one thousand calories of beef (about a 10 oz steak)? (4)
- an average of 1,557 square feet of pasture is needed for space
- 36,000 calories of feed, which is consumes 75% of all crop lands in the United States. Most of the farm land used in US is to feed cattle.
- It takes an average of 434 gallons of irrigated water
- And an equivalent 9.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide is produced, burped up as methane by cattle’s specialized stomachs.
These alone are taxing on the environment, as they are contributing factors to pollution, runaway climate change, water shortage, waste management, and feed. This is not to mention the biological and health changes that mass-produced cattle can have on our own bodies. Hormones and antibiotics change meat chemistry, corn feed alters the quality of protein and fat, and taste is even different (5).
However if you are like me, it’s likely that beef is still an enjoyable dish. And since understanding the parameters of what this choice entails instills awareness, I am able to make conscious decisions of my consumption of delicious steaks. There are three key things that you will want to be aware of when purchasing eating beef.
- First I eat less. When it comes to steak, I’ll have an 8 oz tenderloin, or new york strip about once to twice a month. I eat other meats in lieu such as eggs, fish and poultry (more on this later).
- Be sure that the beef is coming from sustainable sources. You can refer to this guideline handout to determine what is sustainable and to define many of the other words used to describe meats at the grocery store. You will also find that the meat quality tastes better and will have less saturated fat. https://gracelinks.org/media/pdf/glossary_of_meat_production_ho_20090422.pdf (4)
- Eat local grass-fed beef. This ensures that transportation of the beef limits the overall carbon footprint used to get it to your home, and that they are fed a natural diet of grass, not corn.
These 3 small conscious choices can help curb the both the health of your body as well as the environment we live in.