Food Energy: Effect of Meat Consumption on Energy

Kyle Olugbode
December 14, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2014


Fig. 1: World meat consumption is on the rise. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There are several aspects in the American lifestyle that are not conducive with reducing energy consumption. We need warm rooms and hot water in the winter. We love having enough electricity to keep all our appliances going including our iPhones, laptops, televisions, etc. And we need cold, refrigerated beers after a nice, long day at the office. With all this in mind, have you ever thought about how our diets affect energy consumption? After some research it is interesting to see eating less meat can help lower energy consumption.

US and Meat Consumption

The United States leads the world in meat consumption with an average of 120.2 kg per person. The livestock needed to supply this demand for meat requires large amounts of land and water in order to feed the cattle and chickens. Chickens are fed with an assortment of grain or corn while corn is the main feed for cattle. Using feed that is also "human" food can be a problem because this also takes energy produce, specifically corn. From 1995 to 2013 the total demand for corn as feed and industrial use has increased by 293 percent. [1] That is a staggering statistic because often times the corn is not grown on-site, therefore even more energy is being spent to transport the feed to the necessary locations. As a result of how industrialized our food system has become as opposed to a sustainable, local based system, we now burn enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb for twenty days in order to produce 2.2 pounds of beef. [2]

Possible Solutions

Asking for wholesale changes to the average American diet can be too ambitious, but I do think it is important to be aware that a large amount of energy goes into the production of the food we eat. Some suggestions to think about the next time you're purchasing meat include whether or not the livestock was grass-fed. Grass-fed livestock is less energy intensive since it eliminates the corn feeding the process. We can also look to support local economies more in determining food choices. [3] When we eat locally grown food or meat less transportation is required which decreases energy cost. Maybe try taking one day out of the week without meat.

© Kyle Olugbode. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. R. Denicoff, M. E.Prater, and Pi. Bahizi, "Corn Transportation Profile," US Department of Agriculture, August 2014.

[2] M. Bittman, "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler," New York Times, 27 Jan 08.

[3] J. Ziesemer, "Energy Use in Organic Food Systems," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, August 2007.