As a vegetarian, I have noticed the dining halls serve exceptionally high portions of meat. For the sake of our health and the environment, we need to work to reduce the amount of meat available to students.
While Yale dining halls have a wonderful fruit and vegetable selection, many of these offerings are mixed with meat. Soups are gratuitously supplemented with chicken or beef bases. Perfectly good vegetarian dishes, like rice or noodles, are inexplicably dashed with chicken or pork. The dishes that remain are unlikely to tempt any kind of eater: sautéed mushrooms, or gigantic broccoli drizzled with olive oil. I usually take refuge in the salad bar and the sandwich bar, which, especially if you don’t eat ham or turkey slices, can become redundant.
This isn’t, however, just a problem for me and other vegetarians. Everyone in the dining hall is affected by the surplus of meat and the paucity of vegetarian options. Although only a few people follow strict vegetarian diets, all of us could benefit from less meat on the menu.
I’m not arguing from an ethical perspective. Reducing our meat consumption will benefit our environment and our personal health.
The problem I’ve observed with too much meat in our dining halls is part of a larger national issue. Global levels of meat consumption are at a historic high. In the last 50 years alone, per capita consumption of meat has doubled. We eat it with startling frequency, often several different kinds of meat at every single meal of the day. America collectively consumes nearly 10 billion animals every year.
Our health has been severely affected by these choices. Meats contribute most of the cholesterol and saturated fat in our diet. Overconsumption of these nutrients has been responsible for several conditions that have burdened our health system and are expected to worsen in the years ahead: obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. In addition, meats are often eaten at the expense of other important food groups, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which offer protective effects against the development of chronic medical conditions and their risk factors.
It is true that meats are an important source of protein (though it’s worth noting that animal protein is only marginally more nutritionally valuable than plant protein) and dietary fats. However, these health effects are only useful if meat, like all food groups, is consumed in moderation. Experts agree that we are eating far more than we should be. The average American annually eats 80 pounds more meat than the upper limit recommended by the American Heart Association.
Increasing meat consumption has also had wide-ranging consequences for our environment, particularly from the release of pollution and other contaminants. Animal agriculture has contributed to the problem of global warming through significant greenhouse gas emissions resulting from production and processing. Currently, the second most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, after driving less, is to eat less beef. Other kinds of pollution include animal waste, which is produced in vast quantities, nearly 130 times what humans generate.
In addition, animal agriculture consumes many of the resources that will become increasingly scarce in the years ahead. There is an enormous energy cost associated with production, a particularly relevant concern given shrinking oil supplies (a single steer requires 243 gallons of oil). A lesser known problem is the rising domestic and global water shortage which is due, in large part, to the gallons of irrigated water required to raise animals.
These issues are often ignored, partly as a result of the wide gap between the perception and reality of animal agriculture in America. Many of us imagine a small industry centered on family farms. In reality, animal farms are massive global enterprises. Currently, 30 percent of the world’s ice-free land is devoted to raising animals for meat.
We can do our part at the local level to curb excess meat consumption. Our current habits are being promoted by dining halls that offer two to three different kinds of meat at every meal. We need to reduce meat portions and expand offerings from other food groups. Some may find a proposal to reduce meat from dining hall menus to ring of paternalism. However, whether we want them to or not, colleges dining hall menus (and all food environments) make decisions about what kinds of food we eat and with what frequency we consume them. If anything, Yale Dining Services should be encouraging food groups in the proportions that are recommended by USDA guidelines. As it stands, meat is absurdly overrepresented.
My proposal to reduce meat portions in the dining halls isn’t simply about making it easier for me to adhere to my vegetarian diet — it’s about promoting overall health and environmental well-being. As a society, we stand to gain a great deal from limiting meat consumption. Some of the responsibility for encouraging present and future healthy behaviors starts at the local level, with organizations like college dining services.
On a larger scale, however, we need a social shift in what we view as acceptable levels of meat consumption. We need to acknowledge that we simply eat too much meat.
Roshan Sethi is a senior in Trumbull College.