A Nation Of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up

As Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles reported today on Morning Edition, meat has more of an impact on the environment than any other food we eat. That's because livestock require so much more food, water, land, and energy than plants to raise and transport. (Listen to the audio above for their conversation with Morning Edition's Linda Wertheimer.)

Take a look here at what goes into just one quarter-pound of hamburger meat.

What It Takes To Make A Quarter-Pound Hamburger

Burger resources

And that's not even including the animal's waste or the methane emissions from its digestion.

But there are fewer cows around than there were in the 1970s.

Cattle inventory, in millions

Cattle inventory

In the meantime, though, farmers and scientists have found ways to get more meat out of every cow. So even though cattle inventory has dropped, the U.S. is still producing more beef now than in the 1970s.

Average dressed weight of cattle (what's used for meat), in pounds

Average dressed weight

And if you look at the past century, meat consumption overall in the U.S. has risen dramatically. It's only in the past few years that it has begun to drop a bit.

U.S. total meat consumption, in billion pounds

U.S. total meat consumption, in billion pounds

Though meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped off slightly in recent years, at 270.7 pounds per person a year, we still eat more meat per person here than in almost any other country on the planet. Only the Luxumbourgers eat more meat than we do.

Meat Consumption, 2007

As U.S. beef consumption began to decline in the 1970s, poultry began to rise quickly. A couple of years ago, chicken surpassed beef as our No. 1 meat of choice. Our consumption of pork has also risen slightly over the years.

U.S. meat consumption per person, in pounds

U.S. meat consumption per person, in pounds
Correction June 27, 2012

In an earlier version of the infographic "What It Takes To Make A Hamburger," we said that 1,036 Btu of fossil fuel energy is enough to power a microwave for 12 hours. In fact, 1,036 Btu can power a microwave for 18 minutes.

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