I know that people don’t like to be told that eating meat is damaging our planet, but it is. No diet is impact free – that would be impossible – but some have a smaller impact on the environment than others. Not only that, the unsustainable nature of animal agriculture means millions are going hungry whilst we feed livestock to satisfy the greed of the Western diet. Our diet is something we have complete power over and what we choose to fuel our bodies with can make an enormous impact. Changing what we eat is the single biggest change we can make to be kinder to the planet.
We are currently living through Earth’s 6th mass extinction with 200 species going extinct each day, leaving 96% of all mammals consisting of humans and livestock. Up to 137 of these species are lost as a result of rainforest destruction, of which animal agriculture is the leading cause with 136 million rainforest acres cleared for the industry. Although 40% of the world’s land is farmed, 30% is dedicated to supporting animal agriculture (this means both farming them and feeding them). Leaving only 10% being used to grow crops that feed us directly. To demonstrate how ridiculous the current use of farming land is: one acre of land can produce 250 lbs of beef. A number that doesn’t seem too bad until you learn the same amount of land can produce 50,000 lbs of tomatoes. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world’s transport emissions combined. Without a global shift to at least a flexitarian diet, we are guaranteed to fail limiting the rise of global temperatures to 2C – a rise that is still too high to prevent damaging changes to the climate.
Beef is without a doubt the most harmful to the planet. Across the world, the amount of grain consumed by cattle has a calorific value high enough to sustain 8.7 billion people. If we stopped feeding approximately 50% of the world’s grain to livestock, we would be able to feed more than the entire world’s population – something that we are failing to do at the moment. Those who eat beef require 160 times more land, water and fuel resources to sustain their diet than someone who eats a plant-based diet. Whilst per day, 4,200 gallons of water are needed for a meat-eaters diet compared to just 300 gallons for a plant-based diet. The contrast between the impact between those who eat meat and those who eat plant-based is not shocking, it is scary. People in the West eat so much meat that it is recommended our consumption of beef needs to drop by 90%. Instead we need to look to filling our diet with beans and pulses, or even revolutionising the farming industry and turning to farming insects instead.
Looking to the oceans, the impact of eating fish is just as devastating. Over the last 80 years, fish populations have fallen due to over-fishing, warming oceans, plastic pollution and ocean acidification (a result of burning fossil fuels). Over-fishing has led to changes in marine communities, altering the delicate balance of the ecosystems, with the survival of several important commercial fish species’ being threatened. Around 85% of global fish stocks are classed as over-exploited, depleted or in recovery. Certain fishing methods also cause unintended harm to many other marine species – up to 5 lbs of unintended marine species are caught and discarded for every pound of fish. Each year, 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is left to pollute our oceans, resulting in a total weight that accounts for 40% of the plastic currently in the ocean.
What can you do
Just over a month ago I moved from a flexitarian to a vegetarian diet, and I plan on going vegan once I feel ready. A vegetarian diet is ideal, a vegan one even more so (I’m not quite there yet because I like chocolate a little too much, but I’m trying my hardest to eat as few animal products as possible). I always swore I could never live without cow’s milk. Here I am, living without cow’s milk and I don’t miss it. I used to eat poached eggs almost everyday for dinner. I don’t buy eggs anymore. I love cheese more than I can explain. Again, I don’t buy it anymore. Although the change you make might not be as extreme as going vegan, a change does need to be made. And it is a change that needs to be made by everyone.
- Go veggie or vegan, or flexitarian at the very least. You don’t need meat in every meal and food can be great without it.
- Cut down on diary, or cut it out completely.
- If you choose to eat meat, eat it in extreme moderation. It’s recommended that we only eat either one burger a week, or one steak a month.
- Buy local. The meat and diary industry is enormous and that is why it is so harmful, supporting your local farmer, butcher or grocer has less of an impact (as long as they don’t import their meat and diary).
- Be more adventurous with what you eat. Learn what are good, natural substitutes for animal products and try cooking with them instead.
This lifestyle change is difficult, believe me I know from experience (and that’s coming from someone who was never a massive meat eater), but it is necessary if we are going to stop the destruction of our world.