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Photo via Gates Notes/Vaclav Smil
On the question of eating meat, Bill Gates draws lessons from author Vaclav Smil. (Photo via Gates Notes)

Eating meat continues to be a controversial topic as we struggle to feed the world and mitigate environmental damage. And it’s the big question Bill Gates tackles in his post on Gates Notes today.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

“Meat is a great source of high-quality proteins that help children fully develop mentally and physically,” Gates writes. “In fact part of our foundation’s health strategy involves getting more meat, dairy, and eggs into the diets of children in Africa.”

Gates, who says he was a vegetarian for a year in his 20s, lays out the pros and cons of a diet that includes meat, aided by Vaclav Smil’s book Should We Eat Meat? 

“As usual, Smil offers up some intriguing statistics along the way,” Gates writes. “A quarter of all ice-free land in the world is used for grazing livestock. Every year, the average meat-eating American ingests more than enough blood to fill a soda can.”

And, of course, the world’s appetite for meat is going up, up, up.

“In most places, as people earn more money, they want to eat more meat,” Gates writes. “Brazil’s per-capita consumption has gone up fourfold since 1950. China’s nearly doubled in the 1990s. Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan have also seen big increases.”

See the Gates Notes chart below on just how much meat we’re eating:

Photo via Gates Notes
Photo via Gates Notes

“The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats; the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet. How do we square this circle?” Gates asks in his piece.

Gates turns to Smil’s work for cues. There are viable solutions, however, that don’t involve everyone becoming a vegetarian. Smil’s book and Gates point out that meat consumption has “plateaued and even declined a bit in many rich countries, including France, Germany, and the United States.” New innovations to create meat-like substitutes are in the works. And if we all curbed our appetite for animal protein, everyone would be much, much better off. In fact, Smil’s video points out that we need not increase production to feed the world. In fact, he says that we waste 25 to 45 percent of what we make already.

“With a little moderation and more innovation, I do believe the world can meet its need for meat,” Gates concludes.

See Gates’ full post here, and watch Smil’s video below:

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