Global Climates are changing. Each day is bringing something new; the recent heat wave amidst the middle of February was a surprise. No one predicted that one. Coupled with the confusion amongst recent UK politics it seems unlikely that policy will ever see eye to eye with global climate change. It can make one feel powerless and helpless in the face of it. But I’m not here to bore you with facts about global warming, moan about the chaos within UK government or preach to you about the benefits of being vegetarian – I eat meat – I simply ask: what can you as an individual do in the face of a rapidly changing world to try and make a difference? By changing your diet and reducing the number of meals that incorporate meat per week, you can have some perks.
Animal agriculture accounts for a large percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions, these are the gases that are effectively heating up our planet – e.g. CO₂ and Methane. By reducing your meat intake per week, you can reduce greenhouse gas emission quite dramatically, but not in the way you might think. A common misconception is that the greenhouse gases come directly out of a cow’s backside and although this is somewhat true, deforestation is, in fact, the key issue. Extensive areas of forested land have been, and are being, removed to create space for farming livestock and this realises tonnes of CO₂ and other gases back into the earth’s atmosphere. This is mainly happening in and around South America and Brazil. Obviously, the emissions created by the livestock themselves also have a part to play and this is particularly prolific in ruminants or cows as they are more commonly known. They have bacteria in their guts that helps them digest their food, but this also produces methane (amongst other gases), eek!
Take a cheese burger for example. 84% of the total emissions produced to make it come from the production of the beef alone – that’s over 3 quarters! The transport and cooking of the burger creates 6% of the total emissions and the final 10%, accounts for the cheese, bun, salad and condiments. Madness. Put simply, removing meat from your diet will actively prevent these gas emissions from entering the atmosphere. However, it is important to consider the quantities of the types of food you eat. Although meat production procures around 50 times more CO2 than cereal and vegetable production you are more likely to be eating more of these in your diet anyway.
Some meats are “better” than others, and by that, I mean that a chicken, for example, is much better at converting the food we feed it into something we would eat. A cow, however, isn’t as good at doing this – in fact, it is the worst at doing it. By buying locally sourced fresh meat you will remove the emissions from the transport and processing of the meat production. So by being savvy about what meat you buy, you could help reduce the effects of livestock agriculture on the growing global emissions.
We live in a society where we pretty much have unlimited access to any food we want. And this obviously comes with its perks – want a beef burger after a night out, easy! However, it is important to consider the fact that although much of our meat is, in fact, UK or EU produced, the food in which we feed them might not be so close to home. Most of the food we produce for our livestock could be used to feed the billions of humans across the globe. Moreover, the UK alone wastes 1.9 billion tonnes of food every year! Think about all the energy that is wasted to produce food that is never going to be used. You could give up all kinds of food, like meat, but it almost wouldn’t matter if we are going to continue to waste food in the amounts we do right now.
In November last year, Waitrose found that an eighth of Britons are now vegetarian or vegan and many now claim to be “flexitarian”. This means that they eat a largely vegetable-based diet with small supplements of meat. Either way, it is obvious that people in the UK are actively cutting down their meat consumption. This is great! However, we have more power as consumers than we think and by making a few small changes to the way we source, use and understand our food, we can have a very large positive impact on our planet.
Reconsider where you buy your meats. The habit of the consumer will have the greatest effects on global policy.
Reduce meat intake to a healthy level.
Don’t waste your food.
If you want to go vegetarian, make sure you are eating enough of the correct foods to sustain a healthy balanced diet – Margarita pizza every night isn’t going to cut it.