Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global Gluttony for Meat Becomes a Deadlier Sin--Stuffing Our Guts and Starving the Poor

In a persuasive op-ed piece in today's Houston Chronicle, nurse practitioner Caroline Trapp says the growing global appetite for meat has a double effect so obvious and ominous that someone should have noticed it before. In fact, she says, someone did: President Harry S. Truman, fifty years ago this fall!

Trapp, who is also director of diabetes education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, thinks Truman got it when he "called on Americans to avoid meat one day a week to free up grain to feed millions of starving people in a war-ravaged Europe."

Trouble is, as war-ravaged Europe recovered, well-off consumers there and here forgot that grain used to feed cattle is eventually grain not available to starving people around the globe who need it just to survive. So now we have Americans eating an average of over 200 pounds of meat a year, "about double the global norm," with the upwardly mobile in China and India doing all they can to ape our opulence.

If Trapp is right that it takes as much as ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef, it becomes pretty clear why that leaves less grain for the less affluent. Trapp argues it's the primary reason that the number of people on the brink of starvation doubled in the last year--from 110 million to 220 million--and why "The World Bank expects that the number of malnourished people in the world will rise to nearly 1 billion this year."

But it isn't just starvation that's doubling. Also growing alarmingly, Trapp notes, are "rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to high-fat, high-calorie diets." As a result, "Here in the United States, one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life..." Already, "More than 1,600 diabetes-related amputations are performed every week in the United States," and some experts fear our gluttony will double our amputee population by mid-century. In other words, as we starve more people to death we impose more death-penalties on ourselves.

Trapp's analysis is yet another argument that the only Western diet that has proven truly healthy and worth emulating is the so-called Mediterranean diet, rich in nuts, fruits and vegetables. Trapp hopes that the next U.S. president will have the wisdom and the courage to echo Truman's call for more meatless meals.

As she warns, "If we can't find the will to change our meat-heavy eating habits, millions of people around the world, rich and poor alike, will pay a terrible price."

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