Memorial Day has kicked off the summer grilling season, so there are sure to be some unwelcome guests at your barbecues. Vocal animal-liberation and environmental activists will nag you to reflect upon National Vegetarian Week and stay away from that cancer-causing, global warming-inducing kabob. But you should know that American staples like hot dogs, hamburgers and ribs need not be served with a side of fear-mongering. Science shows that the American tradition isn’t the threat that some make it out to be.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for instance, tells us not to eat pork or beef because vegetarians “have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters.” But a 2009 Oxford study found that causes of death for vegetarians and meat eaters were identical. Furthermore, a 2009 study that tracked over 63,000 British adults found that vegetarians were 39 percent more likely to have colorectal cancer than meat eaters.
The truth is there is no scientific consensus on diet and cancer. As top British cancer specialist Dr. Karol Sikora said, “Cancer can’t be reduced to a simple formula.”
What about going meatless for general healthiness? Another ruse. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that vegan dietary habits “did not comply with the average requirements for some essential nutrients.” For instance, Vitamin B12, essential for brain function, is only found naturally in animal products.
But health isn’t the only talking point on activist’s anti-grilling lists. As far as global warming is concerned, PETA’s pals at the vegan Humane Society of the United States (not affiliated with local animal shelters) tell us that meat production is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions.
But is lighting up the smoker really going to gas the planet? Even the regulation-happy Environmental Protection Agency thinks not. The EPA calculated that livestock-related emissions account for just over 2.5 percent of the United States’ annual greenhouse-gas emissions. So where’s the beef?
Ending the American tradition of eating meat clearly isn’t going to change the global climate when it accounts for just over 2.5 percent of domestic greenhouse-gas emissions. A much more practical environmental strategy would be to encourage third-world farmers to become as efficient as American producers. But positive strategies aren’t the strong points of perennial finger-waggers and doomsday prophesiers.
The Sierra Club has jumped onboard the burger-bashing bandwagon, launching a campaign to frighten Americans by stating that it takes 616 gallons of water to make a beef patty. This big number sounds alarming without context. But it becomes rather unexciting when compared to the water usage of other daily goods.
For instance, 454 gallons of water are required to make a chocolate bar, and 1.1 gallons to make just one almond — to say nothing of other consumer products.
The good news is that Earth has more than 9.2 quintillion — a billion billions — gallons of fresh water, much of which is constantly being recycled. The water cycle, as most of us learned in middle school, shows us that water is a renewable resource.
Environmentalists also leave out the fact that water usage in beef production is more efficient than ever. From 1977 to 2007, water required for beef production decreased by more than 12 percent. Meanwhile, the entire carbon footprint of beef was reduced by more than 16 percent over this same time period.
So if you had been worried that eating meat this Memorial Day might affect your health or bring about the end of the world, lighten up. You don’t have to switch to grilling asparagus. The party poopers are just blowing smoke.
Will Coggin is a senior research analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers.