Musicians and entertainers like Jay Z and Beyoncé are taking three-week vegan challenges
Of the massive amounts of meat being produced worldwide, the newly industrialised countries are consuming an ever greater share. At the top of the list is China, where per capita meat consumption increased to 48.7kg in 2013. Ten years ago (2004), it was 39.1kg. Here and elsewhere, US fast-food chains are exerting a culinary influence. Generous servings of meat are part of a new lifestyle. And China is not alone. According to the FAO, the developing countries of Asia and Africa have for the most part seen meat consumption more than triple in the last 50 years. At the same time, though, consumption remains relatively modest compared to the rich industrialised nations. In Africa as a whole, average meat consumption is just 11.7kg per person and it is much lower in the continent’s poorest countries. Ethiopians, for example, eat only 4.9kg of meat a year, the Sudanese 5.9kg. Per capita meat consumption in India and Bangladesh is significantly lower, at 3.5 and 3.1kg, respectively. Both countries have a vegetarian tradition as well as high levels of poverty. Many people do not eat meat because they simply cannot afford it.
To ensure a sufficient intake of essential nutrients and eliminate malnutrition worldwide, the FAO recommends that people eat at least 20g of meat a day, which translates into 7.3kg a year.But it is not only consumption patterns, but also meat production that is changing. The world’s largest meat processing company no longer comes from the wealthy Global North, but from an emerging nation. The Brazilian JBS Group slaughters 90,000 cattle and 8 million chickens a day, generating annual sales of 23.5 billion euros. To do so, it employs 125,000 people and operates 134 plants in 10 countries.
Leaving aside the tiny state of Luxembourg, the United States continues to be the world’s largest per capita purchaser and consumer of meat, with the average person eating 91.1kg per year. A closer look at the statistics shows that US men eat much more meat than do US women, a pattern also seen in Europe. However, it is in the United States, of all places, where a large juicy steak is considered a human right, that the vegetarian movement is gaining new momentum. Musicians and entertainers like Jay Z and Beyoncé are taking three-week vegan challenges, and the influential pastor Rick Warren has called on his compatriots to eat only fruit and vegetables. Following in the footsteps of ex-President Bill Clinton, former Vice-President Al Gore has revamped his diet and for starters bid farewell to the Thanksgiving turkey. And popular talk show host Oprah Winfrey went vegan for a week along with 378 of her staffers. The situation is the same in Germany, where vegans and vegetarians are increasingly calling the shots, and meat eaters are promising improvement and reducing the size of their portions in an attempt to ease their consciences.
Nevertheless, most people are still buying their meat cheaply in supermarkets. Price is all that counts. Organic meat is only a tiny niche market. When it comes to pork – the most important source of animal protein in Germany – organic products do not even account for 1 per cent of total sales.