However, one of his newer songs may be less known—it’s called “Meat Free Monday,” and it is part of his campaign to promote sustainable eating.
The lyrics, featured on his website, warn of the dangers of beef overproduction, telling listeners to “think of greenhouse gases, melting polar ice, ocean levels rising, better not think twice.”
It may sound melodramatic, but Paul McCartney’s lyrics ring with truth. While eating a burger may not contribute to an instant descent towards the apocalypse, the 48 billion burgers that Americans eat annually, three times as many per capita as other countries, put undue pressure on the environment.
The main problem is that beef production greatly contributes to global warming. In fact, American cows produce as much greenhouse gas as 22 million cars per year.
Cows are ruminants, meaning that they create methane gas, a gas with 21 times more climate-changing power than carbon dioxide gas, when they digest food. To make matters worse, many cows are often fed corn instead of the grass that their bodies are evolved to eat. Cows often bloat when they eat corn and produce excess gas.
Yes, cow flatulence is actually contributing to global warming at an alarming rate.
Beef production is also unsustainable because of the amount of land and water that it requires. In a 2006 report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization noted that a third of all arable land is used to feed livestock. Producing beef in particular also requires an immense amount of water: 1,800 gallons to make a single pound of grain-fed beef, as opposed to 450 gallons for chicken and 180 gallons for wheat.
However, the American government has done little to reduce beef production. In fact, a Washington Post article entitled “U.S. Touts Fruit and Vegetables While Subsidizing Animals that Become Meat,” points out that the government actually encourages beef production—roughly two-thirds of the 20 billion dollars of government funds used to subsidize U.S. commodity crops goes to animal-feed crops.
Farmers who produce fruit, vegetables, and tree nuts, on the other hand, receive no regular direct subsidies. This explains why fast food burgers are so cheap, costing 3 to 4 dollars on average, while fresh produce is expensive.
However, eating too much red meat carries a hidden medical price, in addition to the environmental costs. Harvard’s School of Public Health found that a diet too rich in red meat consumption can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even diabetes.
The solution is simple: the American government should rearrange ancient food subsidy allocations to favor fruit and vegetable production as opposed to livestock production. As Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College stated in a report for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, “Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest.”
Unfortunately, calls to reduce livestock production subsidies are often halted by Congressmen who have their own political interests in mind. In an interview with the Washington Post, Marion Nestle, a professor of food science and public health at New York University, stated that “Everybody agrees that direct subsidies to big farmers ought to be stopped, but nobody wants to say he was against subsidies if he’s campaigning in Iowa.”
So while we wait on the edge of our seats for the United States government to spring to action and implement a policy that would both decrease greenhouse gas production and improve overall health, we should all follow Paul McCartney’s lead and practice meatless Mondays.
After all, if every American ate no meat or cheese for one day a week, it would have the same climate-change prevention effect as taking 7.6 million cars off the road for one year. The “Meat Free Monday” song is pretty catchy too.