“Hippie vegan shit,” is a phrase you may well have heard me use to describe food. Tongue in cheek, but certainly meant to poke fun at a way of life that I, for the most part, have failed to understand. My religion forbids it; the animals are treated badly; the environment. The first two reasons simply don’t resonate with me, but the third gives me pause. The environment, what does that mean?
I first heard about environmental vegetarianism in 2014, whilst on a date with Alexa at the Farmer’s Market in Wellington. I’ll be honest here, it had never even occurred to me that what I ate contributed to my carbon footprint. I drove a small car, recycled, and turned lights off. That’s what it’s all about, right? I pondered it a little, and settled somewhere around the point that most people get to – I love meat too much, I could never give it up. Still, I was interested, so I read a book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollen. I was shocked by some hard facts, and decided that I would attempt to eat less meat. It was like taking shorter showers.
April 2015, India, land of the veg. It wasn’t long after arriving in India that I noted it was more difficult to be a meat eater than it was to be vegetarian. What a wonderful opportunity, I thought, to experience vegetarianism for a month. It was tasty, it was glorious, it was some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life. And it was meat-free.
Fast forward to now, almost a year on. I have been mostly vegetarian for a lot of that year, barring some times when it is simply too inconvenient (like staying with family members). I normally refer to myself as a flexitarian, allowing myself to eat meat on occasion (read: whenever I want), and would say that I eat meat on average one (or two..) times per week. The staples in my diet are coffee, eggs, lentils, high-protein tofu, cheese, and protein-enriched milk. My biggest fear going in was that I wouldn’t get enough protein, but I’m easily eating the same amount of protein as if I were on a meat-based diet eating for mad gains.
Alexa and I both used to think that what we did was our business, and that inconveniencing, or making people uncomfortable (dinner invitations, splitting pizza, restaurant choices) was not worth pushing our meatless agenda. The more I thought about this, the less I agreed with that choice. Being a self-proclaimed realist, I am well aware of the impact my vegetarianism alone has on the meat industry: none. Therefore, suffering in silence is not only a meatless act, but a fruitless one too.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Before you stop reading, let me just say that I’m not trying to convert you, I simply want you to be informed, or better yet, enlightened.
The evidence of climate change is not new. If you’re still a non-believer, then you likely haven’t been exposed to the myriad of information (more commonly referred to as scientific research) that now supports the theory. There is no longer any doubt, except inside The G.O.P., that human-induced climate change is reality. Furthermore, increasing evidence suggests that the rate of change is increasing dramatically, and it’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realise.
In 1950, the world had 2.5 billion people; and in 2005, the world had 6.5 billion people. It is projected that by 2050 the human population will be over 9 billion people. The world is growing, fast, and as the human population grows, the demand for meat is accelerating. The vast majority of this projected growth is from the developing world, whose appetite for meat has been growing not just from sheer increase in number, but by increase in wealth. As nations enter times of prosperity, their desire to consume a Western (read: wealthy) style diet increases. It is estimated that since 1970 over 20% of the Amazon Rainforest has been cleared, the majority of which has been for cattle grazing. The Amazon Rainforest is over 55 million years old, thought to contain 2.5m insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and over 2,000 birds and mammals. One in ten known species in the world calls the Amazon home. I recently watched a David Attenborough documentary called Frozen Planet, which documented the millions of animals that hunt and reproduce each year on and around the polar regions. It makes me sad to think of the polar bears one day not being able to find the sea ice.
Depending on who you believe, industrial agriculture accounts for somewhere between 10 and 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The differing in opinion is due to the types of data that are included in the number. Animal-produced gases (farting, waste), transportation costs, feed production, and refrigeration should realistically all be included; I believe the number more likely to be about 30%. Of that 30%, meat is estimated to contribute 70-90%. This means that if the planet were to become vegetarian, overnight greenhouse emissions could be cut by 25% or more. Oh yeah, and we’d also be able to feed another billion people or so.
So if you’re with me thus far, we’re theorising that we can cut emissions by 25% by eating no meat, or for arguments sake, 15% by eating less meat. In my mind that’s a lot easier than not driving your car, or not climate controlling your house.
You may have heard of a movement called Meatless Mondays. Alexa wrote a new year post on her blog about the benefits of of it. It’s a great concept, whose purpose is to raise awareness, whilst introducing people to the idea of meat-free meals. Despite the numerous benefits a global Meatless Monday would provide, adoption of this ideal, at least in my circles, seems to be quite low. I find this to be quite surprising. Is it really so difficult to forgo meat for a single day each week? Would you truly still choose to eat the steak that day, rather than help to save entire species from extinction or prevent entire countries from submersion? I dismiss these questions as rhetorical, until I remember that Trump has amassed over 7.5m votes in the current primary race; yet another bemusing fact.
Despite what you might think after reading this post, I’m not trying to turn you into a vegetarian. Nor am I saying that vegetarianism is the only way to solve our planetary predicament of climatic degradation. What I am aiming to do here is turn you into an informed consumer, one who is aware that her choice of meal adds to her carbon footprint. Now that you know this conversation is taking place, the next time you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed you might look twice at a factory farming article, or a vegetarian meatball recipe. As one person, it may seem like what you do has very little impact on the world as a whole. But if we really all thought like that then New Zealand would be changing its national flag. Just like democracy, you can have a say when it comes to the future of the planet we all call home; I’m just asking you to vote with your fork.
My past WordPress statistics tell me that at most one or two people (Bede seems the likely culprit) will click the links I’ve posted above. I completely understand, but wanted to include them anyway. If you’re interested in a specific topic I’d be happy to send some personalised links your way. I can also recommend some excellent movies you can watch, or books you can read on these topics. And of course you can hit me up for recipes, my Rogan Jono is pretty fucking legit these days.