Should you stop eating meat? Well the short answer is yes, but the long answer is…..not necessarily. It all depends on your motivation and reasoning for why you want to do it. If you feel compelled to stop, then by all means, make the step to vegetarianism or even veganism.
There is a lot of evidence that also supports the health benefits of seeking a more plant-based diet, however we are not dieticians, doctors, or scientists, and won’t bombard you with that information. But if you’re interested in meat consumption in terms of sustainability, then this article will hopefully shed a little light on its impact as well options for consuming it more sustainably.
Impact of the meat industry. We’ve all seen it before. The horrible images of cows, chickens and pigs being crammed into overcrowded facilities, being treated poorly, and processed in inhumane ways. While the horror of this kind of treatment tugs on our heart strings, the global climate impact of these facilities is a story that is not as widely told.
Manufacturing meat is one of the most inefficient methods of producing food for human consumption and as our populations continue to grow, this is having an ever increasing impact on our planet.
Land. It takes massive amounts of land not only to house the animals, but also to grow the grain needed to feed them. Rather than using it to feed livestock for meat, this grain could be directly feeding humans and lowering the resource burden of the food chain. The need for more land has led to a great deal of deforestation which has a further negative impact on climate change since these forests help to absorb greenhouse gases and reduce the greenhouse effect that is causing climate change.
Water. This is also a resource that is used in abundance through the production of meat and other animal products. It takes over 9000 liters of water for every pound of beef that is produced, versus 923 liters of water for a pound of tofu. Here is Southern Alberta, we have a very arid climate that, other than the winter and spring ice melts and the few summer thunderstorms, doesn’t receive a lot of water. For this reason we rely on a great deal of irrigation which is very resource intensive.
Waste. Beyond the land, water and feed that is used in the production of meat, the waste that this food chain produces is much greater than the byproducts of plant based products. Cows in particular produce both methane gas through their burps and farts and methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. They also produce massive amounts of liquid fecal and urine waste. This waste is often stored in runoff pools, but if these pools are not managed properly or there is a failure of the system, this liquid waste can seep into rivers, lakes or other water systems and harm the animals and ecosystems living there.
Many populations in third world countries consume mostly vegetarian diets since it is much more cost effective. But as income levels start to increase and the middle class begins to grow, many people are starting to consume more meat and animal products. This is because the American and upper class diet is often shown as one that includes a great deal of meat and therefore, the concept of eating more meat has become a bit of a status symbol. This is a terrifying trend because as the global population increases and as the number of people eating meat increases, it will put an increasing strain on the production and lead to even more drastic climate change due to deforestation, waste runoff, and resource consumption,
So the best option if you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint or make a positive environmental choice, is to reduce your use and consumption of meat. This doesn’t have to be a dramatic change, and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. Try having a meatless Monday. Order a mediteranian pizza. Try some new curry dishes (they’ve got some unbelievable vegetarian meals!). Even switching from beef to chicken or chicken to fish is a step in the direction of lowering your carbon footprint.
Options for eating meat more sustainably.
Hunt. Hunting is probably not the first thing that we think about when considering how to be more sustainable. But it not only provides meat that is free of preservatives, antibiotics and additives, but hunting is also strictly regulated so that the balance of wildlife is not overturned. Because larger game like deer, elk, and moose do not have many natural predators, hunting can actually be used beneficially to ensure that certain areas are not overwhelmed by these populations. If you’re interested in obtaining a hunting license and tags, you can check out the 2020 Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations site or the Alberta Conservation Association site. However, if like me, you can’t quite build up the courage to shoot your own game, try finding other hunters and asking if they would be willing to sell or trade for some of their meat.
Purchase from local producers. This is a more sustainable method of consuming meat because it ensures that the meat doesn’t need to travel long distances and contribute to carbon emissions. You’ll also be able to see if the methods for raising and processing the animals are sustainable and ethical. The added advantage to buying local meat is that you can often talk to the owners of smaller operations, show your interest in supporting sustainable products, which can sometimes bring the matter to the forefront of their mind.
Purchase discounted, near expiry meats. There is nothing worse than such a huge amount of feed, water, time and fuel being poured into the production and transportation of meat and then to have it all go to waste when the meat spoils and is thrown away. So checking for near expiry meats or using the Flashfood app to purchase these meats is definitely a step towards being more sustainable. If you’re buying near expiry meats though, be careful and make sure to use or freeze the meat that you purchase before it goes bad.
Meat production is a huge contributor to climate change and global warming with its carbon emissions being equal to transportation. Even though it can feel hopeless and frustrating learning about how quickly the world is changing due to climate change, switching away from meat is a relatively easy change that you can make as an individual. And who knows, maybe sharing some of your vegetarian meals will inspire some other people to switch to these delicious vegetarian dishes!