Please note: This post is not intended to be ‘preachy’. I’ve written it to explain why I have cut out meat, and my opinion on how meat consumption could move towards becoming more sustainable/ethical.
In April 2017, I finally committed to a vegetarian lifestyle after slowly reducing my meat intake for over a year. Technically, I’m pescatarian; I still eat some fish as long as it’s as sustainable as possible (look out for the MSC logo!). I won’t discuss why I still eat fish in this post, so if you’d like to know why I do, feel free to ask.
Even after cutting out meat, I still contribute to climate change and food sustainability issues; I am under no delusion that I’m suddenly an innocent bystander. I am concerned about the environment, yet I still go travelling and drive a car. I selfishly might even breed one day (or perhaps not if I do ever get into academia!), adding to the biggest problem we face: the human population. There are simply too many humans on this planet, a lot of whom consume far too much. Even Sir David Attenborough says so.
Here are the (very cliché) reasons why I’ve stopped eating meat:
- Environment: This is a huge problem. Climate change is happening, no matter how much imbeciles like Trump deny it, and we may have already reached tipping point (doesn’t mean we should give up, there’s still a bit of hope). I won’t go into too much detail here as I’m sure most people are very aware of the implications meat has for the environment. Read this if you want to know more.
- Food sustainability: There are absolutely too many hungry mouths on this planet, and meat is not sustainable at the moment. You need energy, water, and huge amounts of land to name a few things meat production requires in vast amounts.
- Animal ethics: I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable knowing that my food probably suffered, especially since visiting abattoirs for work. I won’t lie: animal slaughter is horrible, even when done to best practice standards. I’m on the brink of preaching so I won’t say any more.
- Money: As long as you don’t rely on ready-made meat substitutes/fancy ready meals, it is cheaper being vegetarian. For some reason I’ve had people claim it will be more expensive, but that’s bollocks. I make enough chickpea and lentil curry for 4 people for ~£3, and you can buy enough falafel for a week of lunches for £1.50.
- Health: Since working in vet parasitology, I’ve become concerned about the use of antibiotics in livestock, and the implications of the parasites becoming resistant.
However, if everyone on the planet were to go vegetarian, I don’t think it would be a good thing. In most third world countries, people are completely reliant on meat for both food and income, so it simply isn’t a realistic thing to aim for. Furthermore, livestock animals would probably go extinct or be subjected to increased abuse, as there would be less need for them. Farmers have a vested interest in providing at least some care to their livestock, otherwise they wouldn’t make any money.
If everyone ate meat once a week or less, this could have a huge impact. Why do people insist on having meat with every single meal? There are so many varieties of food, so it just lacks imagination having meat with everything. Reducing meat intake isn’t the answer to everything by any stretch, but impact amplifies with numbers. One study found that if everyone conformed to the WHOS recommendations, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 17%, and by a further 40% if the population avoided animal products and processed snacks even further.
I’ve heard people make comments about meat such as ‘Well someone has to eat it’. This is a very annoying thing to say to a vegetarian, and it isn’t true. If there were less demand, there would be less supply. Perhaps if there were less supply, farmers could focus on producing meat more ethically. For example, people stopped buying caged eggs, and now almost all eggs are free range! Of course, less supply and demand of meat would drive prices (I couldn’t say how much by, but it would need to ensure farmers are earning an income, so it would have to be a dramatic increase, possibly unrealistically so), but if buying meat became a rare treat, and it led to decreased environmental impact and improved ethics, then personally, I could live with that.
Something I think would help us reduce meat intake is if instead of having an isolated vegetarian section in the supermarkets, and separate ‘vegetarian/vegan’ menus, these meat free options should be incorporated. Newsflash: You don’t have to be a vegetarian to have a meat free meal! I think supermarkets and restaurants could make a few small changes (including more imaginative meal choices please!) and make a huge difference to reducing meat intake. A few chains which have pretty good meat free offerings are Pret a Manger, Las Iguanas, and even Nando’s!
So why don’t I go the extra mile and become vegan? I’ve mulled over this a lot, and often feel selfish for not being vegan. I’ve visited free range egg farms and haven’t been massively thrilled. I’m a huge foodie, and although I will very happily eat vegan meals, personally, I just couldn’t cope with being so restricted. It’s an amazing commitment that I completely respect, however, although you’re helping livestock, you may not be helping wildlife or biodiversity. It’s all about choice; as a zoologist I hope to make a difference in ways other than my diet, by conserving wildlife.
Claudio Bertonatti wrote about the issues surrounding veganism/vegetarianism last year, and suggested that no-one is innocent of causing animal suffering. Read this article, it poses some serious arguments, and I found it massively poignant. Whether or not I agree with him entirely is another story, but I do agree that many vegetarians/vegans seem to focus solely on livestock, and don’t/are unable to consider wildlife in their dietary choices. Eating lots of grains and plant crops generally means using pesticides and herbicides which kill pollinators and other wildlife. Anyway, I really recommend reading that article.
The only time I will judge you for eating meat is if you eat it and ignore that it was once alive. ‘I don’t eat meat from the bone because it looks like an animal’ is a favourite ignorant comment I’ve heard. Reality check, it IS an animal! The delicious lamb shank you’re eating used to frolic in a field. It’s sad, but it’s true. If you can’t handle that, perhaps you shouldn’t eat meat. I am not against meat eaters (we are omnivorous after all), but I am against the ignorant attitude that so many of us have, particularly when eating cheap meat. Looking the other way is unacceptable. If you eat meat, do it with respect for the animal that’s died to be served up on your plate.
Anyway, I’ll could go into much more detail and write the longest post ever, but I thought I’d keep this relatively short, and I may write further posts on this topic at a later date. There may be things you don’t agree with me on, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m not a fundamentalist, I’m (attempting to be) a scientist. My views will inevitably change with evidence, so don’t be afraid to challenge me (just keep it civil, please).