Do you eat m***?

Do you eat meat? When a campaigner or someone who I know is interested in the environment asks me if I’m vegetarian, I sort of wince and tell them I’m half Vegetarian, unwilling to admit that I’m not really. If anyone else were to ask me if I’m a Vegetarian I’d happily just say “no I’m not”. So what’s my problem? Am I schizophrenic?

The more I get involved in the environmental movement the more I see how much of an issue this really is. 2 years ago, while I could have told you where to get your ethical clothes and light bulbs, I was a loud and proud (but ethical!) meat eater-it seemed normal and acceptable; but the deeper I go into the roots of the problem we face, and the more people I meet who have cut meat out of their diet, the harder I find it to face flesh on my plate. It’s an interesting situation to be in too. Because if I were Vegetarian I would be proclaiming my commitment to the movement loud and clear, and joining those increasing ranks of veggies on ‘the other side’! However, this would mean turning my back on any mainstream appeal I have and currently use when I do my talks, or peer education, or talk to non believers. I wouldn’t be able to look at them in the face and say, “I think you should get involved in this cause, look: I have, it’s not just a bunch of tofu munching rebels, you’re a meat eater and so am I.” Merely aesthetic you may say; it is unimportant what others think of you and your habits, it’s what you say that counts. Wrong wrong wrong. What has disabled this movement from its very inception? Why have we failed to engage with the masses? The bad PR; the stereotypes placed on people seeking alternatives to conventional standards- DIRTY HIPPIES! An average Sun reader reading my green credentials would probably call me that, but if they saw me in the flesh, if they chatted to me about other things, sat down and ate a plate of bangers and mash with me, would they still be calling me that? The answer is no, they wouldn’t, and that’s because I make a conscious effort not to be seen as one-I’m well aware of the stereotypes, so I run in the other direction.

This movement needs its diversity; it has to include every walk of life, otherwise we contradict what we’re working for. We cannot alienate people by recriminating their current decisions before they’ve even gotten involved, after all, it’s taken me two years to come round, and in the meantime, my brother has turned into a bloodsucking carnivore precisely because he was made into a meat eating leper at an environmental youth event. This is not how it’s done guys.

So why is this question such a significant one? The answer is one people are becoming more and more familiar with, but not facing head on, just like me! I say I’m half veggie because I only eat meat at home really, and that means it’s local and organic-which is the nearest to ‘sustainable meat’ as I’m likely to get; the rest of the time I can’t afford to be eating meat. Those hardcore veggies amongst you will say there is no such thing as sustainable meat, but I would argue that there is. It is however, not suitable for replacing the mass market we have in Britain which is centred round cheap meat.

If you are a meat eater, think back to how much meat you have consumed today and over the last few days. If you had meat in two of your meals, you carbon footprint for that day is at least twice that of a vegetarian. This is why vegetarianism (and veganism) is such a hot topic at the moment. At a time when we just need to get that CO2 emissions curve going down down down, we need to reassess our nation’s lifestyles, and the root causes of our accelerating emissions. What we eat, a daily occurrence for everyone,  is just part of the old ‘energy mix’ as you might say, so let’s start from the very beginning.

To feed an animal, it needs to have food of some kind. Well reared organic and free range meat would normally have roamed grassy fields for a large part of its life, but large sections of the meat market (normally the cheap supermarket stuff) are non organic and definitely not free range meats. That means factory farmed animals with minimum space and food per animal but maximum weight gain in the minimum time- there is a high turnover of meat, and therefore profit. As these animals will never see the light of day, never mind a blade of grass, they have to be fed on some kind of nutrient rich alternative. This is where the manuafacured alternative comes in. Soy makes up a large proportion of the animal feed as it is high in protein (the mineral animals and humans need for growth and muscle). Soy is a highly contentious bean, responsible for the destruction of vital Amazonian rainforest. Powerful international companies like Monsanto (a GM company) and Cargill, buy up land or commandeer small farmers’ land; chop down the forest and turn it into soy plantations. If you think about it, there must surely be no worse bean in the world?!

• It gets local farmers and indigenous forest dwellers chucked out of their homes and land.

• It increases the profits of large unethical companies such as Monsanto, by increasing the profit margins of the meat producing companies that use soy in their feed, (Minimum input but maximum meat produced.) they can afford to expand and therefore buy more and more feed from Monsanto.

• It promotes the use of pesticides, chemicals and fertilisers which affect all the people living nearby, as well as destroying the fertility of the soil, and they are made in a very energy intensive and destructive way too.

• The clearing of the rainforest not only gets rid of the most bio diverse area in the world, but also prevents the forest from acting as a carbon sink (a sink is somewhere that stores carbon, e.g. trees store carbon until they’re burnt.) and dubbed the ‘lungs of the earth’-the Amazon is a main source of oxygen.

• The soy that is then produced, feeds the inhumane business of factory farming all over the world (mainly US, Europe and China.)

• It indirectly allows people to eat more meat than is healthy for them or the planet, because Soy enables the meat to be grown so cheaply.

The Soy is then shipped over to the factories where it’s needed; that might be to China, where a lot of UK’s cheap chickens come from, or to our very own factory farmed pigs and cows in the UK. This is a carbon heavy way of feeding animals on the other side of the world if ever there was one. Unfortunately the Amazon isn’t just being clear-felled for soy, it’s also being deforested for the massivecattle ranches that rear cheap meat to be exported internationally. McDonald’s was a favourite receiver of such meat, where it’s shipped across the world as frozen meat. According toBrazilian Government, 80% of the deforestation in the Amazon is for the cattle market. Recently that’s been 1 hectare deforested every 18 seconds for cattle.

Then, the animals themselves that are being reared emit surprisingly large amounts of CO2. As you’ve probably heard, the effects of cow burps and farts, are far more serious than its given title. The amounts emitted by one animal per year are about 4,000 kg for cattle, 400 kg for sheep and 450 kg for pigs. This compares with about 300 kg for a human being and 5,500 kg for a typical passenger car. Agriculture accounts for 25% of global CO2 emissions!

The argument against meat that is even organically reared, and that is free ranging throughout its life, is very basically that it takes up far more space than crops. Our consumption of meat in industrialised nations has increased by 72 KG a year! Ewww. Taking into account the large amounts of feed that factory farmed animals need to eat, it has been calculated that one kilogram of animal protein typically takes 100 times as much water to produce as one kilogram of plant protein. That’s significant, especially in a world of decreasing water supplies. And I think I’m right in saying that you get twice as many crops on the same fields as you can a single (as it were) crop of cows. I would stress however, coming from a rural area, that livelihoods are affected by your decisions, but you can have a positive effect by switching your meat eating habits to organic and free range.

In an increasingly over populated world, we simply cannot afford the luxury of meat in 2 out of 3 meals a day. By eating it once or twice a week you can then afford the slight price hike because you’re not buying lots of cheaper meats more often; you can then use the left over meat for sandwiches, and boil up the bones for broth, lo and behold there’s another 3 meals out of the one piece of meat. It was done, it can still be done, let’s make it the luxury that it once was, and still can be, by producing well reared and delicious meat, that a family eats once or twice a week. Yes it’ll cost more, but the environmental price of meat has to be included in the price. (That would mean that sheep reared on hills that can’t be used for anything else, would be a lot cheaper than beef.) We also need to open our palettes to the experience of wild game (a fairly sustainable source of meat as it’s running wild and free whether we want it there or not.) and rabbit. Whilst communities next to and near the sea, could be using their rich source of protein and brain food that is fish and shellfish, much more. The pathetic people who say ‘fish smells’ and you don’t like the texture, just need to get over it-you know what? You smell.

So let us put this fishy business to bed. Are you vegetarian or are you not?

No I am not.


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