May 5, 2019 7:30 pm Leave your thoughts
It’s easy to feel paralysed in the face of warnings about environmental change and catastrophe. If the world is doomed anyway, then does it really matter if we take another flight, leave a lamp on all night, or fail to recycle our broken toaster? What can the individual really achieve, faced with problems of drought, flooding, starvation and extinction on an epic scale? It’s not that most of us don’t want to help – it’s just that we can’t think of anything we can do that would make any difference.
Perhaps, though, feelings are starting to change. In recent months a series of weighty reports have not only outlined the problems facing mankind, but have come up with some definite, individual, achievable solutions too. We’re interested in them at Naturally Good Food because they’re almost all to do with food production and consumption. It turns out that saving the world might be just a little bit easier than we once thought. According to a growing group of scientists, researchers and activists, the answer to all of the earth’s woes is relatively simple: stop eating so much meat.
Some people have gone even further. Stop eating any meat, they say, so that humans can re-enter a brand-new Garden of Vegan. People on this side of the argument argue vociferously that only veganism will save the world: mockumentaries such as Cowspiracy make the case for abandoning all livestock farming and the use of all animal products. Others disagree – but nevertheless want the vegans on side. They’re in favour of us all moving to a more plant-based diet: becoming, in effect, flexitarians.
Let’s take a look at it all.
What’s wrong with the world?
In the autumn of 2018 our vague, nebulous fears around climate change took a rather more concrete form in the shape of data from various bodies. First, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a landmark report. This noted that a rise of more than 1.5°C in temperatures worldwide would risk the planet’s livability, but that this limit could be held, if there were rapid and significant alterations in behaviour across the world. Such alterations would include a worldwide shift towards plant-based diets.
Hot on its heels came the findings of a study on the global effects of food production and consumption, carried out by various scientists and published in the journal Nature. This study concurred with the IPCC: food production is a significant driver of climate change, is in large part to blame for increasing pollution, and accounts for excessive water use. With population and global income projected to grow up to 2050, continuation of the status quo will push our world beyond its ‘planetary boundaries’, outside of the ‘safe operating space for humanity on a stable Earth system.’ The proposed answer, once again, is to eat less meat.
Meat means heat?
Meat isn’t the sole culprit in food production, but it’s the factor behind most of the alarming statistics. Animals produce huge amounts of methane from their digestive systems – around 21% of all greenhouse gases – and decomposition of their manure also releases warming gases. Livestock farming seriously depletes water stocks: according to Friends of the Earth, it takes 15,455 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef, compared with 255 litres for a kilogram of potatoes.
To gain enough space to graze animals and grow their feedstuffs, deforestation is occurring on an enormous scale. If the land used to feed animals was instead transferred to feed humans directly, there would be a significant easing of the pressure on land.
Strong arguments have been put forward in favour of continuing with livestock farming, on nutritional, social and environmental grounds. Farming in smaller quantities, allowing for grazing, and reducing the use of fertilisers, chemicals and imported feeds, could all bring the environmental impact of livestock farming within sustainable boundaries, say scientists. But unless agricultural practices do alter significantly – and unless humans also begin to consume less meat – the reports agree that the future of existence on our planet will be at risk.
What’s the alternative?
The UK, in global terms, is a high-meat-consuming area. Meat consumption has, it appears, begun to decline in recent years, while veganism has grown rapidly. But vegans still represent just a fraction of the population, and most experts take the pragmatic view that meat-eaters are unlikely to be persuaded to give up animal products entirely in the near future. Instead, these experts are promoting a move to a ‘flexitarian’ diet – a diet that is mostly plant-based, but includes a small amount of animal products. According to the study in Nature, if the whole world moved to a flexitarian diet, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would be reduced by more than 50%.
Friends of the Earth have produced a great resource: Flexitarianism: the environmentally friendly diet, explaining it all.
Here’s an excerpt:
‘So what does being a flexitarian mean? Practically?
It’s a personal choice, but having a flexitarian diet could mean:
- Meat and dairy free before 6pm
- Meat free during the week: only eating meat at the weekends
- Using meat as a flavour, not the base of the meal
- Only eating meat dishes 3 times a week
- Eating more plant-based foods
- Eating better meat
- Wasting less food
- Eating more fresh food and less processed food
- Sourcing from known suppliers that have good standards.’
You might well be unconvinced by arguments about climate change and environmental catastrophe. You might even be virulently anti-vegan. But even if you are, eating less meat makes a great deal of sense on a personal level. Overconsumption of meat has been clearly linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, strokes and cancer. It’s a win-win situation: eating a flexitarian diet can help save yourself, even if you don’t feel able to save the planet!
Naturally Good Food and the flexitarian diet
We sell to meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans at Naturally Good Food, so flexitarians are naturally well-catered for by us. Here’s a quick look at what we stock that might help us all save the world.
- Pulses: we have one of the best ranges of beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas on the web. These are a fantastic source of nutrients, including fibre and protein.
- Rice and grains: if you’re eating a flexitarian diet, you’ll probably find that your ingredients work particularly well with rice and other grains. Grains can replace many of the nutrients of meat: quinoa, for example, is a ‘complete protein’, delivering all the essential amino acids.
- Nuts and seeds: these are great sources of protein, minerals and vitamins. We also sell an absolutely enormous array of nut and seed butters.
- Tinned fish: if you’re eating fish, make sure it’s sustainably fished. We stock the Fish4Ever range of tinned fish.
- Check out our dedicated vegan range too, including dairy-free milks and desserts, dietary supplements and all manner of alternatives to meat products.
Some people want to save the world, while some want only to save themselves. For once, these two urges aren’t in opposition to each other. The best way to do both, it seems – at one and the same time – is to go flexitarian. Fancy joining us?beans, chickpeas, climate change, Cowspiracy, dairy-free dessert, dairy-free milk, Fish4ever, flexitarian, Friends of the Earth, grains, IPCC, lentils, Nature, non-dairy dessert, non-dairy milk, nut butter, Nuts, peas, Pulses, quinoa, Rice, seed butter, Seeds, sustainable fish, Tinned Fish, vegan, vegan supplements, vegetarian
This post was written by Yzanne