Beat the Meat

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Authors: Jesse Meeks, Andres Jimenez, Luis Urias, Justin Zumel, David Reed, Annie Styles


Sometimes we wish more people would beat the meat. We know it’s hard, and people may judge you, but if we all come together, we’ll be better off. We have all experienced our share of adversity, some worse than others. Renowned professional cyclist Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with lung, brain, and testicular cancer all at the same time; however, despite these hurdles, Armstrong was still able to get up on his high horse, or his Parlee Z-Zero racing bicycle, and win the Tour de France five times in a row. Similarly, we face the decision to choose whether or not to consume beef, which has adverse consequences. We can choose to succumb to the quarter pound artery clogger, or we can keep racing and defeat environmental degradation and the social normalities that prevent the consumption of beef alternatives. Armstrong once remarked that “pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever. If we take this into consideration and can tolerate the pain of not consuming beef, even at a slow pace, we can hope to defeat the harmful effects that occur because of it on the environment; however, if we quit and let beef subdue us, we may dig ourselves into a state of irreversible devastation.

At Santa Clara University, students are informed about how their diets can affect the environment, and so they try to eat sustainable foods. The campus-wide food service, Bon Appetit, offers organic, farm to fork, and locally sourced food options so the students have plenty of sustainable options (SCU Dining).  According to the Center of Sustainability, “Students are working with SCU Dining Services by Bon Appetit … to create a healthy, just, and sustainable food system” (Sustainability at SCU). But students aren’t just following trends, they either come to Santa Clara with previous awareness, or they are made aware through their education early on at SCU, for  “no matter [the student’s] choice of study, sustainability can be integrated into your coursework …” (Sustainability at SCU). Changing one’s diet can be hard, but Santa Clara students understand the impact of their food and are committed to eating real, sustainable food.

Food at SCU is supposed to be sustainable. In the Benson Dining Hall, food items are infrequently dotted with empty, but reassuring words, such as: cage-free, organic, locally sourced, and grass fed. Sadly, eating even the most locally sourced, organic hamburger is still much less sustainable than a plant based option. But if students were to be told in a class, or by a poster that raising livestock uses far more water than growing crops they wouldn’t change their eating habits, because that problem isn’t theirs. They may live in California, but they probably aren’t farmers or haven’t been on a farm that is struggling to raise cows on water depleted land. An SCU student, who is surrounded by apathy or negativity towards the notion of eating less or no meat, doesn’t change his or her eating habits, because they aren’t supposed to.


Photo courtesy of Flickr User AgriLife Today.

SCU students are emotionally separated from the processes involved in beef production. The emotional separation that humans experience is the person’s detachment from both the cow and the slaughter. This is evident in our society’s tolerance of consuming beef, but not consuming cats or dogs. We have developed a system of domestication and built relationships with these pets, whereas we breed cattle for the sole purpose of consumption. Would it not be easier to continue eating beef if you see it as the tasty, juicy hamburger in front of you?  At any university with students living on campus, many of these students eat at a dining hall, rarely making their own food.  Creating that physical distance between the consumer and his or her food reinforces the more emotional or psychological distance. Watching videos of factory farming online that reveal the truth about factory farming, while emotions of pity and sadness may be evoked, is a mode of witnessing the horrors of beef production without actually being close to it. These videos force the viewer to confront the stories behind his or her food.  When the concept of the cow being raised and then slaughtered is uncomfortably forced upon them, viewers understandably avoid that discomfort.  Thus, while they might have some exposure to or idea of exactly how their burger was made, they still live with this distance/separation that makes it easy to forget, easy to keep eating beef.  Students may be afraid of the truth so they purposely distance themselves from it so as to maintain a sense of comfort that their consumption of beef isn’t actually that harmful to the environment. Additionally, students from rural locations may have had more experience with cattle and have been in more contact with cows than city dwellers; yet, the cows they perhaps befriended or admired from the other side of the fence are distinct and separate from the cows that end up on their plates. Many of the students we interviewed admitted to have visited or previously lived on a farm where cattle were being raised; though, when asked about organic beef, free-range beef, and pasture fed beef these students appeared puzzled as they thought about a good guess to the question we asked. When eating meat at a meal, beef rarely appears as if it came from a living creature due to a lack of visible features such as eyes, mouth, or other distinguishable body parts, thus convincing the eater that s/he is consuming something which never lived.  

Corned Beef

Photo courtesy of Flickr User LandLearn NSW.

 Most students don’t fully understand how debilitating their consumption of beef truly is for the environment. Students may touch upon the subject in a classroom but to convey the whole truth is usually beyond what a curriculum calls for or what is politically correct. After analyzing our results from our interviews, most students did not know that it takes more than 2,000 gallons just to produce one pound of beef. Throwing the statistics of how much water it takes to produce one pound of chicken and one pound of pork led students to believe that beef wasn’t too far ahead. Most students simply doubled the statistics for chicken and pork, leaving them in amazement when we revealed how much water it really takes to produce one pound of beef. There is no chance the government will allow schools to open up the eyes of the future generations. Since beef brings in an excessive amount of the country’s GDP, they would intentionally not have students learn about the true causes of animal agriculture, thus minimizing the knowledge of students and restraining them from improving the environment rather than making it worse. Undoubtedly, students have been the subjects of persuasion, being swayed by extreme opinions on both sides of the environmental spectrum, so their viewpoint are likely jaded and not fully accurate.


Photo courtesy of Flickr User Michael Cannon.

A lot of students at SCU adopt an apathetic attitude toward the beef production process, and meat eating is the status quo. Apathy toward environmental issues can be defined as, “a lack of interest in environmental issues, and a general belief that problems in this area have been exaggerated” (Juneman 45). In the Benson Dining Hall, most students choose to eat meat without a second thought, but when someone chooses to try a diet with less meat, while it may not be seen as abnormal, there is some notion in the back of our minds that it is different. For example, in our society there is a preconceived notion that all men must be substantial meat eaters and that if you are a male that refuses to eat meat, you are some kind of wimp. This can prompt extreme anxiety about serious issues and can unconsciously lead to the defense mechanisms of denial and projection of a problem due to the belief that one person couldn’t possibly change the status quo. This is similar to the psychological term learned hopelessness, whereby an individual deems a task so daunting that an attempt to ameliorate its adverse effects is futile and shouldn’t even be taken. To counter these effects, it’s best to pursue one’s goals with small wins, because these “have immediacy, tangibility, and controllability that reverse powerlessness and apathy” (Juneman 45).

Evolutionarily, humans are not accustomed to dealing with large-scale, slow-moving problems, nor have they developed a way to detect world problems such as climate change because of its short existence compared to the beginning of humankind. On another note, according to the free market ideology, problems like climate change will sort themselves out, similar to the ‘invisible hand’ idea proposed by Adam Smith. Believers in this concept will avoid contriving the passive flow of nature in order to let it naturally run its course. Accordingly, the environmental problem will certainly recede from the forefront of planetary concern after its time is up.

However, it’s not just powerlessness that leads to apathy. The competitive jungle worldview, which states that “the social world is a competitive jungle characterized by a ruthless and amoral Darwinian struggle for survival, for resources and power,” signifies that a highly competitive individual with little empathy for others will likely care just as little about the environment as one who is intimidated by the vast amount of faults which need repair (Juneman 46). This mindset is also closely associated with narcissism, which “supports asserting interpersonal dominance and fuels achievement motives such as competitive strivings” (Juneman 46).  “Since narcissistic people have self-absorption tendencies and exploitative characteristics, for them environment are instruments functioning to gratify self-interest” (Juneman 50). It must also be said that urban college students are generally significantly more narcissistic than students raised in a rural area, a result of the media’s effects on the minds of millennials.

To further analyze how ideas of sustainability can be engrained in the minds of college students, “successful learning strategies appear to be grounded in a clear understanding of the knowledge and attitudinal base from which students start studying the themes and how studies change their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs over time” (Eagle 651). Many students feel pressured by friends or family not to care about the environment, despite their internal desire to maintain a stable planet. As goes the saying, the assurance that one will actively work to halt the effects of climate change does not hold up to one’s actual actions. Since college students undergo an epistemological transformation during their college years, it is unreasonable to expect most students to accept as fact details surrounding sustainability.

After a study conducted by professors of business at James Cook University, business majors claimed they would only live sustainably if it doesn’t inconvenience them. Students are hesitant to view their own actions as detrimental to the environment, despite the fact that “30-40% of environmental degradation is due to private household consumption practices” (Eagle 656). Most students believe it is the government’s job to safeguard the environment, and overestimate society’s ability to fix its own problems by seeing them as exaggerated. To solve this predicament, students should be exposed in the classroom to elements of the environment which they will encounter in their everyday lives to strike a chord within them and beckon an active stance.

In his book “Our Choice,” Al Gore highlights the reasons why humans find it difficult to confront climate change head on, specifically in the chapter entitled, “Changing The Way We Think.” Gore begins by asserting that global warming is “the greatest market failure in history” (Gore 303). Since our ancestors never had to deal with global warming, evolutionarily, we have not adapted an innate response to its presence on earth. This is similar to the findings uncovered in the Juneman study. Global warming also seems remote because we can’t attribute single, localized cases to a global problem. “It’s exceedingly difficult for reason to challenge the powerful forces of habit which currently govern our planet” (Gore 304). Because we are most comfortable when we perpetuate our lifestyles rather than alter them, it only makes sense that we encounter difficulty attempting to diverge from our natural habits. With today’s technological revolution and mass mechanization, it is even harder to convince people to care about sustainability. Overwhelming people with disappointing information can trigger denial, paralysis, or procrastination, none of which is beneficial to the curing of this planetary predicament. Although many of us are motivated by short-term desire, this urge can be negated by considering the benefits of doing good deeds for future generations to come. As long as we take the issue in stride, we are certain to achieve success.

In her blog post entitled, “Eating Meat: The student Perspective,” Hanna Evensen, a student at Harvard University, explores the eating habits of college students at her institution. One student claimed that meat served there is “quite clean and well-prepared,” causing him to eat more meat in college than he ever had before. Considering the overall quality of an institution like Harvard, it’s not surprising that meat there is superior to the beef served in one’s home. Other students claimed the exact opposite, in that meat-eating in their homes was so well-established that they couldn’t imagine exceeding the amount they ate a home in a new environment away from their parents. This point ties in with Gore’s argument that the momentum of habit is nearly unstoppable. Furthermore, other students assert that despite Harvard pledging to devote 30% of its food budget to sourcing locally-grown, organic food, this type of meat doesn’t compete with the quality served at home. Interestingly enough, all vegetarians surveyed named environmental concerns as a reason for their behavior, while all meat-eaters stated that they would only become vegetarians for health reasons. This clearly illustrates an apathetic attitude toward climate change among most meat-eating college students. It also marks a need for a change in attitude among carnivores, all of whom disregard the environment as something for which we should care.

It is clear in our society today that there are more and more efforts to move toward an increasingly sustainable world. We see campaigns such as Al Gore’s campaign to help combat global warming. We see Bon Appetit at Santa Clara University making at least an alternate vegetarian option in addition to their already sustainable effort with their “Farm to Fork” initiative. At this point, what it comes down to is at the individual level. As a society, we have a multitude of resources and organizations that are available for us to utilize that all essentially have the common goal of working towards a more sustainable world; however, it is up to individuals to make the conscious effort to contribute to the cause. Understandably, it is a difficult adjustment. We have become so equipped to societal and cultural standards that are the very causes of these adverse environmental conditions. Hopefully, with better informed individuals, and taking a little bit of inspiration, perhaps from Lance Armstrong, we can hop up on our bicycle and beat the meat to the finish line. But first, we have to start pedalling to make our world great again.


Works Cited

“Beef Industry Statistics.” BeefUSA: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (January 2016). Web.

Eagle, Lynne, David Low, Peter Case, and Lisa Vandommele. “Attitudes of Undergraduate Business Students toward Sustainability Issues.”Emerald Insight. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2000. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Evensen, Hanna. “Eating Meat: The Student Perspective.” Sustainability at Harvard. Harvard University, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Fulton, Julian, Heather Cooley, Peter H. Gleick. “California’s Water Footprint.” Pacific Institute (December 2012). Web. (Annie Styles)

Gore, Al. “Changing The Way We Think.” Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2009. 298-317. Print.

Juneman, and Murty Pane. “Apathy towards Environmental Issues, Narcissism, and Competitive View of the World “Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Proc. of AMER (ABRA Malaysia) International Conference on Quality of Life, Malaysia, Langkawi. Vol. 101. November, 2013. 44-52. ScienceDirect. Elsevier B.V., 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“Meat and the Environment.” PETA. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

“Ranching in California.” California Cattlemen’s Association. Web.

“Santa Clara University | Café Bon Appétit.” Santa Clara University. Bon Appetit, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

“Sustainability at SCU.” – Santa Clara University. SCU Center for Sustainability, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Styles, Anna. Urias, Luis. Personal interview. 16 April 2016.


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