When we think of meat we think of its rich taste, its texture, its consistency… But daily meat consumption is quite a modern phenomenon. Traditionally, meat had an important symbolic value and was reserved for special occasions, rituals, and feasts. Today we consume more than ever. We encourage you to take a closer look at the steps involved in the process of meat production, eat meat in moderation, and avoid large scale channels of production and distribution.
- There is tremendous diversity to the livestock farming in the Mediterranean. Breeds and species common to one area are completely different from other areas. In northern countries, the climate favors better pastures, so it is possible to breed large herds of cattle, whereas in the southern countries, smaller ruminants like goats and sheep are better adapted to drier conditions.
- Shepherding and free-range livestock farming (which today form part of what is known as extensive agriculture) have played a central role in the preservation of the cultural and biological heritage in Mediterranean countries. The grazing of herbivores is one of the oldest and most important factors responsible for the conservation of the ecologically diverse Mediterranean landscape. Animals disperse seeds, recycle organic matter in the soil, help to conserve species of herbs, etc.
- This model of animal husbandry has socio-cultural implications as well. Livestock farming not only provides a livelihood for peoples in rural areas, it shapes their cultures. In the southern and eastern Mediterranean, cultures are deeply influenced by the practice of nomadic shepherding, with people and livestock – sheep, goats, camels, etc. – moving between communal lands in steppes and mountainous regions.
- According to FAO statistics, the production of meat in the Mediterranean has tripled since the 1960s. In 2007, production reached 22,442,637 tons, representing 8,4% of world production. Total consumption has followed a similar trend. The bigger producers are France, Italy and Spain, followed at quite some distance by Egypt and Turkey.
- Per capita consumption varies greatly by country. The biggest “carnivores” are Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Israel, with five times the meat consumption of Muslim countries. There is little to no pork consumption in Israel or Muslim countries, whereas in some countries pork is the most popular meat.
Global meat consumption has quadrupled since 1960, while population has only doubled. This increase in per capita consumption has negative consequences on the planet and on our health. Meat production requires great amounts of natural resources, and satisfying this demand results in envronmental deterioration and human exploitation. Some of these consequences are explained here. By consuming meat in moderation you can eat healthier, help support sustainable agriculture and a just economy, and even save money.
- Food combining, or eating certain foods together, helps the body assimilate proteins better: legumes and cereals, meats and cereals, dairy products and nuts… Many traditional foods already follow this logic: stews, casseroles, paellas…
- Many traditional dishes have meat but as a minor ingredient.
- You may want to eat vegetarian a few days each week, or have a vegetarian breakfast, lunch or dinner. Or try a vegetarian diet for a while.
Human beings are omnivores, which means our bodies can absorb nutrients from both animals and plants. Meat gives us proteins, fats minerals (iron, zinc, phosphorus) and vitamins (particularly B vitamins). But too much can be a health risk, and a healthy diet can even be entirely free from meat. If you would like to reduce your consumption of meat, you can get all of the same nutrients in other foods.
- The main sources of dietary protein (by the amount of proteins that we can assimilate per gram) are: eggs, especially egg white, milk products, fish, meat, brewer’s yeast, legumes, algae, cereals, nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, sesame). The proteins in brewer’s yeast and legumes, especially soybeans, are practically as easy to assimilate as meat protein. However, there are some concerns about soy products to keep in mind.
- Iron and zinc can be found in legumes, cereals and nuts
- All of the B-vitamins can be found in vegetables, except vitamin B12, which is only present in eggs, milk products and brewer’s yeast.
Apart from nutritional considerations, meat has been valued gastronomically throughout history for its rich flavors and textures. But lowering meat consumption does not have to mean giving up the pleasure of good foods; a rich set of flavors and gastronomic experiences can be had in a diet with less meat.
- Dishes with intense flavours can be created with the use of garlic, paprika, spices, oil, wine, liquors, brewer’s yeast…
The characteristics of a given meat depend on the animal it comes from, how it has been kept and fed (that set of conditions known as livestock management). The factor that has the greatest impact on the quality, nutrition, and flavor of any given meat is whether it has been farmed industrially or using free-range methods. Factory farming, a form of intensive agriculture, is the most common model in today’s world. Free-range farming, a form of extensive agriculture, has a lot in common with traditional livestock management, and is a much better choice. Animals given access to pasture are in better health, produce better-quality meat. By choosing free-range meats, you can also support ecological sustainability, and an economic system on a more human scale.
- In Mediterranean countries you can find free range beef, mutton and chicken. Free range pork is almost impossible to find.
- Included in the criteria for organic certification is that livestock are raised using free-range methods.
- Many Protected Designation of Origin certifications also include these same criteria. Here you can find the PDOs in Mediterranean countries.
- Free-range meats tends to have more streaks of fat. Factory farmed meats are higher in fat, but the fat is not as visible.
- Take every opportunity to ask your butcher if they know where the meat comes from and how the animals were handled.
- Don’t get confused by marketing. Because of food scares (Mad cow disease, dioxins in chicken, etc…) there are labels like natural veal, vegetarian chicken, yellow chicken… that don’t necessarily reflect the reality of livestock breeding practices.
From the birth of an animal to the moment you buy it as meat, animal farming can follow different production and distribution channels. There are many actors involved – stockbreeders, feed manufacturers, the food industry, slaughterhouses, big wholesalers, retailers… In many countries, the trend is one where a few companies dominate the market, which means power is not evenly distributed. Reducing the number of intermediaries can help avoid power inequalities and subsequent injustices.
- Buy meat from local organic farmers. Here is a list of producers in Spain by type of meat and geographic origin. You can find organic farmers in France here, and in Italy here.
- Buy meat from butchers, and ask the butcher if he knows where the meat comes from.
- Organic consumer cooperatives unite consumers and local producers, which permits the production, commercialization, and consumption of products which are good for the environment. Here we can find coops in Spain, France, and Italy.
It’s become commonplace in some stores for meat to be packaged in many layers of plastic, styrofoam, and sometimes in vacuum-sealed packets. You can avoid this unnecessary waste by getting meat without so much packaging.
- Meat from butchers shops tends to have less packaging than that in supermarket chains.
- Avoid pre-sliced meats with a layer of plastic between each slice of meat.
- Bring a shopping bag or trolley with you to the store. This prevents plastic bags from going to waste.
To keep from wasting meat and other resources, keep meat properly.
- Prevent meat or its juices from coming in contact with other foods, since they contain microorganisms.
- Thaw it as gradually as possible: take it first from the freezer to the refrigerator before taking it to room temperature.
- If meat loses its color, it’s not a sign that it is bad, just that it has started to oxidize. You can slow this by rubbing the meat with oil.
To get the most of the flavor and nutrition of meats, it’s important to cook them and eat them well.
- Avoid burning foods, because burned meat contains cancinogenic substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
- Avoid wrapping foods in aluminum foil and heating them. Aluminum can get into the food and damage the nervous system.
- It’s best to eat fruits and vegetables since they help prevent the osteoporosis associated with acidic foods like meats and cereals.
- Don’t throw out the juice which meat gives off when cooked, since it contains much of the vitamins.
Meat wastes are organic matter, put them into the city compost.
- Throw meat wastes into the compostable trash. It is not advisable, however, to compost them at home, since the conditions of most home compost are not adecuate to biodegrade meats. (Instead, it will rot, breed microorganisms, and attract rodents).