The Math of ‘Meat-Converted-into-Energy’ Doesn’t Add Up
We need rational thinking and quality meat substitutes for real change.
No one should be surprised to read that the process of turning meat into calories – cows into beef, in particular – is extremely energy inefficient. And when we say ‘extremely’ we’re not exaggerating; ‘ridiculously extremely’ might be closer to accurate. Let’s first define what we’re talking about.
The percentage of energy or calorie inputs of feed, which is then converted to an animal product for human consumption, equals the energy efficiency of a meat or dairy product.
Confused? Perhaps this is a simpler way to picture it: To be a 50% efficient animal-based product, it would mean that 50% of the calories given to that animal were effectively converted into something that can be consumed, while the other 50% was lost during the conversion process.
But nothing comes even close to the 50% mark. Here are some numbers for the energy efficiency of common meat/dairy products – eggs: 19%, whole milk: 24%, poultry: 13%, pork: 8.6%, lamb or mutton: 4.4%, and beef… a tiny 1.9%! This math doesn’t make sense no matter how you slice it.
Setting aside these clearly inefficient numbers, we still have the problem of the environment. Raise your hand if you’re in favor of destroying the rest of the rainforest so we can grow soybeans to feed cows and pigs, or if you’re ok with thousands of gallons of water going to produce a single slab of meat.
But… we like meat. And this has been the hurdle even socially and environmentally aware people find it hard to get over. So, what if meat wasn’t made from meat? And what if this ‘alternative’ meat was 100% made from non-animal natural ingredients, but tasted, looked, smelled, and even ‘cooked’ like meat? Impossible?
With new tech such as 3D printed meat, it’s not only possible, but leaps ahead of the current chart-toppers such as the Impossible Burger… a burger which is good, but not quite meaty enough to satiate the more hardcore carnivores among us.
Already on sale in Israel, by this time next year, expect these high-tech ‘alt-meat’ products to be on shelves at your nearest grocery store and prepare to be impressed.
Breakthroughs owing to 3D printing and artificial intelligence are shaking up the idea of meat substitutes to the point that some eating, say, a beef taco or a lamb kabab, won’t be able to tell the difference. And the new meat people are ambitious: they’ve also created 3D steak.
These ideas might be the only way we can successfully lead humankind away from its hunter-gatherer past and into an era of ecologically sound and sustainable food creation. Science can now grant our senses what they crave, while simultaneously sparing the planet, our health, and animals from harm.
Governments don’t talk about it much, and the meat industry talks about it much less, but taxpayer dollars massively subsidize the meat industry… because otherwise, it wouldn’t survive.
An estimate from 1999 posited that a “common hamburger” would cost you over US$30 sans US government direct subsidizes. One pound of steak would cost near US$90 without taxpayer assistance, which largely goes to water subsidies.
Two-plus decades after that assessment, today the US government spends US$38 billion a year on agricultural subsidies, less than one percent of which goes toward fruit and vegetables.
Most of your money (and remember, it is your money) goes to subsidizing soy or wheat or rice or what have you… so ‘big meat’ can keep its prices low. Sadly, there are few to no truthtellers in the halls of power.
It’s just too ‘controversial to suggest people stop eating, or drastically cut their meat intake. Then-senator and now US Vice President Kamala Harris, asked if she thought it would be a good idea to suggest diet changes (cutting out heavy meat-eating) to help lower greenhouse gas emissions responded – Yes …but …um … she loves cheeseburgers: “I mean I—I just do,” she said.
Former presidential candidate and generally liberal Senator Cory Booker (D/NJ), is a vegan, but when running for the presidential nod in 2020 quickly caved with the line, “freedom is one of our most sacred values. Whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it.”
Freedom is paramount, but not possible without breathable air and enough drinkable water. So, how could we eat “real” meat in a sustainable, energy-efficient way? Well, you could raise your own chickens for eggs and then eat them.
You could put a goat or two in your yard and try not to offend the neighbors when you slaughter them before some major holiday. Or you could try your hand at raising a cow for milk… and then food. The amount of feed the cow requires unless you live near a pasture, however, will likely quickly leave you broke.
Only a tiny percentage of people in the 21st century have the means and ability to ‘sustainably’ raise animals for food. We need people to start viewing this from a mathematics perspective. The whole “meat is murder” campaign isn’t gaining enough converts as it’s confrontational.
Instead, let’s hope a rational look at the facts – along with meat substitutes that taste great and are truly ‘meaty’ – can begin motivating people to move away from a diet that once served us well, but cannot be a major part of the menu of the future.