With an increasing population, rising food prices, declining fish stocks, and 30% of the earth’s land mass currently being used for cattle production, it is no wonder that people have started to explore the notion that becoming a vegetarian could save the planet. Meat used to be viewed as a luxury, with families gathering around once a week to enjoy a roast chicken. Now, meat is viewed by most as a daily necessity, and people are consuming 25%-50% more animal protein each day than is required by our bodies. As poorer countries develop, the amount of meat eating increases globally, and this is happening all over the world.
In Britain alone, the average carnivore eats more than 11,000 animals in their lifetime. Each of these animals require a huge amount of food, water and fuel before they reach your plate, and the impacts of this have started to affect the environment. Animals consume a lot more food than they provide as meat, which is why animal agriculture is so bad for the planet. They also consume 8% of the world’s water supply. Basically, if we’re feeding plants to animals and then eating those animals, rather than just eating the plants, we are wasting our resources and producing more greenhouse gases than necessary. With one billion people going hungry each day, does it make sense that the majority of the world’s crops are being fed to livestock?
Out of all the animals we eat, beef is the worst for the environment. Firstly because cows produce an extremely high level of methane (yes, you know what I’m talking about), and secondly because of their low fertility rate – cows only have one calf per year generally speaking. In comparison to this, pigs can have more than ten piglets in a litter, and have a litter twice a year. Cows also eat much more in their lifetime than other animals such as pigs or chickens.
Cow manure is another big issue, as the quantity produced each day ends up in waterways, polluting important water sources. To give you an idea of the scale of this problem; in one day, a cow will produce 20 to 40 times more manure than a human being.
Animals raised in confinement and fed growth hormones, therefore ending up in slaughter quicker, are kinder to the environment, but not as kind to the animals themselves which makes the issue a double edged sword – Which do you value more: The planet or the animal’s welfare?
Although many people firmly believe that the only way to save the planet is through vegetarianism, this is not necessarily true. To begin with, humans were made to eat meat. The proof is in our teeth, which were created for both the consumption of meat as well as plants, unlike many other mammals whose teeth were made for only one of the two. Before farming began, hunter gatherer societies would have had a diet that was high in meat, and this is what would have started our consumption.
There is also the issue of what people would turn to when looking for alternatives to meat. A soya meat substitute packed full of ingredients that have travelled from different parts of the world is not necessarily better for the environment. Although eating mostly locally grown vegetables and locally made produce would be the ideal result of people turning vegetarian, this would not end up being the case.
A few years ago, ex-Beatle and longtime vegetarian Paul McCartney helped to launch a campaign promoting ‘meat free Mondays’. His idea was to encourage people to have one designated day a week where they did not eat any meat, believing it was a meaningful change people could make. Since then, other influential celebrities have joined forces to support his campaign, such as Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leona Lewis and Vivienne Westwood. It may seem as though going meatless for just one day a week might not make much of a difference, but if this was done by everyone in Britain, it would be the equivalent of taking five million cars off the road.
This has all led to the rise of the semi-vegetarian; people who occasionally eat meat, and it may seem as though, for now at least, this is where the answer lies. In order to keep fulfilling our evolutionary cravings for meat, we need to keep eating it. But by reducing our intake and exploring more locally grown plant based produce at the same time, we can already play a part in a huge contribution towards the planet. Limiting our consumption of meat will not only benefit the environment, but has also been shown to have great benefits to our health – so give Meat-Free Mondays a try next week!