The Vine

Self-Correcting Carnivore Trends

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The other day, Tyler Cowen flagged this jaw-dropping sentence from James Workman's new book, The Heart of Dryness:

For every newly converted vegetarian, four poor humans start earning enough money to put beef on the table. In the past three decades, the earth's dominant carnivores have tripled our average per capita consumption; in the next four decades global meat production will double to 465 million tons.

The trend itself isn't a shockcountries have always started consuming more meat as they get richerbut the sheer scale and the environmental implications are staggering. According to a 2006 UN report, livestock production already does more to warm the planet than all the world's cars, planes, trains, and boats combined. On the other hand, a new study from Britain suggests that this problem might partly become, uh, self-correcting:

Pork chops will become soggier and paler as the world warms, warn veterinary scientists, and steaks could be dark and smelly.

After an animal dies, energy reservesin the form of glycogenare broken down into lactic acid, causing the carcass's pH to fall from 7.0 to 5.5. But the meat of heat-stressed pigs acidifies more quickly. When this happens, muscle proteins fall apart, and as a result so does the meat's structure. "What you're left with is meat that resembles soggy white blotting paper," says Gregory.

Steak, on the other hand, is likely to be smellier. Heat-stressed cows run out of glycogen before they die, which darkens their meat, turning it almost black. And glycogen-free beef attracts microbes that break down protein and give off the smell of decay.

Yeah, gross.

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