Illustration of a young person eating red meat

Lesson ideas for ‘Eating animals: a meaty problem?’

Discuss this food policy issue from ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’ in the classroom

In ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’, we considered the issue of eating animals. Here are some questions you could ask your class to inspire discussion and some possible responses, as well as more potential solutions to the problem.

Graph 1

1. What do you notice about most of the items that require the most water per litre/kg? Why do you think these items require so much water?

Graph showing water footprints of different foodstuffs

Graph 1: Water footprints of different foodstuffs

Credit:

Adapted from waterfootprint.org

Of the six items with the largest water footprint, five are types of meat. Animals reared for meat are fed different grains, including wheat, corn and barley. These crops take water to grow (as shown for the cereals on graph 1).

Other uses of water in meat production include drinking water for the livestock and water to clean the animals’ housing.

2. How many of these things have you consumed over the past week? How many do you consume on a daily basis?

3. Calculate your own water footprint. How does your footprint change when you make your meat consumption nothing? What about if you do the same for dairy?

Graph 2

1. Calculate the percentage change in meat consumption for each of the countries between 1960 and 2002 (to 1 decimal place).

Meat consumption per person in different countries over time (kg/year)

Graph 2: Meat consumption per person in different countries over time (kg/year)

Credit:

Adapted from theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/meat-consumption-per-capita-climate-change

USA: 40%, UK: 14%, Kenya: -23%, China: 1279%, India: 41%

2. Which country’s consumption increased the most between 1960 and 2002? Why do you think this is?

China. This country is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Many people have greater incomes than before, and they have more money to spend. This change in expenditure is accompanied by a change in food consumption patterns, including an increase in the amount of meat – which is traditionally an expensive item – eaten.

3. Why do you think UK consumption is so much greater than that of Kenya?

In the UK, meat is readily available and affordable to a large proportion of the population. In Kenya, meat is expensive and not as accessible. Farmers may own livestock, but they cannot afford to use them for meat. Instead, they are used in other ways: for heavy work on the land, as a source of fertiliser (through their manure), as a source of milk and as a sign of prosperity.

Graph 3

Graph showing the proportion of schoolchildren aged 7–18 in large cities in China who are overweight or obese

Graph 3: Proportion of schoolchildren aged 7–18 in large cities in China who are overweight or obese.

Credit:

Adapted from bmj.com/content/333/7564/362.full

1. Describe the trends for the boys represented on the graph, and those for the girls.

For both boys and girls, the proportion of those overweight or obese has increased for every year point shown. The proportion of overweight boys and girls is greater than the proportion of obese boys and girls every year. The increase in the proportion of those overweight and obese is greater for boys than for girls. In 1985, the total proportion of overweight and obese boys was very similar to the proportion of overweight and obese girls, but in 2000, the proportion of overweight and obese boys is nearly double that for girls.

2. These data are for children living in cities in China. How do you think figures for children living in the country would be different? Why?

Children in cities have greater access to fast food and other energy-dense foodstuffs than children in the country. Many of the poorest people in China are farmers working in rural areas; children in cities may be better off than those in the countryside, and increased prosperity means people can afford more meat and convenience foods. Fast-food outlets have spread throughout Chinese cities. Many people in cities now own motorised vehicles, meaning that children in cities are walking and cycling less than they used to and less than people living in the countryside. Urban-dwelling children also have access to sedentary pastimes, including using the internet and computer games. Children living in rural areas may get more exercise than those in cities, both through helping with farm work and by having to walk or cycle to travel.

Potential solutions

1. Lab bench to barbecue

For printable versions of these pro and con playing cards from the issue, see our ‘Feast or famine?’ playing cards in the downloadable resources section at the bottom of this page.

More pros and cons

Pros

We eat cultured things already: yoghurt, wine and beer, for example.

Ethically, this is the right thing to do to prevent animals being killed for food and to limit environmental damage from livestock production.

Cons

This might threaten the livelihoods of farmers in both high- and low-income countries.

The potential health issues of eating cultured meat are, as yet, unknown. Search ‘cultured meat’ on Google to explore some more arguments around this, and look at the following links:

2. Meat-free mania (online-only solution)

The government launches a countrywide campaign to get people to commit to having a meat-free day once a week.

We’ve come up with two pros and two cons for ‘Meat-free mania’. (For printable versions, see the ‘Feast or famine?’ playing cards.)

Pros

Eating less meat, especially processed forms, could improve people’s health.

Ethically, this is the right thing to do for the environment, for animals and for other humans. See, for example:

Cons

Don’t people have a right to eat meat if they want? Especially in emerging economies where substantial meat consumption is relatively recent and still growing (eg China)?

Meat is an important source of protein and micronutrients, such as iron, zinc and magnesium.

 

More pros and cons

Pros

A small personal sacrifice could make a large global change to greenhouse gas emissions.

Cons

Large areas of the UK are better suited to livestock farming and grazing than growing crops.

There is a potential negative impact on UK farmers and the meat and dairy industries, which are tightly linked.

Search ‘meat-free Mondays’ and ‘meat-free Monday’ on Google to explore several schemes based on encouraging people to go without meat one day a week, and look at the links in our further reading section.

Lead image:

Illustration of a young person eating red meat. 

Illustration © Glen McBeth

Further reading

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Food and Diet’ in June 2011 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Topic:
Ecology and environment
Issues:
Food and Diet, Proteins
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development