Exporting America’s Meat Culture
As meat eating declines in the United States, meat producers have done exactly what the sagging tobacco industry did a generation earlier—hunt for buyers overseas. And they’ve found them. Asian countries have considerable newfound wealth and a growing taste for meat.
As we report in this issue, meat consumption in China soared from less than 10 million tons in 1978 to 71 million tons in 2012, with health consequences that have been exactly as predicted: On Sept. 4, 2013, JAMA reported that China had surpassed the United States in diabetes prevalence. Nearly 12 percent of Chinese adults have the disease, and fully 50 percent have prediabetes. In other words, nearly two-thirds of Chinese adults have diabetes or prediabetes, putting them at risk for heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and shortened lifespan. Most are unaware of their condition.
Two days later after the JAMA article was published, and just as this magazine was going to press, the U.S. government approved the sale of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, to Shuanghui International Holdings. While PCRM had petitioned the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment to block the sale, citing risks to China’s health, nothing was going to stop the $7 billion deal that puts cheap pork on Chinese plates and cash in American pockets.
A similarly disastrous trend is visible in India, as traditional vegetarian diets give way to meaty, cheesy fare, with diabetes reaching epidemic proportions. The next big overseas economic opportunity, investors predict, will be Asia’s need for diabetes drugs, testing supplies, dialysis equipment, and prosthetics.
Not everyone in Asia is keen to adopt America’s exported eating habits. With the launch of PCRM’s online vegan diet programs—our Mandarin-language 21-Day Healthy Challenge, Kickstart India, our new Japanese Kickstart program, and the original English-language program—thousands of health-conscious Asians are taking advantage of the culturally appropriate plant-based menus, recipes, instructional videos, and inspiration from physicians, celebrities, and athletes.
Things are likely to get worse before they get better. Even so, if America’s experience is an example to go by, the unhealthy tide will eventually turn. Just as meat eating is starting to fall out of favor in the United States, people worldwide will begin to leave meat off their plates and reclaim the good health that has traditionally been theirs.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM