What Caused The Meat Eating Crisis The World Faces

File 20190107 32136 1hirv8o.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1 Guitar photographer/Shutterstock.com

Increasing consumption of meat rich diets throughout the world in the 21st century raises pressing concerns about human health, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Too much mass-produced meat is bad for us, bad for the livestock we eat, and bad for the planet on which we live.

If we want to understand how the world arrived at this point, as well as how we might change it for the better, we should look back to the Victorian period, which laid the foundations for modern globalised meat production and consumption.

What Caused The Meat Eating Crisis The World Faces Advice on serving meat from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861. Wellcome Collection, CC BY-SA

Concerns today about what has become known as the “global meat complex” focus on the technologically driven overproduction and consumption of livestock. There’s a recognition in particular that “the middle classes around the world eat too much meat”, as a 2014 Friends of the Earth report put it. But the root of this problem can be traced to 19th-century Britain, when global meat markets emerged as a revolutionary way of dealing with a mid-Victorian “meat famine”.

Famine and feast

The famine was caused by a mismatch between a fast increasing, urbanising population and a levelling out in domestic meat production. What helped stave it off was the groundbreaking development of preservation and transportation technologies that enabled the British to eat livestock that was reared, slaughtered and processed in the Americas and Australasia.

As a result of these innovations, products such as chilled and corned beef, frozen mutton and meat extracts including Bovril and Oxo became staples throughout British homes. Per capita meat consumption increased dramatically, rising from about 87lb per year in the 1850s to 127lb annually by 1914, despite the fact that Britain’s population nearly doubled in this period.

Cost was the major factor driving this change. When one can get a half-price leg of mutton from the other side of the globe, remarked one prominent food writer, one sets aside “all sentimental considerations in favour of the roast beef of Old England”.

Mass marketing campaigns alongside positive media coverage also helped promote these new forms of meat. Victorian commentators celebrated frozen meat’s capacity to feed the “energetic, flesh-fed men” required to sustain British industry and imperialism. Meanwhile “beef tea” was widely advertised as a life enhancing force in Britain’s fights against alcoholism, influenza, European rivals and imperial perils.

What Caused The Meat Eating Crisis The World Faces An advert for Bovril, 1902. Wellcome Collection, CC BY-SA

Meat remained a luxury for the very poor in Victorian Britain. But as the 19th century came to a close, and as more and more British consumers grew accustomed to imported beef and mutton, the idea of meat – the more the better – as an essential part of everyday meals became increasingly popular among working-class as well as middle-class meat-eaters.

As global meat markets revolutionised the dining habits of the British nation, they also changed the face of the planet. Vast tracts of American and Australasian land were reshaped as pasture that supported the British breeds of cattle and sheep that Britons preferred to eat. And selective breeding programmes meant the bodies of these animals fattened faster and could be stored more easily in refrigerated holds: animals were bred with their carcasses in mind.

Boiled babies

The globalisation of Victorian meat eating was revolutionary, then, but it was also highly controversial. Advocates of the canning and refrigeration industries championed their capacity to deliver healthy, wholesome, inexpensive and sustainable meat supplies from Britain’s colonies and the “new world”. But home-reared meat was seen to be of better quality and safer, especially early on in the development of these industries.

Many potential customers were put off by scandals involving putrefied meat, as well as scare stories surrounding the meat’s origins. Metropolitan meat eaters feared that overseas farmers were feeding them offal or meat from diseased animals. In my archival research, I’ve even discovered concerns that boiled human babies were entering the food chain.

It wasn’t just that the British were wary of eating long dead animals from far flung parts of the world. Overseas competition provoked demands to protect British agriculture, both to preserve traditional ways of life and to guarantee food security. Animal rights campaigners too were concerned at the increasingly intensive farming methods and assembly line slaughter techniques associated with developing meat markets.

What Caused The Meat Eating Crisis The World Faces Blueprint for a mechanised public abattoir, designed by slaughterhouse reformer Benjamin Ward Richardson, 1908. Wikimedia Commons

And at the same time, Britain’s growing vegetarian movement was promoting the economic, health and ethical benefits of a meat free diet. Writing in the 1880s, the prominent vegetarian and socialist Henry Salt predicted that “future and wiser generations will look back on the habit of flesh-eating as a strange relic of ignorance and barbarism”.

A new start

Salt would be horrified by a 21st-century world struggling to cope with an ever growing demand for cheap, plentiful meat. Horrified, but perhaps not entirely surprised. The unhealthy, unethical and unsustainable way that the “global meat complex” operates today is the greedy, brutal and environmentally devastating extension of what his meat eating contemporaries did to the world.

What Caused The Meat Eating Crisis The World Faces Today’s mechanised meat industry. Mehmet Cetin/Shutterstock.com

But this Victorian history can also help ongoing efforts to change the way our planet produces and consumes protein. First and foremost, it makes clear that there is nothing inevitable or “natural” about the way meat markets take shape. Hundreds of millions of people eat meat in the way and the quantities they do, not because they’re inherently designed to do so, but because of a global system set in motion by British imperial power.

And we should keep in mind that this system’s development was an incredibly controversial process, marked by fierce debates as well as dramatic dietary change. At a time of year when many of us are thinking about how to transform our lives for the better, the prospect of giving up meat, or of eating insects or lab-grown meat, provokes widespread scepticism, hostility and disgust. We’d all do well to remember, therefore, that not so long ago the prospect of eating frozen lamb from the other side of the world provoked a similar range of reactions among the Victorian population.The Conversation

About The Author

Paul Young, Associate Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture, University of Exeter

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

What if Greenland Melted?
by Atlas Pro
Isostatic rebound isn't expected to be too great over Greenland, and instead is greatest over parts of Canada,…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…

LATEST ARTICLES

How People Can Best Make The Transition To Cool Future Cities
How People Can Best Make The Transition To Cool Future Cities
by Abby Mellick Lopes
It is difficult to remember when we are in the midst of winter, but keeping cool in summer is a big issue for some…
What if Greenland Melted?
by Atlas Pro
Isostatic rebound isn't expected to be too great over Greenland, and instead is greatest over parts of Canada,…
Clean, Green Machines: The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions
Clean, Green Machines: The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions
by Jake Whitehead
Despite the overwhelming evidence that electric vehicle technology can deliver significant economic, environmental and…
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…