I noted with some interest that the BBC has been trailing a new programme about the environmental impact of meat eating. Living with a number of vegetarians in my household it’s bound to provoke some lively discussions.
I will admit straight away that I am a carnivore and I really enjoy meat as a part of my diet and really don’t want to give up that pleasure. On the other hand I am not against plant-based meals and do agree that a varied diet is probably the best in terms of health benefits. However, I do feel somewhat alarmed when I am told that my penchant for meat is harming the planet and I just wanted to take time to look at some of the arguments around meat eating.
I think one of the most significant things in my opinion comes from my work as a recruiter in the food and drink industry. I see all the new job titles that have arisen since I started doing this 20+ years ago. We have seen industry processing protein based products and meat free alternatives. Some of these are particularly good. Tesco’s Wicked range has been particularly exciting and gives huge variety and taste that vegans must enjoy. However, the packaging still partly relies on plastic, but that’s not my only concern.
Andres Carreno via Unsplash
Plant-based food is all well and good but we have to ask: how heavily processed are these foodstuffs? For example let’s take the well-known meat substitute. Yes, it contains mycroptrotein that comes form a fungus: Fusarium vanenatum and is developed using fermentation. It is then dehydrated and mixed up with either egg albumen or potato protein depending whether it’s destined for a vegan dish or not. It has been around for over 30 years but at this point no one really understands the long-term effect of ingesting food that is manufactured this way. This might be a fuss over nothing but I would really like to know.
This meat eating penchant, is it really an issue? Is it a carbon emission thing? Are we saying that we shouldn’t keep cattle because of their methane emissions, slurry problems etc.? Yet we have been raising cattle for thousands of years but we have only been flying since the early twentieth century. I can’t help wondering if meat production is an easy target. Would that be true? Or am I being biased?
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As I said in last week’s article if we over consume and put too many demands on the environment then we have a good case. Yet, let’s not forget our demand for avocados is having a dramatic effect in other parts of the world.
For example a couple of years ago The Guardian reported on Chilean avocado growers. By 2017 the UK’s demand for these fruits had increased by 27%. Good for profits but farmers are illegally diverting river water to irrigate their precious crops. What’s happened? They have now begun to experience droughts. So who is the real villain here I wonder? I am not picking on avocado eaters I suppose what I am saying is that a little moderation never did anyone any harm did it?
For me the real issue is when we start eating meat that is imported thousands of miles and that has been processed to prolong shelf life. It’s the delicate balance and respect for the whole eco system that we need to consider isn’t it?
So next time you consider smashed avocado on sour dough (which by the way I love) do remember that for a kilo of avocados it takes two thousand litres of water according to the Water Footprint Network. If you want some perspective that’s four times the amount of water it takes to produce the same weight of oranges and 10 times more than you need to grow tomatoes.
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So shouldn’t we also pay attention to the livelihood of farmers that rely upon people eating meat? By not eating meat we are surely putting the welfare of thousands of people at risk. Surely it’s time to really discuss what can be done, what impact individuals can have
I am also wondering whether now is the time for everyone to grab a copy of Simon Farlie’s book: Meat A Benign Extravagance. In this book he demonstrates another way to farm meat. Yes it’s small scale and yes it’s low waste and low energy. This may well be the solution. Our food industry does need an overhaul but surely we could start by eating in moderation. What do you think? Is this naïve? I'd really like to hear your responses to this debate. This morning the Green Party published their own manifesto which outlines the need to eat a predominantly plant based diet with proposed increased taxes on dairy. Is this the way to go? Is there any alternative?