Ever since I wrote my post about organic farming, I’ve been collecting web articles on the pros and cons of eating meat. This has been going on for a few months now and I still haven’t written anything. The problem, I’ve realised, is that I don’t really know what I want to say about eating meat.
I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat four or five times a week. I’m going to be honest, and tell you that the reason I am not a vegetarian is because I’m lazy. I’m half-French, and French people eat meat a lot (you know in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula brings Ian home to her parents and explains that he is vegetarian, and her aunt replies “Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb.” That is basically how all of mainland Europe would respond.). I can’t be bothered with the arguments at dinner times. I’m very aware that this is a terrible excuse, but I have to live with my family and you don’t! When I buy my own place, I intend to be vegetarian (and grow most of what I eat), but for now I shall survive! Having said that, I do have several meat-free days a week, and I believe that everyone should be incorporating these into their routine, even if they don’t want to stop eating meat completely.
There are many health benefits to gain from reducing your meat intake, and I’m not going to discuss these. I’m not a Doctor, and there is plenty of advice on the internet if you’d like to know more about the dangers of eating too much meat (here’s a Guardian link to start you off). The links I’ve been collecting and pondering relate to the environmental benefits of eating less meat. The Ecologist did an article at the beginning of the year asking whether becoming vegetarian could save the planet. The farming of animals for meat causes many greenhouse gas emissions – from the production of feed for the animals, the animals themselves, preparation, packaging, transport, etc. At a basic level, you’re growing food for the animals that could be used to feed humans directly, and there’s a lot of waste involved in this inefficient production model. The Ecologist didn’t really come to a conclusion in their article, although they did cover the facts very fairly. As one of their commentators points out in the article, knowing where your meat has come from and how it got on to your plate is a good start to looking after the world. Although his example (rearing and butchering your own meat) is too extreme for most people, buying from a local farm that you know farms sustainably and ethically is a good way to go. Before running this article, The Ecologist had done an earlier article on the environmental damage caused by high-protein diets (e.g. The Atkins and Dukan diets). At the end of this article they were firmer in stating that they didn’t think people were concerned about the environmental (and health) impacts of these diets. Ultimately, people have a responsibility to shop sustainably, but most people won’t or don’t.
Sitting on the fence
The Conversation, which is an Australian eco-blog, has also previously written on the topic of diets and the environment. In their article, could your diet save the planet?, they point out that only a privileged few across the world actually have a choice about whether to opt-in to a vegetarian diet. Whilst the “privileged few” could all decide tomorrow to give up meat, on a global scale there are many more important things we could be doing to reduce carbon emissions and protect our environment. They make a further interesting point at this juncture: the privileged few have less children than the developing world, and so statistically in future they will form a smaller percentage of the world’s population. The lifestyles of those in Africa and Southeast Asia, for example, will become more important on a global scale than those in western countries. Their article concludes that more research needs to be done, but they don’t outright say whether we (the privileged few) should make the lifestyle change or not.
Embracing a meat diet
The Guardian, in their discussion on meat-eating last year, decided to go the opposite way, and the author discussed why she stopped being vegetarian. Although the article predominantly deals with animal cruelty rather than environmental concerns, it’s interesting because the argument the author puts forward is that being vegetarian doesn’t make the farming industry change their ways – choosing where and how to shop is what will have the most influence over them. Instead of buying veggie burgers, buy beef burgers from a farm that you know is managed sustainably and ethically. The farming industry will then sit up and take note. I wonder how true this is: are they really more likely to respond to shoppers switching to sustainable meat than to shoppers stopping meat purchases altogether? I guess if I was a farmer and people stopped buying my meat, there could be any number of reasons why. If they stopped buying my meat, but started buying from my neighbour Kind Jim next door (who farms ethically), then I might realise the problem with my own meat and adjust my farming accordingly. Maybe. This model really depends on enough people switching from my meat to Kind Jim’s – to make it worth my while considering alternative farming methods. I think The Guardian writer has more faith in her power as a consumer than I do. Really the choice for the consumer here is whether to give money to ethical animal farming, or to stop giving money to any farms involved in meat production.
An end, but not a conclusion
There is no conclusion to this post, as the header suggests! I wanted to collect these links together for people to read, and I hope this post has made you think. I know it’s a deviation from my usual style of writing, but this is a huge topic – and a complex one. I’m giving you food for thought, and nothing more. I will continue to have meat-free days and dream of growing all my own food. How about you?