This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.
Now that we’ve touched on how much protein we need, let’s talk about how the production process behind high protein foods impacts the environment.
First, the big picture: While meat consumption has gone down slightly here in the U.S. in recent years, the rest of the world appears to be on the opposite track. Nearly half the protein eaten in the developed world comes from animals (compared to 28 percent of protein, worldwide) and, as incomes in larger developing nations like Brazil, India and China have picked up, so has the taste for meat.
World meat consumption more than doubled between 1950 and 2009 (bringing annual intake per person to over 90 pounds or around a quarter pound a day), and the uptick in consumption of eggs and milk has been similarly staggering. If we continue at this rate, by 2050 we’ll be eating two-thirds more animal protein globally than we are today.
Add to all this the fact that animal protein is more resource intensive to produce than fruits, vegetables, and grains, and you begin to understand why it’s especially important that the world gets its protein plan in order.