science of us

I’m Ready to Go 86 Percent Vegetarian

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Now that everyone’s overstuffed from the first round of holiday gluttony, here comes an austere British uncle to suggest a better way of doing things. It’s either good or bad timing, but either way I’m ready to submit.

In the midst of a long weekend of American national feasting, the medical journal the Lancet published a short, striking cover editorial encouraging the world to eat less meat. “So what is a healthy amount of red or processed meat?” the editors ask. “It’s looking increasingly like the answer, for both the planet and the individual, is very little.” (That quote is featured, dramatically, on the journal’s cover. Okay, maybe that’s not so exciting, but it made my heart skip a little.*)

The editorial, which has the serious and demanding title of “We need to talk about meat,” cites recent studies and papers on the health and environmental effects of meat consumption and production, including the PLoS One proposal for a tax on red and processed meat and stories in Nature and Science on the global impact of raising livestock — as well as the controversial 2015 World Health Organization’s classification of some meats as carcinogens. As the Lancet editors write: “a reckoning with our habits is long overdue.”

Well, I’m in; I’m ready. The editorial doesn’t specify how much “very little” means in practice, which seems like a convenient sidestep, but personally I’d like to aim for eating relatively expensive and humanely raised red meat (beef, lamb, pork) once a week or less, chicken once, fish slightly more. Beans, nuts, and nut butter daily. The editorial doesn’t mention the rise of lab-grown meat (and whatever it might come to be known as), but I’m curious to learn how it might factor into future recommendations.

*For what it’s worth, I envision an embodiment of the Lancet to look something like Tywin Lannister: tall, thin, severe, and kind of evil, but you still want to please him, and it’s all a little erotic. (Not that the Lancet is evil.)

I’m Ready to Go 86 Percent Vegetarian