There is no denying that Malaysians love their meat.
From chicken satay to mutton curry to roast pork and steaks, Malaysians will almost never be satisfied if they don’t have at least some meat in their meals.
It is hard to believe that many years ago, meat was only accessible to the upper classes. And now, even a student can afford to buy chicken nuggets from school canteens.
But while meat is indeed tasty, it is not all efficient in its role of feeding people. In fact, meat consumption is gobbling up a lot of humanity’s finite resources.
At present, there are about 23 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cattle and 1 billion pigs and sheep meant for human consumption. It is astounding that 83% of farmland worldwide is used to feed livestock.
The crops that can easily feed a person are instead used to fatten animals; and when they end up on your dinner plate, they pass on little of the nutrients they consumed.
For every kilogramme of steak, a cow must eat 25kg of grain and drink 15,000 litres of water.
Estimates show that 3.5 billion people can be nourished with the resources fed to livestock. Not to mention, 15% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the meat industry. That’s as much as all modes of transport combined.
And there’s of course something else to consider, that all meat comes from living beings. Every day, 200 million animals die to be turned into meat products.
Much of our meat originates from factory farms which hold thousands of animals and are meant to be as efficient as possible.
This efficiency can sacrifice the dignity of the animals, with pigs being raised in dark sheds with sows being impregnated repeatedly until they outlive their usefulness and are turned into ham.
Likewise, cows are bred non-stop but are separated from their calves shortly after birth. To make cows fatten up faster, they are placed in cramped mobility-restricting feedlots.
Such overcrowded spaces normally lead to diseases, so the farms stuff the cows with antibiotics. Shockingly, up to 80% of antibiotics in the United States are meant for livestock consumption.
This is a temporary remedy which can and has started to backfire in the form of antibiotic resistance. But if pigs and cows are in a bad place, chickens are in hell itself.
With hundreds of chickens crammed into enclosures, they are unable to form their natural social structures and instead attack each other. To counter this, some farmers cut their beaks and claws.
Roosters are of little use to the farm, being unable to lay eggs and not suited to produce meat, so it is common to kill them in gas chambers and grinders minutes after birth.
Hundreds of millions of chicks are killed in this horrendous way yearly, and as much as you like chicken, there has to be something inside of you that is repulsed by this fact.
You might think that switching to organic meat is a stand against such cruelty, but it is not that easy to escape the problems of the meat industry.
The term “organic” is a rather elastic one and does not necessarily mean the animals involved will be treated fairly.
There are, of course, farms that are run by good people who genuinely care about the quality of life of their animals but at the end of the day, meat is still a business.
And while organic meat might indeed be less cruel, the resources consumed are even more than the conventional forms of meat production.
Ultimately, while buying organic is a good thing, it is not completely free of the inherent issues of meat.
The way the meat industry produces its products is causing much suffering. Like how you mocked people of the past for their backwards beliefs, future generations are going to be revulsed by the people of today.
At the same time, there is no denying just how delicious meat is. As long as people don’t see how meat is obtained, they don’t mind stuffing themselves with rendang, mutton varuval or pork stew.
Meat satisfies people. Eating meat does not make you bad, nor does being a strict vegetarian make you good. But something has to be done about the way Malaysians get their meat.
For now, reducing meat consumption is a start. Take small steps by having a meat-free day once a week.
Find out if your meat supply is coming from a trusted producer with a good track record.
Stick with chicken rather than lamb and beef as the birds are more efficient at converting their feed into meat.
Considering the effort it took to get meat on your plate, don’t think for one second about wasting it.
Better solutions will arrive in the near future but for now, enjoy your meat but respect it as it came at a high cost.