'Meat' the enemy: New food for thought from noted biochemist

(PhysOrg.com) -- Pat Brown hates animals. On your plate, that is. And he's going to do something about it.

The School of Medicine biochemist is taking a yearlong sabbatical — starting now — to figure out how to get you, me and, yes, even the rest of the world to stop bolting down hamburgers, chicken and ribs, and turn instead to beans, carrots and avocados. Why? The environmental cost of meat is just too high.

“People are sort of in denial about whether this is even an issue,” said Brown, MD, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “But eating one 4-ounce hamburger is equivalent to leaving your bathroom faucet running 24 hours a day for a week. We can’t go on like this.” (See a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for this and other statistics.)

Brown, who is also a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, has been a vegetarian for decades and a vegan for five years. He doesn’t want to outlaw eating animal products, but he does want us to begin paying for their true cost. Cows, for example, excrete methane and , which contribute to global warming, and gobble down tons of water-sucking grains and plants, exacerbating water shortages worldwide.

“Thirty percent of the world’s land is devoted to animal farming,” said Brown. “People need to begin taking responsibility for their . If they can’t do it voluntarily, then we can use economic incentives.” Incentives that include increasing the price of meat at the supermarket counter so it costs two to three times what you’re paying now.

The attempt to change the world’s eating habits seems quixotic, until you consider Brown’s track record. In the early ’90s, he invented the — a method of scanning the activity levels of tens of thousands of genes simultaneously — that’s since become a workhorse in laboratories around the world. And three years ago he conceived of and launched an entirely new type of scientific journal: one in which every article is publicly available, immediately. The publishing industry scoffed but now the Public Library of Science series of journals is one of the most highly respected in the world.

“Scientists are more inclined to do this sort of thing than most people, because we tend to be almost absurdly optimistic,” said Brown. “We believe that things kind of outside the box may still work.”

As for facing the wrath of the meat lovers? Brown’s not fazed. “I like angry people. If people aren’t angry, I’m not doing my job.”

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Citation: 'Meat' the enemy: New food for thought from noted biochemist (2010, July 12) retrieved 24 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2010-07-meat-enemy-food-thought-biochemist.html
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Jul 12, 2010
“I like angry people. If people aren’t angry, I’m not doing my job.”

WTF is this guy doing in the field of science? I hope the FBI is keeping a file on him.

Jul 12, 2010
"Pat Brown hates animals. On your plate, that is."

The environmental cost of this ninny is too high as well. Waste of scarce oxygen.

"Forget Right and Left, republican and democrat; there are two types of people in the world, those who wish to control the actions of others and those who have no such desire." Robert A. Heinlein

Jul 12, 2010
The world is getting smaller by the minute, but perhaps there is still room for folks with a bit more foresight than the average rootin' tootin' burger muncher.

Jul 12, 2010
There are only two types of people - those who live in sustainability with other lifeforms on this planet and those who wish to exploit them to the detriment of all. Only those who choose irresponsibly need be controlled.

Jul 12, 2010
But eating one 4-ounce hamburger is equivalent to leaving your bathroom faucet running 24 hours a day for a week. We can’t go on like this
It's not so simple as that. For example, for production of rice it's required 2552 m³ of water/ ton rice, whereas for production of one ton of poultry 3809 m³ of water its required. Therefore the consumption of poultry may sound like ineffective waste of water for someone - but the content of proteins in rice is ten times lower, then in chicken meat! This explains, why people from deserts in Chad or Mongolia are living from pasturage, instead of agriculture. I even suspect, farming is more ecological then the agriculture as a whole, providing it doesn't use agricultural products (which indeed usually does).


Jul 12, 2010
Having a planet than runs on a sustainable basis sounds like a good goal. Vegetarians and vegans who eat well tend to have a much better health profile than meat eaters, so a win-win, if people can be convinced of it.

Jul 12, 2010
It's odd to hear how obsessed with controlling the behavior of others these so-called environmentalists are. We should eat less meat; it's true, but not because my neighbor forces me. It's a decision we must make as rational beings. When we reach the stage of development where we understand that life is the evolution of intelligence, eating other mammals becomes abhorrent as eating the members of one's own family.

Individual Liberty is not incompatible with conservation. In fact, conservation IS the expression of Liberty.

Jul 12, 2010
No- this guy, as so many others before him, and so many after are sure to as well, is missing the point entirely.

True, we could all(at least, for the most part, in the developed world) do with a little less(especially)red meat. That's a given.

The problem is not the meat itself, it's the method of producing it. The system is highly inefficient and wasteful- therefore the "24hr faucet" analaogy. Agricultural practices need to be combined wherever possible- crops, forestry, animal husbandry all occurring on the same parcel of land simultaneously. That way, fertilizer, erosion control, and fodder can all be obtained simultaneously, more or less at the same time that crops/fruits/nuts are growing.

Doesn't work everywhere, with every combination of beast and flower, and it is more labor intensive- but it is sustainable, and at far less cost accross the board than what Brown is proposing.

"AgroForestry". Mr. Savory with some info:

Jul 13, 2010
Well hopefully creating synthetic food becomes more readily soon. I watched a show on how it's a huge amount cheaper to make the food, it will be more healthy, and all grown in a lab :D

Jul 13, 2010
Methods for meat production should be better engineered. Grass-fed cattle, for example, generate far less methane, as grains are unnatural to their digestion. Rather than arguing for no meat, I argue for no grains, legumes, rice, potatoes or other high-starch foods and no vegetable oils.

Jul 13, 2010
Crazy, crazy. I started reducing my meat consumption some months ago. Now I eat only the best quality meat maybe twice per month. My food bill plummeted, my waist is shrinking (wasn't all that big, anyways), and I seem to have more energy. That's just my subjective experience. It's also satisfying to know that I'm impacting the environment to a lesser degree just by doing something that makes me feel better, slims my waist and fattens my wallet. You guys can argue all you want.

Jul 13, 2010
If you remove meat from the diets of most first world nations you will devastate the food supply for third world nations.

You get most of your daily vital elements from a slab of meat the size of a deck of cards. In order to derive the same nourishment and caloric intake from plants you'd need a more varied diet, more imports and exports as not all required foodstuffs grow everywhere, citrus for example, and you'd require a far large volume intake than you currently receive.

If you want to kill off about a billion people have the whole world go vegan.

Cutting back on our intake is a good thing. Removing meat entirely is madness.

Jul 13, 2010
Skeptic_Heretic - As soon as you stop meat and dairy production, all the grains used to feed those animals is freed up. That means vast amounts of land is freed up. Rather than using that land to feed animals it is used to feed people or even to restore environments. I am a vegan and my volume of food intake isn't dramatically larger than the average meat-eater. This is a misconception. I buy from a local organic shop where my food is grown organically and locally and it is seasonal. Citrus - you don't necessarily need citrus. It has just been clever marketing to associate citrus with Vitamin C even though there are better sources. Just as it has been clever marketing to associate calcium with dairy and iron with meat. There are a lot of plant foods that are not in the spotlight via clever marketing that pack an amazing nutritional punch.

I think you've been sucked in by the organic food industry. And I wouldn't want to eat chicken feed.

Jul 13, 2010
Skeptic_heretic - which part of my argument is incorrect? I'm always open to being educated.
Well we can start with the basis of health which is diet. In most locales it is virtually impossible to get the majority of your daily requirements from local produce.
you do not get most of your vital nutrients from meat either.
You do get most, but you do not get all. In a meatless diet you cannot get enough B12 or carsonine to be in a state of good health without artificial supplimentation.


Now I'm not going to go and detract from someone's personal choice. If you choose to have a vegetarian, carnivorous or hybrid diet, that's fine, but don't say we can feed the world by eliminating meat. It's incorrect and mathematically wrong.

Your second point that all the feeds will be available for human consumption is also in error.
How do you think we fertilize all the food stuffs outside of petrochemical fertilizer?

Jul 14, 2010
So effectively you're making your choice in a bubble. You can afford to do it so screw everyone else. This is why your stance is ethically wrong.

Removing the meat industries will only serve to starve those who cannot escape subsistence farming.

It is a crime of luxury and wealth. If you didn't have the wealth you wouldn't have the luxury.

You state that we exploit animals, well that's awfully nice of you to think about them that way but we're meat eaters. If we don't eat them other animals will eat them. They are prey, and through evolution they have come to fill a role. They eat the plant life so that it may reproduce and further evolve and we eat them so that they may reproduce and further evolve. Locking the world in some sort of pseudo steady state where animals and people hold hands and galavant down the road is utterly ridiculous. Again, your choice is always your choice, but don't even attempt to force it on others when it is ethically dubious at best.

Jul 14, 2010
Hahaha! I've been buying vegan from organic sources since I was a uni student paying rent and earning student wages. Sorry, but another invalid point.
Were you doing it as a subsistence farmer in the sub-saharan scrub lands? No. So perhaps you should understand what the wealth of a university student is compared to just about anyone in the third world nation.
A vegan diet is much cheaper than a diet that is filled with animal products. It is also less taxing on the health system.
Evidence please? A moderated diet including meat is healthier than a diet of pure plant matter. The issue isn't what we eat, it is how much we eat.

Erm, I'm not and neither are many others who are healthy.
Biologically you are a meat eater regardless of your preference or diet.

I have seen absolutely no evidence that convinces me that we're meant to eat meat.
Pull your head out of the sand. You're thinking of only yourself and ignoring the bigger picture.

Jul 14, 2010
That's pretty weak evidence, overall.

The wiki article makes no factual distinction as to the types of animals whose taxonomy is charted, and pointedly ignores the fact that not having a falsifiable theory regarding "opportunistic" carnivores in no way controverts the fact of their existence.
Also overlooked is the possibility that having a pronounced snout might be a bit of an adaptive liability for a biped.
Taxonomy-based classification of human diet is a flawed approach. Also, how does this account for a chimpanzee, or crow- for instance?

As far as the correlation of cancer with meat eating- there are a host of other factors at work as well. Obviously classification of the human diet as omnivorous would imply some balance in the amounts of various foods consumed, and therefore a more or less ideal ratio.

A MIXED diet with smaller amounts of fatty red meat(and fatty fish) yields a cancer rate decidedly lower on the scale, as combining foods offsets deficiencies contd

Jul 14, 2010
found in both. And while the graphs shown in your second article were compelling, I notice that, at the high end, the "meat consumed" graph was showing virtually the entire caloric intake equivalent for an adult Western human per day as from meat- no distinction in kind, how prepared, how raised, in what population(s) -nothing. Just a "raw' stat. Even at that- how do these studies explain the case of the Inuit, or Laplanders? Very high meat/fat consumption, and traditionally very low incidence of both cancer and heart/circulatory disease?

I won't debate that a higher proportion of food intake should be vegetable/fruit, but meat consumption is just as natural a part of human diet as an artichoke is. And for a very large part of the world, it is the only way to reliably obtain enough protein to even have a prayer of staying healthy.

Jul 15, 2010
But another group is the Maasai. They eat a diet high in wild hunted meats and have the worst life expectancy in the modern world. Life expectancy is 45 years for women and 42 years for men. African researchers report that, historically, Maasai rarely lived beyond age 60. Adult mortality figures on the Kenyan Maasai show that they have a 50% chance of dying before the age of 59.
Yeah, many of them die of AIDS, or hunting lions. The leading cause of death amongst the Masai is parasitic infection, because of their lifestyle, not their eating habits.

I think the most disturbing thing here is that your argument is so weak that you felt the need to create a sockpuppet account called entropystate to uprank your commentary and downrank mine.

If you want to have a conversation, lets have one without the ridiculous obfuscation. The vegan lifestyle does not enable the feeding of more people. Your statements are factually inaccurate.

Jul 16, 2010
>>>or hunting lions

Hahaha!! The irony cracks me up here.

When caught slinging snake oil, the salesman will always attempt to demonize his opponent.

Jul 19, 2010
“.... eating one 4-ounce hamburger is equivalent to leaving your bathroom faucet running 24 hours a day for a week. We can’t go on like this.”

Sure we can, and we will too, right up until it's too late, it's human nature. We don't have sense enough to know that there are already too many people on this planet to support indefinitely and we are going to stop eating meat? LOL We will stop when it's too expensive and not before, which will be when it's too late. It will always be too late while we worship the one true god, the dollar.

Jul 19, 2010
Skeptic Heretic: "The vegan lifestyle does not enable the feeding of more people. Your statements are factually inaccurate."

Really? So Korea and China would be able to feed their people if they fed all their rice to animals and ate them instead? The quoted statement has to be about the dumbest I've read here.

Jul 19, 2010
I love a great steak as much as the next carnivore yet the conditions of some factory farms leaves me nauseous !
I beleive the only viral plague that could ever escape our attention would be the kind that comes masked as a steak dinner or flame broiled hamburger ,With a 30 to 50 yr incubatory period ,Imagine ?
This is where we must opt for much better feed and living conditions for animals on factory farms to stamp out all pestilence which is the fault of substandard livestock practices and make it a very serious charge against any farmer who endorses cannibalism laced refeed !
I do not know about anybody else but i want my beef or pork to have been treated real good before hitting my plate !
It has been proven that happy livestock raised on microfarms not concrentrated cow camps make excellent meat and i am willing to pay the difference bar none !

Jul 19, 2010
Really? So Korea and China would be able to feed their people if they fed all their rice to animals and ate them instead? The quoted statement has to be about the dumbest I've read here.

If the US stopped eating meat China and S. Korea would be rather short on rice. Please do try to follow along.

Aug 03, 2010
you can compare the length of the digestive tract of the humans and other animals, and you can see that it is more similar to carnivorce(especially the length of the small intestine)!

Yes, you can compare intestinal length, but it doesn't mean it's a valid comparison. Humans go to the extreme when pretreating their food: heating it; cutting, chopping, shredding, grinding, milling it; juicing it; predigesting it using certain tasty molds, yeast, and bacteria, or with enzymes; soaking in acids, bases, salts, oils, or alcohol; freezing and thawing, which disrupts cell walls and membranes. This tends to make the food easier to digest. Humans might not have shorter intestines because they are carnivores but because they are cooks.

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