Food. So much of our lives and daily routines revolve around eating. In recent years, there has been a huge shift towards organically grown fruit and vegetables and the health food industry has exploded. However, there is still a significant lack of consumer awareness around where our food comes from and the impact of food production on our environment. As part of the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle over the last few years, my approach to food is probably where I have made the biggest change.
Everything changed for me when I watched Cowspiracy (yes, I'm one of them). For years I had been calling myself an environmentalist, but had no idea about the environmental impact of animal agriculture. For then on, I vowed to dramatically reduce my meat and dairy consumption. After that, I watched more documentaries which opened my eyes to the many other issues surrounding our food system, which further cemented my new approach to eating.
I should make it clear that I am not 100% vegan. I lie somewhere between vegetarian and vegan, and to be honest prefer not to use either label. I have heard some other terms such as Flexitarian or Climatarian, which probably fit me better. Basically, I am very conscious of what I eat, where it came from and what impact it had on the planet in order to get onto my plate.
I’m also not here to argue that we should all be vegan and I won’t dispute the fact that meat has played a huge role in the evolution of humans. But as far as I’m concerned, eating consciously is about being aware of the information available to us now, based on our present-day situation and making food choices accordingly. If we know that industrial production of beef is bad for the planet, it is up to us to cut our consumption of beef drastically. If we know our oceans will potentially be dead by 2050, it is up to us to stop demanding so much fish. Our climate is at stake.
Meat - The hidden culprit of climate change
Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water, resulting in disastrous consequences for our environment and climate. Here are some quick facts to give you an idea of how raising livestock for our consumption impacts the environment:
Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust emissions from all forms of transportation.
2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted.
Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
Eating more consciously is about acknowledging that in tackling global climate change, reducing your meat consumption is a vital step in reducing our global carbon footprint. Not only that, it's acknowledging that demand for animal based products is diverting precious to produce farmed animals instead of feeding the estimated more than 700 million people that are malnourished in the world.
Health - The protein myth
There are a host of health benefits associated with mainly plant-based diets. One of the main objections to vegetarian and vegan diets is a perceived lack of protein. Firstly, the heavily marketed idea that we require copious amounts of protein to perform well and in particular, to build muscle, is a myth. Humans simply do not need that much protein - in fact, too much protein can actually lead to health problems. Secondly, the idea that you can only get this essential protein from meat and dairy, is also a myth. This article tackles both these issues in detail, so I won’t try to do a better job here. However, the main point is marketers have done a very good job at convincing you that you need loads of protein and it must come from meat and dairy. Eating more consciously is about challenging these deeply held beliefs and trying to see past food marketing tactics. It has also been widely accepted that there is a link between red and processed meat consumption and cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
Ethics - Double standards
I know so many people who absolutely love cats and dogs, and are outraged at the latest news about a mistreated dolphin, yet they are happy to eat meat and dairy and not question how it has been raised. Cows have the intelligence level of a toddler, and do experience distress when their calves are taken from them shortly after birth as part of dairy farming. While of course there are some amazing farmers who treat their livestock extremely well, there are still huge issues surrounding mistreatment in factory style farms and live export throughout the world. Eating more consciously is about acknowledging we are not somehow superior to other mammals, and respecting all living things. (Or alternatively, it’s about acknowledging that if you love meat, you have no problem with eating all animals). It's about making a switch to animal products which you know have been produced locally, and raised ethically.
There is so much more I could say about the issues surrounding our global food system, marketing tactics, industry lobbying and more, but that will have to be explored in later, individual posts. For now, I'll finish with some of the benefits I have experienced since adopting a more climate-conscious diet, which might encourage you to do the same.
You become part of the solution to global climate change
A widespread switch to vegetarianism would cut CO2 emissions by nearly two-thirds. If we want to curb global climate change, somethings gotta give, and reducing meat consumption is easier than, for example, giving up flying.
Your attitude to food and cooking shifts
I love trying out new vegan or vegetarian recipes (Pinterest is your friend when starting out!). Yes it is more effort, but it makes you appreciate food so much more and I have found it so enjoyable getting really into cooking. You start to learn the benefits of each food type, how and when it grows and appreciate the hard work of our farmers.
You feel healthier
I am the healthiest I have ever been. In particular, I saw a huge difference in my digestive health after reducing my dairy consumption, as most people do not react too well to dairy. I frequently get my bloods tested and I don’t have a deficiency in any of the nutrients typically associated with vegetarian and vegan diets.
Still not convinced?
Here are some documentaries I recommend watching that might change your mind: