The steep environmental cost of cheap meat After reading veteran journalist David Kirby’s ‘Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment,’ I reflected quite a bit on my travels. Frankly, the trends outlined by Kirby frightened me because I see it spreading, like a nasty cancer, all over the world. I’ve traveled quite a bit over the years and one thing I notice when I visit a developing country is that meat is considered a status symbol.

Well, to put it in more precise terms, the more meat you eat, the higher the likelihood you’re middle class. In many developing countries, eating primarily vegetables is, if not looked down upon as ‘low class’, definitely considered part of the trappings of a non-middle class background. Not surprisingly, as economies develop, their meat consumption skyrockets. For example, prior to China’s economic modernization and market opening in the late 1970s, most people ate only vegetables and the occasional fish.

Now that China’s GDP continues to chug along at sustainable and elevated rates, meat consumption has exploded. So has the incidence rates of health conditions associated with high fat and high cholesterol diets like obesity, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, and, of course, Type 2 Diabetes. I’ve always found the class dimensions of food very interesting because in the United States and Europe, a veggie-heavy or veggie-leaning diet is often considered ‘smarter’ or classier-at least in significantly large circles.