It seems that today, no dietary choice is without its qualms and in the Western world, we should all by now be at least vaguely aware that, as a whole, we need to reduce our meat-intake. For our future on this planet, our conscience and our health.
We are driving a global climate change event. It is agreed that this enhanced rate of change is primarily due to the production of greenhouse-gases. Today, the meat industry contributes 14.5 percent of annual emissions, in the form of feed production, manure storage, transport and, of course, the windy ways of ruminants such as cows.
Eating less meat is better for your health.
And, the sheer quantity of meat required to fulfil the world’s hankering, combined with the favouring of cost-reduction, has resulted in inarguably horrendous treatment of animals. Just last week, the British government voted against including an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would prevent mistreatment of livestock.
The internet is taking arms against this, and realising that actually, we really care how animals are treated. Perhaps even the most pig-headed among us will wake up and realise that, when it comes to reducing the amount of meat on our plate, the time is now.
So, what do we do?
While the carnivorous among us may applaud those succeeding in reducing their consumption of meat, they are often shown little mercy in the cut-throat world of veganism.
The majority are familiar with vegans. They roam among us, tainting the taste of your burger with their dinner-table preaching or silently seething judgements. Ethically, their argument is unconquerable. Who are we to raise and slaughter livestock for our own gain? Particularly in this modern day. There really is a whole wealth of meat-free alternatives to nourish your gnashers on.
Sustainability wise however, studies have shown veganism may not be the most friendly choice. The world is groaning with overpopulation.
A world filled with vegans, would be hungry, malnourished vegans indeed. At least we would all sleep soundly in our early graves.
So, what are our options?
There is a veritable sea of dietary options available to us today. The main players are the ridiculously named chegans and flexitarians, and of course, the classic ancestors to veganism, the vegetarian and pescatarian.
Chegans appear to advertise themselves as mainly vegan, but occasionally surrender to their carnivorous instincts. These indulgences are generally viewed as a premeditated act, often in the presence of pizza or ice cream. Other chegans will avoid eating actual quantities of meat, but are relaxed in terms of long lists of ingredients of insignificant quantities.
A notable advocate of Veganism, who has been lovingly re-classified as a chegan, is Jared Leto.
hatred not even most resolute meat-eaters endure.
Flexitarians are deemed a little lower down the denial ladder. They ingest a mainly vegetarian diet, while occasionally chowing down on meat products. The clue is in the name; this diet, championed by the McCartney’s, is flexible. And these fickle folk, while being judged as non-committed or flighty by much of the dedicated Vegan and Vegetarian community, might be onto something.
Because in reality, adopting a flexitarian diet may be a highly viable route of progression. For so many people, full-blown vegetarianism is just too much. Daunted by the idea of never eating meat again, those committed to the meat-and-two-veg can be completely turned off the idea of reducing their meat consumption.
Then there is the health aspect. In this day of immense globalisation, it’s true that we can gather all the nutrients we need from vegetables. However, it requires dedication, time and money. Many are lacking in at least one of those areas.
Eating processed, chemical-filled meat alternatives is not the best for your body. Neither is gorging on hormone-pumped, antibiotic filled, grain-fed meat. Supporting small-scale farmers who are devoted to the ethical rearing of their stock isn’t just a health choice. It is also a form of advocacy against the cruel world of mass-produced meat.
This attitude of ‘less meat, whatever – you must go the whole hog’ has got to go.
Let’s just take a quick look at those that cause the divided to stand together in hate. The Freegans. The slightly nauseating term for an individual who survives, primarily in urban areas, in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Hunting and gathering in a modern, urban way, by foraging in dustbins, guerrilla gardening and food-swaps.
Are they the archangels of the Anthropocene, balancing the gluttony of the masses with their wily, wolf-like ways? Or, are they the street dogs of society, opportunistically surviving off the scraps left over by those who prefer to eat only the orthodox, prime essences of meat?
The reality is, slamming each other for differing food choices is unlikely to result in the sustainable nourishment of a rapidly swelling population.
The USA is the biggest consumer of meat by far, inhaling an average of 120.2 kg per person per year. South America and Europe are not far behind. On average, a person in the UK eats 84.2 kg meat per year. Those in the rapidly developing country of, India, eat just 4.4kg meat per year.
However, rising industrialisation goes hand in hand with increased meat consumption and meat on the table is associated with prosperity. World population is set to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050. Consumption of meat is expected to double by 2050.
The future can be daunting when you look at the raw stats.
But, fear not. There is something you can do.
The World Resources Institute has done some serious number crunching. They have found that if the 2 billion people consuming the most meat and dairy cut their intake by 40%, the land spared is twice the size of India. This is more land than has been converted to agricultural use in the last 50 years.
And of course, technology may, as usual, provide us with an answer. If you want to continue eating meat, but you struggle with the suffering inflicted on animals, the impact on the planet and the judgements of that irksome vegan friend, there may be hope for you yet.
If you’ve already made some changes, well done you.
Why I'm a weekday vegetarian Graham Hill