There is no easy answer and not a single-minded recommendation whether we should all stop eating (or reducing) meat to help the environment. But it’s a very important topic worth consideration and further reading. At the end of this year’s World Meat Free Week, I decided to do a bit of press review to list down different points of view regarding meat in our diet.
I also reached out to one of my friends, Georgina, who turned to veganism a few years ago, to learn about her own journey and observations.
To meat or not to meat?
For the planet – stop eating meat
In 2019, UN scientists published a report stating that “switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change“. The experts didn’t specifically call everyone to become vegetarian or vegan but claimed that:
- In the West people are eating too much meat.
- There is excessive food waste.
- We need to stop soil damage and desertification contributing to climate change.
For the global human population – follow a largely plant-based diet
According to the report published in the British medical journal The Lancet, to feed the world’s growing population (expected to reach 10 billion by 2050), we need to stop eating meat and adopt largely plant-based diet. This will allow to:
- Reduce side effects of food production (such as: greenhouse gases, water and crop use, nitrogen or phosphorous from fertilizers).
- Protect biodiversity expecting to take the hit should a region be converted into a farmland.
- Reduce climate change-inducing gases.
- Preserve land to feed the population.
For the Paris climate objectives – smaller scale animal agriculture
Roughly 80 per cent of agricultural land is used to make livestock feed or for grazing – is there a better way to produce protein?UN Environment
According to Ethan Brown, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Beyond Meat (selected 2018 Champions of the Earth in the category of science and innovation), plant-based meat is the future. By growing protein directly from plants we can slash natural resources needed, using land more efficiently. And this will allow to tackle four key challenges:
- Human health
- Climate change
- Natural resources
- Animal welfare implications of using animals for meat
For health – think nutrient density instead
You want the highest nutritional density per unit combined with the lowest negative environmental impact. So, for example, what nutrients you get per 100g of the food and how that sits with its environmental impact.Professor Nigel Scollan, Director of Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast, BBC
For global temperature reduction – flexitarian diet is enough
Major study led by the University of Oxford, claims that we need to slash consumption of pork, milk and eggs to keep the global temperature increase from breaching a 2C limit. We not only have to stop eating meat, but also follow varies measures such as:
- Introducing tax on red meat.
- Feeding seaweed to cows to reduce methane escaping in their burps.
- Eating insects instead of steaks and pork chops.
- Turning towards veggie lab grown meats or vegan substitutes.
Hey Georgina, can we talk about veganism?
What made you go vegan?
I have always felt empathy towards animals and never was much of a meat eater. Although I consumed a range of animal products as part of my regular diet. As I grew into my twenties and moved out of my family environment, I started meeting people with other views and dietary habits. And I became more curious, started reading about animal rights, vegetarianism and environment. Later on I also watched some of the documentaries made about the subject. I guess it was a mix of knowing something wasn’t right, having enough information about it and meeting other like minded people to realise it is a lifestyle choice I was ready to make.
What were the key changes you had to make?
I stopped consuming animal products as soon as I finished the last egg and slice of cheese in my fridge. I don’t miss anything. For me, it is important to know beforehand what recipes you need as staples that are going to make your life easy. Everyone’s situation is different. Whether you have kids, need a packed lunch every day, train regularly, etc. There are meals and go to snacks that you need to carry on with your routine and if you can’t make those on a plant-based diet, it will become stressful and totally miss the point 😉 So I started with breakfasts and quick dinners such as: tofu scramble instead of eggs and overnight oats. I also learnt to make a simple and easy Spanish omelette with no eggs.
I was already shopping at a local veg store because I have flexible working hours. But maybe it’s a good start to go to farmers markets at weekends to choose fresh and seasonal produce. And I’m not talking about the “all organic £5 an avocado” markets. I’m talking about genuine, no glamour farmers markets with people shouting about their tomato offers. This is where you will find the best vegetables and perhaps find inspiration, too.
I think the availability of fresh produce and pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas) is very important when switching to a plant-based diet. The easier it is to buy and cook them, the more you will incorporate them into your meals and the meals you cook for family and friends.
The obstacles tend to be more when eating out, usually due to a lack of knowledge about what “vegan food” is. I didn’t eat many cakes in the beginning!
Tell us how do you do your shopping and prep meals?
Going vegan might also be the start of new shopping habits, as you will find that most aisles in the supermarket aren’t relevant for you any more so you begin to look at things differently. I started going to produce markets more, even when being away visiting family. And it’s way more interesting and budget friendly! I also buy some animal alternatives like burgers and things like that, mostly for specific recipes or social occasions. Otherwise it’d be really easy to just eat vegan burgers and that’s it.
But it is also a health choice and I can guarantee the more you experiment cooking with all sorts of vegetables, the easier it becomes. I tend to prepare meals when travelling by car, from a vegan point of view but also health wise. I just prefer my own home cooked food. I have prepared packed lunches the same as I have always done, in that sense it hasn’t changed much. I enjoy cooking.
What about eating out?
Eating out was a big confidence booster when making the switch. I was living in Vancouver at the time. And I found it so easy to eat at a cafe, bakery or even fancy restaurant and have a plant-based meal. And that really gave me the confidence to embrace it. Everyone was really open minded and staff and establishments never made a fuss when asking for a vegan option.
That changed a little when I moved back to Europe. Spain is slowly embracing it, and so is the UK. We have made good friends and contacts at vegan cafes as we move around because it’s still a small community and, especially in Spain, they tend to be the only non animal based business in the area. It’s actually a good way to support local businesses and learn about a new place.
Italy and Germany have some great spots and were a nice surprise to find. I personally think we are very attached to the cultural heritage of our food traditions in Europe. But for that same reason I think we should be more open to vegan options as we have so much more than meat and fish. We have great vegetables, pulses, fruit, grains etc., that are also locally grown in every country. In that aspect Italy is really at the forefront. An important part for me when eating out, or fashion shopping, is supporting the local economy and those who do it with heart.
Is environmental impact important?
There is definitely a strong environmental side for me. Once you read about deforestation, water consumption, water and field pollution – to name a few – caused by these industries, you can’t ignore it. I don’t think it’s radical to talk about the effects it has on the earth and human population. And the inequality generated by the use of land and food imbalance, the power of the meat and dairy lobby, etc. It is quite a deep problem that has many consequences when you start pulling it apart. Going vegan it’s not just about what you put on your plate, but about a change in our society and the environment.
Lastly, what are the most frequent questions you’re being asked about being vegan?
I definitely get asked a lot where do I get my protein from and what do I eat (??). I did find it annoying at the beginning. But I understand that, like me, a lot of us just don’t know any more than what you learn at home and we are just a product of our environment. Also, since the media don’t really help broaden people’s ideas of what a healthy diet should be, I do take my time to share and answer those questions with friends and family. Some even find it inspiring and investigate further. I think my dad is 90% vegan now 😉
I recommend reading “Eating Animals”. It was a game changer for me. I don’t approve of “preaching veganism”, it is not that type of book. The author follows a very similar journey into veganism, he also had strong family and cultural attachment to food, and there is plenty of facts and research in there too.
If you’re interested in interviews of my other guests, who live their lives differently, why don’t you read about baking your own bread? What about learning about a zero waste home? Or maybe you fancy starting a beehive?