I’m no vegan. Hell, I’m not even a vegetarian. Growing up I was always a picky eater and a chunk of animal protein on my plate was an easy way to make sure I got a full belly. That habit didn’t change until I got older – a lot older. I do eat a lot less meat these days though. There are many reasons to reduce the intake of animal products and I have no regrets for adopting a more veggie-centric diet; I only wish I had started earlier. I will admit that there is nothing like a nicely grilled steak or a juicy burger fresh off the grill. However, if you look at my plate these days, instead of having the meat be a focus of the meal and taking up most of my plate, I generally now only take a small portion. The rest of my plate will be vegetable-based and items such as grilled onion and pepper are favourites along with a variety of fresh salads.
In the #1 story this week If everyone became vegetarian, would the planet actually be better off? the writer discusses the idea of a completely vegetarian world and how it would affect the planet. Certainly, there seems to be no end of recipes to make delicious plant-based meals. While we still eat a reasonable amount of animal protein in our household, increasingly we will eat completely vegetarian and vegan meals. We don’t feel like we are missing out and we don’t go hungry. If anything, anecdotally we would report feeling full but not uncomfortably so. On meatless days, we would likely report feeling more alert, without the “food coma” or fatigue that hits the brain as your body tries to absorb and process a large meat-filled meal. Our children, now young adults, are omnivores too. They will happily eat a vegan meal one day and a meal containing meat the next. They don’t even think about it (except our daughter who prefers no beef at all).
My wife has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to awareness of this type of thing. As a foodie, she was always left wanting when it came to preparing meals that I would enjoy. I felt that there was no way I would be able to get what I needed from a meal unless it had an animal protein in it, but she understood the positive health impacts and persisted. Gradually through a process of trying different recipes and tastes, I came to appreciate the flavours and less filling nature of plant-based food. Not only do I feel better in my day-to-day life, but the health effects are also myriad. I have lost weight and have increased my energy level. Many plant-based foods are cleaner and healthier; I’m no longer ingesting the hormones and antibiotics that are so prevalent in industrial meat production. I’m not bragging, but there is evidence to show that going vegan even for one day makes men better lovers… I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this readily extends to omnivores on a reduced meat diet too.
But the big reason many people are reducing meat intake, going vegetarian or living vegan is not only the health impacts or the love of animals, but it is also the damage the meat industry is causing the planet. Meat production, especially beef, and lamb, is really bad for the environment. Food production is responsible for 26% of the world’s greenhouse gas production and meat is a big part of this. People talk of eating local and in season, and that is all well and fine, but the real impacts come from what you eat, not how far it traveled to get to your plate. Transportation is a small contributor to overall emissions. For most food products, it accounts for less than 10% and in beef, it is only 0.5% of the carbon footprint of the finished product.
As shown in the chart below, the industrial production of beef and lamb causes the vast majority of greenhouse gasses from food production. This is mostly due to the fact that these animals are ruminants. Ruminant livestock – mainly cattle – for example, produce great quantities of methane through their digestive processes in a process known as enteric fermentation. Methane is an extremely destructive greenhouse gas and is roughly 30 times worse than Carbon Dioxide for trapping heat in the atmosphere. Obviously, any way of reducing the amount of methane is preferable.
You might have heard about a trend called Meatless Mondays. Most people don’t know that it was started in the first world war as a way to conserve resources for the war effort. It was brought back into modern society in 2003 as a way to reduce our huge dependence on the overproduction of this type of food. 100 years after WWI we are in the opposite position. We have so much access to food that we are able to eat almost exclusively meat products if we so choose. The associated damage to the health of the planet and the toll on human health in terms of cost and suffering is almost off the scale.
I have reduced my meat consumption significantly over the past 15 years, especially in the last 5. For those of you who are just beginning the journey, Meatless Mondays may just be the way to start. Please drop me a line and let me if you are participating in Meatless Monday with me!
Happy Eco News, June 29, 2020
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