Take it from a butcher: less meat on your plate is better for everyone.
As a butcher and teacher of on-farm slaughtering workshops, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about meat. I’ve considered the fact that meat is the most expensive ingredient I eat and that it demands the most resources from a food system whose resources are already stretched. I’ve contemplated everything from portion size to nutrients, and I’ve come to the realization that there’s something I can do to help solve our growing food crisis: eat less meat.
This seemingly simple first step still, to this day, can require frequent reminders. But it is the first step I can take to better appreciate the food that I love so much. For me, eating meat is about connections — one life for another. I’m repeatedly reminded of this not only when I consume meat, but also in the work that I do teaching on-farm slaughtering. At every slaughter, I am reminded of the reverence I feel toward the animal. As an animal’s blood flows over my hands, I form what I feel is a sacred pact in which I commit to honoring the animal’s sacrifice. To be so intimately tied to this stage of food production may not be the norm for most people. But to consume an animal is to be directly connected to it; through its nutrients, we sustain ourselves. On many plates on many tables in America, meat is the largest element in a meal, a central protein surrounded by vegetables as supporting players. This is true even as Americans throw away close to 50 percent of the food that’s produced and as drought becomes a daily reality in many parts of the country.
Eating less meat also means I can shift my focus to consider the source of what I eat. Animals raised on pasture and provided with a natural environment are more expensive to raise than their commercially confined, miserable counterparts, and — based on today’s average portion size — humanely raised and slaughtered meat is often cost-prohibitive. But by reducing my meat consumption by nearly half, I’ve been able to afford meat that is twice as expensive. This isn’t ingredient-purchasing as a status symbol; this is thoughtful purchasing with my well-being and the well-being of the animal as a priority.
There is still the occasion where a meat-heavy meal feels appropriate, exceptional, and fully sating. But it should be just that: an occasion. When I eat meat less, I appreciate it more, along with the knowledge that this small change on my own dinner plate offers vast benefits for my health, the health of my food system, and the health of the land.