Saturday, September 22, 2012

Meat shortages: The year of the rabbit, or go fish?

On the other side of adorable baby farm animals is usually someone's dinner.

Several places are discussing this week some grim prospects for farmers, animals, and food prices for next year. This year is considered to be the worst drought since the 1930s in much of the mid-west. The grain that was intended to be primarily livestock feed lies stunted, barren, and crisped. Extreme losses for farmers and the inability to get grain is leading to the beginning of a mass and premature slaughtering of animals to peak in early 2013. Prices are expected to soar 14% and there will undoubtedly be increases in global food insecurity.( See the articles in The Guardian and Grist). So, how to respond to such news?

1)Eat less animal products

Not an easy thing to propose in a state where much of the economy is dependent on animals. And I say this with a sympathetic heart to my family and friends who are ranchers and farmers. However a reduction (notice, I did not say elimination) would certainly be healthier for ourselves and our planet. Especially considering American adults now (2004) eat over 6 oz of meat and 13 oz of dairy a day,  over 1.6 times the amount of meat we ate in 1910 and three times the amount of meat eaten in the developing world. These amounts exceed recommended amounts and don't diversify the protein sources as suggested by the Harvard Food Pyramid or the Australian  dietary guidelines. We must also think about how much water the meats we consume use and how it is contributing to the problematic droughts in the first place.

2) Diversify

Estimates vary widely about the actual resources used for each animal and sustainability of each will vary a lot by location, whether or not irrigation must be used, whether the animals are in feedlots, and maybe even by conditions on an individual year. But in general, bigger farmed animals take the most resources. Wild game (within the science and confines of limits and permits), fishing, aquaponics and farmed fish, and small animals will use the least. Just like it does not usually make cents to invest all your money in one thing, in this climate, it no longer may make sense or cents for a farmer to have only one product. We could learn a lot from the French who consume a lot of rabbit, try not to eat the same thing in a week, and eat across the ecological spectrum- everything from horse meat, to fois gras, to snails.

How can we give ranchers incentives to diversify their stock or to grow plant proteins as well? How can we change our cultural palates to include more tastes?

3)Stock up
If you have the freezer space to, right now may be your best chance to get affordable meat for a long time. Off the bone cuts and ground meat will save the most space.

4) Put 'em up
Summer sausage and jerky. Learning how to make shelf stable meat could be an important skill (one I've yet to try) and certainly cheaper to do it yourself than to purchase it. 

5) Go fish!
Fishing is probably the first and most widespread protein source in the world. Here in Oklahoma we have many beautiful lakes and rivers. Our state agencies even claims charmingly that we have more coastline than any other state,  (a statistic I'm a little skeptical of). Freshwater local fish has many of the same wonderful health benefits as the sea counterparts we import from 3/4 of the way around the world. It is economical and light on resources. However, seeing our waterways as once again a primary food source will require attention and diligence to their ecological health.

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