A Global Catastrophe
Global livestock production extracts a high environmental cost. Livestock rearing uses about 70% of all available agricultural land, and about 30% of the global human water supply. Huge areas of land are given over to growing crops used almost exclusively for animal feed (97% of global soy meal production is used for animal feed). To produce a single kilogram of intensively reared beef requires approximately 10 kg of feed and 15,000 litres of water, and this single kilogram of beef produces as much pollution as driving for 3 hours.
The land required to house and feed all these animals is also vast - land for grazing covers more than a quarter of the planet’s available ice free surface. In countries like Brazil, vast swathes of tropical forest have been cleared to provide pasture to graze cattle on; a terrible loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat. Brazilian beef accounts for about 5% of all beef consumed in the UK.
The conversion of forested land to pasture or crops for animal feed releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. In addition, the pesticides and fertilisers used to grow the feed crops pollute soil and ground water. Much of the soy grown in Latin America for livestock feed is destined for intensive livestock farms in Europe and the United States. Our desire for cheap meat is fuelling enormous environmental destruction.
High meat consumption – especially of red and processed meat – typical of most rich industrialised countries is linked with poor health outcomes, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.
Currently, the average meat intake for someone living in a high-income country is 200-250g a day, far higher than the 80-90g recommended by the United Nations. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to 8m lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to US$1.5 trillion.
You can help
The biggest way to help is simply to eat less meat.
Here are some suggestions to ease your way into a meat free diet.
1. Have Good Reasons
You’ll need a bit of motivation to reduce your meat consumption, so first think about what really matters to you and really believe in it. Once you’re motivated, the rest is easy.
2. At first, don’t try to “never eat meat again”
You don’t have to give up meat all in one go. Start by cutting out meat for just one day a week - try a "Meat Free Monday". Once you're happy, you can try removing red meat from your diet. Try that for a week or two. Then move on to giving up pork. Then transition to chicken and turkey. Many of your favourite meat recipes come in vegetarian versions allowing you to gradually transition away from meat.
3. Plan for each phase
Set yourself a goal at each stage. If you’re giving up red meat this week, make sure there is no red meat in the house, and replace it with chicken/turkey or a vegetarian alternative. Plan your meals for the week, and gradually start to substitute meat with vegetarian alternatives. There is no rush! Start with substituting one meat meal a week and work your way up.
4. Make vegetarian versions of your favourite meals
Simply replace the meat in your favourite meals with a vegetarian alternative. Substitute vegetarian sausages for meat ones; vegetarian pizza for meat pizza; baked potatoes with beans and cheese instead of chilli or bacon; and use quorn as a substitute for chicken in stir fries – the possibilities are endless.
5. Think about your staples
A useful exercise is to make a list of foods you regularly eat, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts and snacks. Not meals, but ingredients. Then think about vegetarian alternatives, and make a new list. For example, replace chicken with tofu. As you may be removing a protein source from your diet, make sure you don’t just replace it with starchy carbohydrates. Keep your diet balanced and healthy.
6. Explore the amazing variety of Ethnic foods
One of the great things about becoming a vegetarian is that it spurs people to try new and interesting ethnic foods. Great vegetarian dishes can be found all over the world. You can do a series of country themed weeks, trying vegetarian dishes from a certain country each week.
7. Have fun.
Most of all, don’t make eating less meat a restrictive, gruelling ordeal. If you feel like you’re depriving yourself, you won’t last long. But if you feel like you’re doing something good, and trying out some great-tasting food, you’ll stick with it for much longer (for life, I hope). Have a great time along the way.
You can download these information sheets to find out more: