WHY ON EARTH ARE WE EATING MEAT?
Vegetarianism is increasingly not just a lifestyle choice, eating more vegetables in our diets has far reaching effects on the society and world that we live in. Here is my journey into the heart of what is rightly a contentious debate. Being a vegetarian myself, I will attempt to remain impartial, but the facts and spirit of a new age are highlighting that the days of meat at every meal are numbered. This is no longer a question of being ‘sensitive’ towards animals and their plight, there are many pragmatic reasons and cold hard facts to back these up.
We are evolving at a rapid rate and I see a collective movement towards a more plant based diet being an intrinsic part of our further evolution as a species. Can we continue to crave meat when we realise the massive negative repercussions that its production is causing? I’d like to think not.
So then: Why on earth are we eating meat? That is a very good question and one I feel should be raised, and raised again, until collectively we all have a better idea about why we make this choice; the implications of which affect our environment, economy, society and even involves politics. Eating less meat really makes a difference and even one person changing their diet can have a positive effect.
There seems so little reason to eat meat except the obvious fact, that a hamburger or a nice juicy steak is quite tasty. Taste can be the only logical reason when you approach this issue from a rational point of view. The concept of eating ‘well’ in the modern world does not actually promote ‘wellness’. There are so many misconceptions when it comes to diet, what we have been taught in schools and via the mass media. The stakes are high here, trends must change if we are to live cleaner, healthier lives and the earth can only take so much. The way we eat says a lot about who we are and the way we choose to lead our lives. We know that we can live (even thrive) without meat, so why aren’t more people trying?
I was not raised a vegetarian, my upbringing was a standard meat and two veg approach to meal times; Mum is a marvelous cook and meat played a major role. I have come to vegetarianism in recent years, it was a gradual realisation of something that now seems quite obvious, namely, that I must eat less meat (it turns out ‘less’ actually meant ‘no’!). My natural movement away from a hectic/ consumerist lifestyle was a major part of this process.
Spending almost a year in India eating a vegetarian diet certainly made me realise that vegetarian food is delicious and I felt all the better for it. Good, organic meat was becoming more and more expensive in Britain, therefore cost was also increasingly a factor. The more I read, the more I was shocked about how meat is being produced (produced is a terrible word for the rearing of animals, but unfortunately, accurate in this case).
I came to realise that a lot was at stake here for the meat industry, which is very big business. Sharing the truth about what is happening to our planet and our health due to regular meat consumption is not something that the ‘establishment’ and media deems pertinent or of concern. When you are aware of the scale of the problem we face, due to an increase in worldwide meat consumption, you cannot help but sit up and listen and surely consider a minor change in lifestyle and eating habits that will have huge effects on the future of our planet. It’s that important!
Leaving the comforts of home behind, we recently travelled by car through France and Spain. As we visited more and more places, I experienced first hand that meat eating is still vastly popular and seemingly growing in popularity. Butchers outnumbered bakeries in many small villages and decent fruit and vegetable vendors were scarce to non-existent. I could not find vegetarian options in most restaurants and on the rare occasions that we ate out (we generally made salads etc. in our hotel room or tent) I was served the same simple starter as a main course (only slightly larger!!!). Although this is no doubt amusing, it made me realise that outside certain countries (thankfully Britain not being one), vegetarians are still deemed as second class diners and quite a peculiar proposition! Most people still believing that a vegetarian eats fish and doesn’t mind the odd lump of ham in their soup!
The ‘abnormal’ diet of a vegetarian is put into perspective with these recent figures: only 2% of the British population are vegan, 3% vegetarian, with 5% eating only fish and chicken (figures taken from the dept. of environment, farming and rural affairs). I am shocked that the figures are so low and would imagine they are even lower in France and Spain. This does not take into account those who can’t make their minds up, who are sometimes vegetarian, but probably don’t class themselves as ‘full-timers’. This alone gives me faith that clear information about the positive benefits of a vegetarian diet, not just from a nutritional point of view, is filtering through to the collective psyche and there is always hope, even with a majority of just one person! Still not much seems to have changed over the last 40 years, the wide scale vegetarian movement of the 60’s was a long time ago now! Why such little progress?
Most of us wouldn’t imagine that the food that we choose to buy supports institutions that are hell bent on extracting as much profit from the earth (while they still can!) by controlling the food costs, agricultural techniques and the channels of food supply. What we buy in our branch of Tesco in Basingstoke can have a direct effect on a peasant farmer in Nigeria. These are far reaching, globalised choices that we are making on a daily basis and what and how we consume is an increasingly powerful tool to exact.
I will be highlighting some of the reasons as to why choosing to become a vegetarian, or even simply eating less meat, is so important. I will try a slightly different approach, instead of dwelling on the obvious health benefits and the moral issues relating to the slaughter of animals on a mass scale for sustenance; I will be focusing on the global meat industry and its effect on our worldwide community. Increased meat production is directly linked to the global food crisis that we have been battling with for many years and the global meat industry is making people hungry throughout the world. Billions of people and farmers are suffering and starving due to our desire for unsustainable quantities of meat in our diets.
WHY EAT MORE VEGETABLES?
The primary reason for many is health. By consuming more vegetables you will avoid many unhealthy fats/ cholesterol that are the cause of much dietary illness. A varied, balanced vegetarian/ vegan diet offers a great range of nutrients and inevitably leads to an increase in well being and vitality.
Jane and I live in rural Wales and when walking the hills, come to be around many herds of fine cattle, impressive creatures who are at first nervous and then inquisitive. However once they are used to our presence, whole herds of large black bulls will run around the field, following us and playing games. Their movements are powerful and noble, equally as impressive as most things you will see on a TV nature programme (although you will rarely see nature programmes about domesticated/ farm animals). These fine animals are ‘fit’ for the slaughter at the nearby abattoir and this leaves me with a heavy heart whenever we encounter these herds of proud, intelligent creatures. I cannot equate the desire to eat beef, with the death of these bulls anymore.
Animals are sentient beings and many are treated in terrible ways in a factory farm/ industrialised environment. This seems to stick in many people’s throats, but dog lovers, imagine a battery farm filled with puppies being fattened to be processed into food. This is a difficult, and to some, harrowing realisation of what is a clouded moral and ethical issue. The mass production of meat leads to animal suffering and that cannot be right.
I find vegetarian food creative and inspiring to cook. Greater thought and experimentation must be applied to preparing tasty dishes and the combination of flavours and textures. The idea of eating food to stay healthy appeals to me also, with a more preventive approach to battling sickness and ailments; after all, we are living in the age of the ever ‘proactive’ mind. It seems that we are not applying this to our own health and lifestyles. Life is there to be enjoyed with vibrancy, energy and enthusiasm. Eating mainly vegetables makes for a lighter feeling in the body and allows more nutrients to be absorbed through the digestive system. Vegetables are also easier to digest, allowing for vital energy to used in different areas of the body; for healing, and rejuvenation, and most importantly to recharge our brains, which our hectic modern world loves to drain and leave flagging.
INDUSTRIALISED MEAT MADNESS
Industrial farming practices have robbed Britain of its nature diversity, it’s flora and fauna much reduced, our vast swathes of forested countryside and majestic old trees have made way for flat, square boxes where mono-crops and livestock now grow and graze. A wild island has been tamed, now a pale, patchwork imitation of our indigenous ‘wild’ nature. The same can be said of all industrialised countries. Now we import carrots from Spain and the whole island is disappearing under a toxic concrete blanket where everything has a price. Industrialisation doesn’t seem to be making things better for the masses, the negatives far outweigh the positives as we continuously throw nature out of balance with practices that rob natural resources and take no care to replenish them. Can we tolerate a society that takes more than it gives?
Industrialisation was a man’s idea (groups of them anyway) and has been applied to all facets of human existence, mostly to our detriment. There have been many amazing advances, but at what cost? Man is moving away from nature. Industrialisation has led us into a situation whereby we are consuming, more than we are thinking and it shows.
The global meat producing industry misuses vast quantities of the world’s food resources. Resources that would be better used in combating the horrific levels of global hunger, billions of people are struggling to feed themselves on a daily basis and the situation is getting worse. The facts are very clear:
Massive quantities of grains and pulses
relatively small amounts of meat
It is said that giving up meat is ‘a conscientious objection to a system with waste at one end and starvation at the other.’ People are protesting all over the world about the lack of food and it’s excessively high cost. There have been vast protests in Mexico (known as the tortilla marches), food riots in Haiti, farmers strikes in Argentina, in fact most of Latin America is embroiled in something resembling a food war.
This has historically, in recent times anyway, been a problem with the southern/ poorer parts of the world. These developing countries are a comfortable distance for many in ‘West’ but this changed drastically with the global economic crises of recent times and we see the red cross giving out food packages on the streets of Athens et al. Is this the future that we want? When will the West wake up to the fact that our model is not working? Capitalism as it stands has a finite lifespan and its beginning to wind down.
THE FACTS AGAINST CURRENT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION
- Livestock production accounts for 80% of greenhouse gases (regardless of whether or not you believe in mans effect on global climate change, that’s alot of harmful gas for a relatively small quantity little meat), 37% of methane production (23 times the global warming potential of 100 years), 65% of nitrous oxide (265 times global warming potential for 100 years).
- Production of 1 kilo of beef consumes 169 megajoules of energy, enough to power a 100 watt lightbulb for 20 days. Add to this the fact that meat needs refrigeration, transportation, storage, excessive packaging, cooking at a high temperature for a long period of time, plus alot of fat and bones are wasted.
- Farmers can feed 30 people on 1 hectare of land, growing vegetables, fruits, cereals, vegetable oils etc. The same are growing meat and dairy can feed between 5-10 people.
- 1/3 of the world’s cereal harvest and 90% of its soya production is used as animal feed.
- 10 kilos of grain = 1 kilo of beef, 4.5 – 5 kilos = 1 kilo of pork, 2.1-3.3 = 1 kilo of poultry.
- Living a vegan lifestyle for 70 years will pump 100 tonnes less CO2 into the atmosphere compared to a meat eating person.
John Lennon once said “the more rational you get, the more irrational the world seems to get”. If we look at this debate rationally, I feel there is no way that we can condone the current trend towards the increase in global industrialised agriculture and meat/ dairy production. I am not saying give up meat totally in all cases, but certainly eat less.
RISING MEAT CONSUMPTION?!
Cheap mass produced food, fast food, junk food etcetc have already had a huge consequence on the environment in which we call home. Yet meat eating is growing worldwide, we are eating on average five times more meat than we were in the ‘50’s. All over the world meat eating is rising and the trend is looking like continuing, as developing countries become richer.
Meat consumption per head (kg per annum)
40 years ago Now
US 89 124
Spain 22 119
Europe 56 89
Brazil 39 68
China 4 54
Japan 8 42
Due to these huge rises in meat consumption, global feed demands will require the doubling of meat/ dairy production by 2050. The increased demand will see the number of farmed animals leap from 60 billion to 120 billion worldwide. 70% of the world’s agricultural land is already used for feed production and 30% of the worlds land area is given to livestock.
The livestock industry is a major contributor to global warming. Cattle produce alot of methane via farts, therefore: fewer hamburgers=less farts=better world (a crude equation, but accurate non-the-less). UNFAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) has published reports that show ‘livestocks long shadow’ affecting the global climate, naming meat and dairy production as major contributors. This report by Dr Henning Steinberg caused uproar and led to the F.A.O. losing alot of its funding. This goes someway to highlighting the political importance of the issue and the control the meat and dairy producers posses with major global institutions. People are certainly not being encouraged to give up meat, the opposite is true, with money and power being the key factors (as always).
Dr Rajendra Padwari (chair of the intergovernmental panel on climate change) made a personal presentation in London recently supporting a move away from a meat based diets. Headlines followed stating ‘UN chief says eat less meat to stop global warming’. Queue more uproar from the majority of the ‘establishment’ and recriminations.
The closer you get to the heart of the matters that are really affecting us, those that relate to a brighter future for all, the closer you get to lifting the veil of mass delusion and confusion, getting a clearer picture of what is really going on in the world. The problem is, the closer we get to this stage, the tighter the institutions, corporations and ‘powers that be’ hold onto their control of information and its mass dissemination. It seems that the phrase ‘We are what we eat’ could be modified slightly to ‘we are what we are told to be’!
The information is there for us all to see, it can be viewed widely on the internet; whether we act upon it or not is the tough question to face up to. We are all conditioned to believe that the ‘way it is’, is just that, and cannot be changed, but history shows us that this is not the case and change is inevitable; collectively and individually we are responsible for this.
The global meat eating trends are unsustainable for feeding increasing populations and are causing a huge strain on our environment. Vast swathes of rainforest are cleared daily in Brazil alone to meet the demands for animal feed and livestock ranches. A vegetarian/ vegan diet or a decrease in meat eating would eradicate many of these problems.
AN INDIVIDUALS CHOICE
From a more individual standpoint, what we eat can change the way we feel about ourselves and life in general. How we interact with the world is so important and food production is often deemed as quite asinine point, when it is anything but, for ‘he who controls the food, controls the people.’
A normal life (meat eater) and an abnormal life (vegetarian) are merely matters of perspective and purely subjective, what is unusual today can become usual tomorrow, depending on the way mass culture/ media chooses to portray it. Why the media in general doesn’t support or condone a society that puts people, animals and nature first is clear for any person to see. There’s no money in it!
Many people seem obsessed by the compulsion to invest financially in their futures, but that will only get us so far. What kind of world will we inhabit in 40 years? Will money still guarantee ‘security’ and a better life? Will there be any food/ water to ‘buy’? Will money actually be worth the paper its printed on?
I prefer the approach of investing in body and mind now by eating nutrient-rich vegetarian foods. I hope for a vibrant old age with a lessened chance of illness, ‘a young heart leads to a long life’ after all. I am saying, invest in your future the right way. Take care of your vehicle in life (your body that is) and fuel it with the cleanest, highest grade produce.
We have the technology and intelligence to create a new way of growing and supplying food globally; nobody on earth should go hungry, no farmers in India should contemplate suicide due to high food prices, people should not have to take to the streets across the world to protest against a lack of food. As a species, we are not looking after our own and if we do not love our neighbour and cherish their lives, how can we begin to cherish our own? Food, one of the basic requirements to live, is denied to billions due to the means by which we feed ourselves, by our actions and our eating habits. The way we eat actually makes others go hungry!!! This is ridiculous.
THE FUTURE OF FOOD
What does the future hold for the world and its food production? Something must change and change soon. The governments cannot continue their support for the industrialised approach to farming and food production, it is not sustainable and we must be sustained! The increase in meat consumption must be addressed, starting with the vast subsidies from which meat/ dairy producers benefit.
I believe in my lifetime there will be a dramatic re-think in how we approach food production. With better managed global food prices, people in developing countries, many of which have agriculture at the heart of their economy (for example: the growing Indian economy is still driven by the traditional agriculture of its interior) will head back to the countryside, leaving the poverty of the slums of cities behind. This will have a huge effect globally as millions begin to work the land and produce food locally, turning barren earth into food rich earth and bringing many people back in touch with nature. Food will be sold more locally, localised trade will be stimulated and diversity will increase with costs naturally decrease. A more localised approach will benefit communities and help to teach children about the importance of living closely with and respecting nature.
Farmers in western countries will adapt, as they always have done, to the demands and trends of markets and society. Industrialised practices will recede and more indigenous crops will be re-introduced and grown. Farming will move towards a more organic, small-scale approach generally, with governments being forced to educate people about nutrition, subsequently, people will be better able to feed themselves on less quantity food with a higher nutritional value and all will be encouraged to grow their own produce. With this greater awareness of nutrition, nature and food; consumers will be inclined to buy less, higher priced, organically produced food, therefore supporting the change in farming trends.
Altering diet will become a necessity, along with other practical changes such as insulating homes, minimising water consumption, reducing air and vehicle travel. We cannot delay the inevitable shift back towards a natural way of living. We will still eat meat, but it will become a prized commodity again, something reserved for holidays and special occasions.
We’ve all heard of these ideas and ideals before, much of this may seem like repetition. I hope with more repetition and resistance to our present trends in behaviour, positive change will come about. Man has been making great financial gains since the industrial revolution, consumerism has flourished with the amassing of greater material wealth, the basis has always been systems that propagate human sufferiIt is time we thought more about our responsibilities; sustaining our planet and nurturing future generations. The key in our consumerist societies relates directly to the way that we consume (that goes for all that we buy and eat). I say that it’s time to stop, think clearly (rationally even!) and make changes. To view ourselves more as global citizens. The ‘majority’ of the world is poor therefore ‘we’ are poor our problems are shared. How can ‘we’ be richer in a sense greater than merely financial? A world that is collectively richer and balanced, resources are shared evenly and costs are minimised.
The way things are progressing, the problems mentioned above are on the increase. The time is now to act. Leaving meat off the plate is a positive first step towards a brighter future and a more sustainable approach.
This is a contentious issue and one that is open for hearty debate. I’d love to hear from you if you are on the other side of the fence, leave me some feedback below, all perspectives welcome!
Much of the information above comes from articles in the magazine the ‘New Internationalist’, especially those by Chris Brazier.
Here are some websites that share a similar view on the world food crisis, vegetarianism and food production: