Almost two centuries ago, [scholar Roger Horowitz] says, meat was one reason why immigrants found America so amazing. "When the Irish come in the 1840s, they write letters back saying 'I eat meat every day,'" Horowitz says. "And they get letters back saying, 'You must be kidding. It can't be true.'"
Back in Europe, says Horowitz, the growing of livestock was often organized and regulated in a way that funneled meat straight to the wealthy or the landed aristocracy. In the new world, though, meat was much easier to find. Grazing lands were close to cities; sometimes right inside cities. Farmers quickly realized that raising animals was a good business. Cities set up markets for them. "And the result is a flourishing of the livestock industry, very early in American history."
What that appetite looks like today:
Humans currently slaughter about 1,600 mammals and birds every second for food – that is half a trillion lives a year, plus trillions more fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The total biomass of all the world's livestock is almost exactly twice that of humanity itself. And while crops that feed people cover just 4% of the Earth's usable surface (land that is not covered by ice or water, or is bare rock), animal pastureland accounts for a full 30%. Our meat, in other words, weighs twice as much as we do and takes seven times as much land to grow.
(Map by ChartsBin)