New Internationalist

Let them eat steak

Issue 090

N.I. Issue No 55: September 1977 Hamburger and french fries, meat and two veg, dahl and rice, beans and cassava - all on the daily menu of the global family. But just who eats what, and whether it is enough is one of those difficult questions the Food and Agriculture Organisation tries to field. Recently published in their magazine Ceres (No. 74) is a region-by-region study of protein intake today compared with ten years ago. Their bar chart -below - also analyses the different types of food eaten; the breakdown between protein intake from wheat, rice, maize and other vegetables, and the more expensive protein from meat and fish.

Everywhere better living standards are equated with more eating. In the Third World where food helpings are meagre, the first need is simply more of the cheapest - vegetable protein rather than meat. Where living standards are high tastes switch from vegetables to meat. Notably the biggest increase in meat eating over the decade came from the East European countries and the USSR - from 40.9 grammes a person each day in 1966-8 to 51.2 grammes by 1975-77. And the North Americans’ appetite for steak has been eclipsed by the voracity of the Australasians.

Of course smaller people need less to eat than big people. Yet the variation of protein intakes by region gives a peculiarly vivid illustration of contrasting lifestyles. The amount of animal protein in Oceania and the Far East differs by tenfold. Or in kitchen table terms, every Australian child, woman and man eats the daily equivalent of three slices of roast beef, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, a glass of milk and a small portion of cheese. Every Asian person eats the equivalent of one boiled egg. Food for thought.

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