This article was written by Raychel Santo and adapted from her original post on the Center for a Livable Future Blog (CLF). Raychel Santo is an undergraduate student and research assistant at Johns Hopkins University. She is also the co-founder and president of Real Food Hopkins, a chapter of the national Real Food Challenge.
Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of interest in reducing meat intake in favor of more plant-based proteins. From the continuous release of new books, reports, and infographics regarding meat consumption, to the increasing awareness of the Meatless Monday campaign, more and more Americans are embracing the movement for meat moderation.
Yet despite this progress, we still have a long way to go to ensuring a viable, sustainable global food system. While meat consumption in the U.S. has declined slightly over the past few years, Americans still eat about twice the global average. In High Steaks: Why and How to Eat Less Meat, author Eleanor Boyle addresses the reasons why America should steer away from industrial meat production in both its policy priorities and consumption habits.
From the beginning, Boyle emphasizes that she is not advocating for complete elimination of animal products. She thinks they can serve an important role in human diets, and that responsible, small-scale production can be beneficial to ecological systems. The problem, she notes, is that the current levels and ways in which they are produced are not sustainable.
Thus, Boyle presents a compelling argument for both bottom-up and top-down approaches addressing the problem of our current meat economy. She calls on individuals to consume less meat, and when they do consume it, to commit to paying more for animal products from good quality sources. On the government side, she urges policymakers to address the true costs of our current food system by removing the unfair advantages of price subsidies, overly lenient or non-existent regulations, and corporate influence. Instead, she says, we should support policies that promote truly healthy eating and farming practices. She also discusses why current producers should be part of the solution. This is an often overlooked, yet important angle we need to explore if we hope to find a truly comprehensive and attainable solution.
Boyle’s presentation of the complicated dynamics between the messaging of lowering meat consumption and government/institutional policy was particularly poignant. Moreover, she offers up convincing talking points for many of the deep-seated questions often posed by critics of the meat reduction message. Readers can easily come away from this book with a selection of cocktail-hour one-liners to justify why they are skipping the prosciutto tartine in favor of the crudités and hummus.
With a simple but effective writing style, a bit of humor, and a happy medium between academic data and personal anecdotes, Boyle certainly makes her book accessible to the general public. Nevertheless, if there is anything to quibble about, it would be the lack of a clearly defined audience. High Steaks carries important messages that should certainly be heard by most Americans; hopefully it doesn’t get lost in the growing haystacks of food-related books.
While this book is still well worth the read for experts in the field, I challenge you to share it with a friend or family member who hasn’t yet been reached by the meat-in-moderation message (a perfect gift for the holidays!). A movement is definitely happening, and this book is an excellent contribution that can motivate readers from all walks of life to join in, take action, and make change.