We Americans have a big appetite for meat — eating on average five pounds a week. The Japanese consume only around two pounds a week. As countries like India and China develop, worldwide demand is expected to increase 76 percent by 2050.

But our big appetite for meat causes big problems for our health and our planet. Most of the animal products we consume are factory-farm produced — animals confined in cages or feedlots, fed an unnatural diet of grain and fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in unhealthy conditions.

Seventy percent of U.S. grain harvest is fed to livestock. To produce one pound of beef it takes five pounds of grain, 360 gallons of water and one-quarter gallon on fuel. Growing all that grain requires a lot of fuel, fertilizer, water and pesticides. Grain-fed cattle belch out 26 percent of our total methane emissions. Altogether, greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture accounts for 14 percent of total emissions.

High meat consumption increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Factory farm livestock live out their lives in inhumane conditions.

All this is motivating many to seek alternatives. Plant-based or veggie meat substitutes is a rapidly-growing industry. One product is Beyond Meat, made from 19 ingredients including pea and rice protein, canola oil and beet juice. It’s not bad.

Major food chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King have added veggie meat alternatives. There is a new booming investment fund — VEGN.

There are 20 start-ups trying to develop lab-cultured meats. So far, none have succeeded in putting a product on the market.

But you do not have to give up real meat. Cutting out most of the grain feed and raising livestock on grass and forages cuts the environmental and health costs of factory farm animal products.

Forages, not grain, are the natural diet of cattle. Cows raised on pasture require much less fertilizer, fuel, water and pesticides to produce than grain-fed animals, and have a lower greenhouse gas footprint. They can be raised on hilly land like here in Southeast Ohio, not suited to large-scale grain production.

Grass-fed animal products reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They are leaner, lower in saturated fats, and higher in beneficial fats like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. They are less likely to have “super bugs” — bacteria that have become immune to antibiotics.

Grass-fed animals live more natural, healthy lives and are humanely raised. Best of all, you can get locally raised grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs at the Athens Farmers Market and certain local groceries.

Ed Perkins farms in Athens County.

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