What about it? It should hardly come as a shock when I say that vegetarians and vegans are often dismissed by meat-eaters for being too preachy. Whilst neither side is completely guilty, nor completely innocent, something does need to be said about how meat-free activism could help save the planet. Some companies, like PETA, have off-putting advertisements and campaigns that are easy to ignore because of the in-your-face judgement and blatant lies (see: PETA’s anti-wool campaign posters). I have to say that as a vegan myself, I hate that PETA think of themselves as the face to our cause, because I, and most of the meat-free community, disagree with their actions.
However, that isn’t to say that meat consumption should be guilt free. Global animal agriculture contributes more to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector. Methane, famous for being high in concentration in cow farts, has a warming potential that is significantly higher than that of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), despite the latter being more commonly referred to in climate campaigns. On the topic of CO2, a 2014 study found that if all land used for ruminant agriculture were converted into natural vegetation, not only would methane production decrease significantly but global carbon sequestration (the process by which carbon is removed from the atmosphere by biota in ecosystems) could increase somewhere between 30 and 470% in a few decades alone. It is unrealistic, however, to assume that all land could either be converted back into natural vegetation, or used for plant based agriculture.
I once had a discussion with a pair of organic farmers I was serving in a restaurant, who told me outright that cutting down on animal agriculture wouldn’t be beneficial because the land would not be suitable for plant based agriculture. They weren’t wrong in saying this, but they had overlooked the fact that were global animal agriculture to decline by any significant amount, the amount of land used for crop growth would decline readily also. More of the mass of crop growth worldwide is used to produce meat than is used to feed people. More than 1kg of soy is used to produce 1kg of beef, so in theory if we were to cut out the middle man (or the middle cow) in the food chain we could use 1kg of soy growth to feed one human exactly 1kg of soy.
When it comes down to decreasing meat intake, it does seem that people can be less than enthusiastic. Again it is hardly shocking that in a 2012 study, climate change sceptics were twice as likely to reject the idea of even a once a week meat-free meal change in their diet, compared with climate change believers who, as they became progressively less sceptical were 50% more likely to adopt a single meat-free meal diet. The idea then of campaigning for a meat-free meal diet came under scrutiny as it was thought likely to further dissuade those with sceptical responses to global warming. More recent studies suggest that it needs to become the responsibility of several highly recognised groups of NGO’s, actors, celebrity chefs, home economics teachers and politicians to endorse the replacement of meat based proteins with plant based alternatives, if only occasionally, to the wider public.
There are always going to be people that oppose being told to change aspects of their lifestyle, however minor. Some of the most commonly seen responses are as follows:
“One person can’t make a difference so what’s the point?”. To which I would respond in kind that if fewer people held this view, more people would be contributing to making a difference. At the same time, one person can make all the difference, as foregoing one beef burger can save as much water as not showering for a month. I definitely know which of these options sounds more appealing to me.
“You can’t just tell people what to eat, it’s their choice”. A sentiment I entirely agree with, my diet is my own personal choice and others should be too. But again it isn’t entirely true. The Chinese government have historically released dietary measures to their citizens every decade in attempts to improve national health. The latest measures released this year advised the public to cut its meat consumption by as much as 50%! Although the advice is primarily meant for public health needs, it has been encouraged by climate campaigners who believe that a 50% decline in 1.3billion (estimated current Chinese population) citizens’ meat consumption could yield a 1billion ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In the past 34 years the average Chinese citizen’s meat consumption has increased by 50kg per year, meaning China currently consumes 28% of the world’s meat. Cutting this in half could mean a whopping 14% decline in global meat consumption, and could potentially inspire other countries to follow suit.
The next time someone tells you they are meat-free it should not come as a surprise why. “But what about bacon?”; to which I once again reply: what about it?
Think vegan posters: made by Harriet Baber
1. de Boer, J., Schösler, H. & Boersema, J.J. (2013). Climate change and meat eating: an inconvenient couple? Journal of Environmental Psychology
2. Jallinoja, P., Niva, M. & Latvala, T. (2015). Future of sustainable eating? Examining the potential for expanding bean eating in a meat-eating culture. Futures
3. Ripple, W. J., Smith, P., Haberl, H., Montzka, S. A., McAlpine, C., & Boucher, D. H. (2014). Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. Nature Climate Change
4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/20/chinas-meat-consumption-climate-change 5. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/china_aims_to_halve_meat_eating_20160627