Treat yourself or save the planet: the dilemma of the meat eater


Three hundred and thirty-three million tonnes… This is roughly the annual global meat production, which has been fairly stable since 2018, with a slight downward trend in 2020, partly as a result of the pandemic. The planet is therefore clearly carnivorous, even if the appetite for meat is not distributed equally according to the regions of the world: an American consumes around 100 kilos per year, a Chinese 45, an African 15… The French is rather at the top of the range with its annual 86 kilos of meat.

The problem is that this addiction to meat diets raises more and more debates, whether it concerns the carbon footprint of the meat industry, animal welfare or consumer health. The latter are subject to contradictory injunctions between their taste for meat and the love of animals.

It is this paradox that Rob Percival, British journalist and author, member of the NGO Soil Association, explores. Three million years ago, hominids were already eating meat. The hunter-gatherers of primitive societies surrounded their consumption with a set of rituals and beliefs to give the “murder” of the animal a symbolic or religious dimension. Today, consumption is completely dissociated from the reality of the fate of the animal and the way in which it fits into the cycle of industrial production, a cycle that in general we prefer to ignore.

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“Ethical Omnivorism”

In 2050, the global demand for meat products in the world will be 73% higher than in 2010. It will mainly come from Africa, where nutritional needs dictate the consumption of more meat. At the same time, there are increasing calls from scientists and food experts for a radical change in our eating habits and a drastic reduction in our consumption.

On a planet where 70% of living birds are farmed chickens, it is not easy to find the balance between the animal protein needs of a very large part of humanity and the progress of veganism in the developed societies. Rob Percival does not take sides in this debate. He follows in the footsteps of Australian psychologists Brock Bastian and Steve Loughnan who, in their work, associate meat consumption by humans with a “cognitive dissonance” where the consumer harbors a certain empathy with the animal from which it comes.

He pleads for an “ethical omnivorism” which would favor a virtuous and sustainable approach to meat production to the detriment of industrial farming and slaughtering. But the paradox that surrounds meat consumption is not about to disappear, and the whole point of Rob Percival’s book is to approach it in an objective and documented way.

The Express

“The Meat Paradox: Eating, Empathy and the Future of Meat”, by Rob Percival. Pegasus, March 2022.

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