As I join the 110 million or so Americans who will watch the San Francisco 49ers take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday, we will collectively chomp our way through an incredible 1.23 billion chicken wings, plus millions of burgers, hot dogs and steaks. That's a staggering amount of meat.
The Super Bowl weekend is second only to the 4th of July in terms of the quantity of meat consumed over just one weekend. But it's all too easy to forget that most of this meat will have come from industrialized livestock farming systems that are damaging to the environment, to animal welfare, and ultimately to our own health.
If you think that I'm about to tell you all to stop eating meat and to swap those BBQ chicken wings for carrot sticks and hummus dip, then think again. I enjoy eating meat just as much as the next person and our refrigerator is already stocked up, not just with meat, but balanced with a good range of fresh vegetables and other non-meat foods, ready for the game and our guests. But like millions of other Americans, I always try to ensure that the meat we'll eat comes from high-welfare, sustainable farms, not only because it tastes better, but also because it's better all round. But don't just take my word for it: listen to Will Witherspoon, linebacker for the Tennessee Titans -- and a sustainable farmer.
Will is passionate about producing healthy and nutritious food on his Animal Welfare Approved Shire Gate Farm near Owensville, Mo: "As a pro football player, I am only too aware of the connection between the food I eat and my health. As a father, nothing is more important than protecting the future health and well-being of my children." Being a professional athlete involved in one of the world's most physical sports, Will is particularly aware of the health benefits of grassfed, high-welfare meat. "My cattle are raised as nature intended, on grass, and aren't fed growth hormones, antibiotics or other unnatural additives," says Will. "I can't take over-the-counter cold medicine without letting my trainer know about it. So why would I want my kids eating beef from cattle fed hormones or routine antibiotics?"
American's are fast waking up to the fact that our fast-food diet and addiction to cheap meat has very serious costs. As our diets have changed to incorporate the ever-increasing availability of cheaper meat and dairy products and highly processed food, devastating diet-related diseases -- like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some diet-related cancers -- have reached epidemic levels in the U.S. In 2008, 33.8 percent of U.S. adults were diagnosed as clinically obese, while one in three people born in 2000 in the U.S. will develop Type 2 diabetes by 2050. But the impact on our children is the most worrying of all: Obesity rates among U.S. pre-school age children -- that's kids just two to five years old -- increased from five percent to 10.4 percent between 1976-2008. During the same period, obesity among six to 11-year-olds increased from 6.5 percent to 19.6 percent, while obesity among 12 to 19-year-olds rose from five percent to 18.1 percent. And we haven't even touched on the devastating impact that intensive farming is having on our environment and our very future on this planet.
"Every day, more and more people are starting to understand where their food comes from, where it begins, and instead they're learning that there's another way to do this," Will Witherspoon recently told the Athens-Banner Herald. "Sure, we live in the fast-food generation, but we also have an understanding of how we can improve all of this." In today's junk food world, health-conscious football stars like Will Witherspoon are just the kind of sporting role models we need to help wean our kids off our high-calorie, high-processed, fast-food diet.
Choosing the right food is one of the most simple but important ways we can all improve our health and reduce our individual environmental impact. And despite what you might have read or heard, making the right food choices doesn't mean having to give up eating meat! But we do all need to cut back big time on the amount of unhealthy, intensively reared meat and dairy we consume -- and choose high-welfare, pasture-based meat and dairy products instead.
So when you're shopping for your Super Bowl party, why not start by choosing some grassfed ground beef to make your burger patties or pasture-raised chicken wings and see if your guests can taste the difference? I bet they will. If your grocery store doesn't stock what you need, make a play for your local farmers' market -- or use our online directory to find a supplier of Animal Welfare Approved meat and dairy products near you. Above all, have a great -- and sustainable -- Super Bowl Sunday.
Follow Andrew Gunther on Twitter: www.twitter.com/farmerssustain