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The Real Cost of a Steak

Sustainability / -

quanto costa la bistecca
© Michael S. Yamashita/Corbis

Currently about 1.3 billion cattle populate the earth and graze on about a quarter of the arable land on the planet.

The historical world record of meat consumption, so far, has been established by the Germans, who in 1988 ate 70 kilograms per capita per year. Today, this value has dropped to 60 kilograms per year, or 165 grams per day. It is still too much meat though, much more than what the majority of the inhabitants of the earth can afford.  It is a quantity that is more than what has been historically available, and more than what our planet can sustain.
 
We must also consider that there is a close link between hunger and the export of fodder in the countries of origin: one-third of Mexico's wheat crops are turned into fodder and two-thirds of imports of animal feed in Europe come from developing countries.
 
The production of meat shows a relationship decidedly disadvantageous in terms of initial costs and final results. A living creature transforms only 10% of the energy contained in any food consumed into body weight. The rest is lost as heat and manure and this applies to all animal species. In animal husbandry this means that for one kilogram of meat produced, there must first be tens of kilograms of forage. In 2004, the Worldwatch Institute outlined the inputs and outputs of the meat industry.
 
Input of the meat industry
Feed. A calorie of beef, pork or poultry requires 11 to 17 calories of  animal feed. 95% of the soy produced is consumed by farmed animals, not man. Animal feed containing bone meal could cause mad cow disease, which has affected thousands of cattle in industrialized countries.
Water. To produce about 230 grams of beef (one steak) 25,000 liters of water is required.
Additives. In the United States, cattle, pigs and chickens receive 70% of all antimicrobial drugs.
Fossil Fuels. Taking potatoes as the benchmark, one calorie of beef requires 33% more energy from fossil fuels in comparison.
 
Output of the meat industry
Fertilizer. The manure from intensive farming of pigs can seep into groundwater or pollute surface waters.
Methane. Flatulence of cattle each year gives rise to 16% of global emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Diseases. The consumption of animal products with a high content of saturated fat and cholesterol is associated with cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases. Factory farms can spread E. coli, salmonella and other agents that produce food-borne infections. Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, the human variant of mad cow disease, has killed at least 100 people.
 
Reduce CO2 emissions by eating less red meat
It is already known that the production of meat has a heavy impact on the environment, but one study showed more clearly the extent of the damage caused by beef in particular results in a much heavier environmental impact than meat derived from other sources, including chicken and pork.
 
According to new research published in the journal Proceedings, of the National Academy of Sciences, the production of red meat requires a land area  28 times larger than that required for the farming of pigs or chickens.  Farming cattle needs amounts of water 11 times greater and generates five times the amount of the polluting emissions than raising pigs or chickens.  Also in comparison to the impact that vegetables such as potatoes, corn and rice have on the planet, the inequality grows exponentially: the land area needed to raise cattle is 160 times larger than what is necessary  to grow plant crops.
 
"Cutting subsidies for the production of meat would be the least controversial way to reduce its consumption," said Professor Gidon Eshel, a researcher at Bard College who led the research on the impact of beef. Agriculture has a significant role in global warming and causes 15 percent of all emissions, but half of these are caused by cattle herds. The huge amount of grain and water needed for the pastures of these animals is what worries experts who predict a significant growth of the world population by 2050. Up to now, however, calls for reducing the consumption of meat in order to help the environment have been greeted with skepticism.
 
"Governments should carefully consider these messages if they want to improve production efficiency and reduce the environmental impact - said Mark Sutton, a professor at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK - but the message to the consumer is even stronger. Avoid excessive consumption of meat, especially of beef, as it is good for the environment. "
 

Orietta Varnelli. We need a cultural change if we want to achieve gender equality

Culture / -

Orietta Varnelli

The President of ActionAid Italia, Orietta Varnelli, has taken part in the Women’s Weeks in order to place emphasis on female empowerment and women’s rights. Looking towards the September event in New York, with the adoption of new Sustainable Development Goals.

In 1995 in Beijing, the first United Nations Commission on women’s status was held. 20 years later, one of the Sustainable Development Goals to be discussed in September in New York (the fifth) concerns Gender Equality and Empowering Women. What successes have you achieved so far?
This year of 2015 is an outstandingly important year, because a whole series of crucial international events is happening. As far as women’s rights go, things have changed radically from a legislative point of view since 1995. The principles of gender equality and equal opportunity have been established in many countries. But there are still massive stereotypes, cultural resistances which impede the concrete everyday application of the principles laid down by law. So, the path is still long, but Expo Milano 2015 is a fundamental bridge between Beijing and New York… a place for discussing the challenges we still face.
 
What should you aim at in order to be fully satisfied by what is established in September in terms of gender equality?
The themes of agriculture and the right to food, the themes of Expo Milano 2015, are crucial for ActionAid, but they are also closely linked to female empowerment. This is a sector where women play an extremely active role, but their rights are often denied. The efforts and achievements made by women in this field are not rewarded by a corresponding control of the land and its resources. Agriculture is a sector where equal rights have not been applied, and this exposes women more acutely to poverty. The message which is being transmitted here, through WE-Women for Expo, must also be taken up and continued in the September negotiations.
 
Can an alliance like WE-Women for Expo, which tries to invest in, and aim towards, female governance possibilities all over the world, be useful?
Alliances are always useful. An alliance between women, which has rarely been fully tried, could certainly help to overcome the problems which still remain, not only during the six months of Expo Milano 2015 but also thinking about the Dubai Expo in 2020 which – very likely – will face us with new and different problems to resolve. Women’s rights are an absolute necessity, and the hope is that all the results which all too often are achieved only on paper will become concrete realities. We have to make sure they do not remain only as good intentions.
 
WE-Women for Expo would appear to have all the right credentials for becoming one of the Milan Expo’s most important legacies. What do you think?
The project is already a legacy, it has already reached towards the future and already achieved concrete results. Women who hold important roles in society in many countries have met up and established the basis for a permanent work table. But men must also sit at this table, because if we really want to bring about the necessary cultural changes – and this is the biggest obstacle, and the most difficult to overcome – their contribution is indispensable. We need complementarity between genders.
 

United Arab Emirates. When a date can save a life

Culture / -

This desert country imports 85 percent of its food needs from abroad. This explains why it has absorbed so many gastronomic traditions from other countries, especially those which were home to its many expatriates.

Situated in the south-westerly corner of Asia, its coasts bathed by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, bordering with Oman and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates consists almost entirely of desert. For this reason, a large majority of its residents live along its 1,318 kilometers of coastline, especially the part facing onto the Persian Gulf. Its only mountainous areas are in the eastern part of the country… such as the Hajar Chain, close to the border with Oman. Its capital Abu Dhabi is in the center of the largest emirate, with 87 percent of the overall surface area, and the most populous, with 38 percent of the country’s population. The desert zone includes two major oases with sufficient underground water supplies to support permanent dwellings and crop cultivation. The UAE’s main source of income is oil: its geographic position also makes the country a fundamental transit area for its transportation.
 
Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine the main influences
                                                                                                                   
The majority of the United Arab Emirates’ population (less than 10 million inhabitants in all) consists of expatriates from various foreign countries. On top of this, the country’s desert landscape means that it has to import 85 percent of its food supplies. This explains why it doesn’t really have a culinary tradition of its own, instead absorbing those of the countries from which its immigrants have emigrated… so above all Middle Eastern products (e.g. falafel and hummus) or Indian dishes.
The classic symbol of its native flora, however, is the palm date tree, which for centuries was the only food source in the dessert.
 
Desert dunes evoked in the magnificent Pavilion designed by Norman Foster
 
These two characteristic features, the desert and the date palm, have inspired the design of the UAE Pavilion in Expo Milano 2015. The dune motif catches the eye from far away: based exactly on photos of real dunes, reproduced in resin structures which also retain cool temperatures, thanks to an idea by its great architect, Norman Foster. The flooring of the ramp leading up to the Auditorium is smoothly undulating, heightening the sensation of walking on sand in one of the Emirates’ sand gullies.
 
This extraordinary construction already has a future ahead of it: on the night of October 31 it will be dismantled and transported to Masdar, one of the most futuristic smart cities in the world. This complex operation has a precise symbolic justification: the UAE wishes to demonstrate its skills and resources with a view to its upcoming organization of the Universal Exposition, to be held in Dubai in 2020, with the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The Expo Site is already in construction, half way between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, making it easier to reach by air. The theme will be developed in three sections: sustainability, opportunity and mobility.
 
The other characteristic feature, the date palm, is the protagonist of the video which dominates the heart of the Pavilion, whose title is “Family Tree”. This tells the story of a little girl, Sara, who is transported into the past, where she discovers the traditional methods used by earlier generations to access and preserve fresh water, and the importance of dates in offering survival in the desert.
 
 

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