Let me start off by saying that I eat a lot of meat. I enjoy a chicken breast, steak or some bacon every day. I used to lose no sleep over the documentaries shared in the United States about the conditions under which farm animals live. I’ve met quite a few South African farmers and have seen how they treat their animals, and there was nothing I found inhumane.
Sure, these animals are slaughtered to feed mankind, but that is kind of the point of a food chain. If the animals live a quiet, happy, relatively stress-free life, I’m not worried. However, a not-so-new report by the WWF, made me second guess how good the South African farming methods are.
More meat eaters than ever before
Our consumption of meat has, unsurprisingly, gone up. There are more people in the meat-orientated country that is South Africa with a bigger middle-class who can afford to buy more meat. Most prominently, our chicken consumption has increase, which could be due to the many South Africans that are more aware than ever of the dangers of eating too much red meat.
The average South African eats around seven chickens a year
According to the report by the WWF report, Agriculture: Facts & Figures South Africa, per capita chicken consumption has increased from six kilograms per person to 27 kg per person, annually. That is about seven chickens for each South African – that’s a lot of chicken. Even more interesting is that local chicken farmers have not been able to keep up.
The case of SA chickens
Chicken is now South Africa’s number one agricultural import. America now dumps its excess chicken here, which isn’t helping local chicken farmers. To me, this means hormone pumped, overweight, caged chickens that very likely had some disease from the GMO foods that they were force-fed.
Meat in this condition can’t be healthy for the human body. Worst still is that caged, force-fed chickens often produce the biggest meat for the cheapest price. For someone who earns next to nothing, this is a big bargain – but at what cost! Do I really want to encourage the use of GMO foods and caged chickens? But, the chickens are not our only concern.
More reason to rethink red meat
We’ve all heard that cows (apparently) are more harmful to the ozone layer than cars. (Note when last you heard about the ozone layer – wondering how that is going), but South Africa might have a bigger concern. In the same report, the WWF explains that 75 percent of South African cows are fed GMO grain.
These poor cows spend a third of their lives in feedlots. It takes about 860 Ɩ of water to produce 500 g of grain-fed steak. According to the iGrow website, a steer that weighs around 540 kg (1 200 pounds) will produce around 222 kg boneless, trimmed beef.
The water needed to produce meat from one cow is equal to the daily water limit for 7 637 Capetonians
Following the WWF’s estimates, this beef from one cow would thus use around 391 840 Ɩ of water to produce. That is the daily water limit (50 Ɩ) for 7 637 Capetonians. Interestingly, the WWF points out that South Africans traditional raised grass-fed cows that would graze the grasslands that couldn’t be used for farming crops.
This method of raising cows used 65 times less water than grain-fed cows. Could returning to the traditional method of breeding cows possibly be the answer to South Africa’s water crisis?
An even simpler solution
While it is easy to point the finger at the farmers and ask why they can’t be bothered to produce better quality meat and more chickens, we, as meat and non-meat eaters, are also at fault. The WWF references a 2008 study which says: “Consumers throw away more than a third of the food they have paid for and taken home.”
Think of those potatoes or the bread that you forgot about. Think of the bag of bananas that you promised you would finish. We are all wasteful – either by forgetfulness or just plain pickiness. Yet, this is costing the country dearly. If we didn’t waste food, we wouldn’t need to produce as much food.
Less waste means less food production, better quality meat and possibly more water for Cape Town
Sure, transporting the food is part of the problem, but if each South African only buys what they absolutely need and then use all of it – before it goes off – we might just be able to reduce the demand for food, put less pressure on farmers and see healthier products on the markets.
What if each South African had a small veggie or fruit garden for some of the basics? What if each South African raised at least one chicken? It would definitely make it easier for our farmers and maybe even help Cape Town with its water crisis. Just maybe…