The Meat Wall Equation

It’s a relatively meatless Friday, so let’s take a moment to think about my favorite made up term, the Meat Wall, which is the invisible barrier made up of population and arable land that we are racing towards. Eventually, there will not be enough free land on Earth to raise the cows, pigs, chickens and kangaroos necessary to feed us meat at the levels we now expect. When will we reach that point, and what will happen? I’m not sure, but I think there must be a way to find out.

There will be another 3 billion people on earth by 2050, barring the rapid development of Martian colonies. Even if only a sixth of those new people can afford to eat at the current American rate of 2,920 oz. of meat per year, the world will need to produce 91 billion more pounds of meat by 2050. My friends, that is a lot of effing cows.

I’m not worried about the population outgrowing the total food supply – you can go talk to Thomas Malthus about that one.. I’m talking about a matter of preference and taste; people want more meat than they can have. Will meat prices go up, consumption go down or both? How will it change our culture? These questions are harder to answer.

But it is possible to judge just how finite meat is. If we know how much land a typical livestock animal needs, and we know how much total farming land is available, we can calculate the theoretical upper limit on the amount of animals the earth can sustain. Including ratios for types of animals, land used for waste, and, most importantly, level of meat consumption per capita, we could look at scenarios for when the earth would actually hit the meat wall.

Sadly, I’m not an economist. I’m a freelance meat writer. But on the odd chance that an economist stumbles upon this blog while searching for the best burger on Wall St., I challenge him or her to think about this equation. The future of our burgers, barring the development of an infinite cow machine or lunar beef dome, depends on it.

{The image is champion eater Peter Dowdeswell from Earls Barton, Northampton, tucking into a pile of sausages provided by Dunkleys meat suppliers. Peter holds more than 150 world records for eating and drinking.}

One Response to “The Meat Wall Equation”

  1. Another thing you’d have to plan for, which would likely widen the range of your expected outcomes, would be potential advances in technology. If we develop new, more efficient means of growing crops (as we’ve done many times in the past), that might free up more land for grazing (or at least cause the amount of land needed for grain production to increase more slowly) and decrease the cost of livestock feed, thus offsetting the effects of growing demand for meat volume. Given that real estate is likely to become the ultimate constraint on meat production — the foundation of the meat wall, one might say — one also wonders how much useable range land currently lying empty could be used to raise animals. Could the central Asian steppes, for instance, become home to massive livestock operations, especially if heated night-time shelters were developed?

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