As some of you already know, over Lent I tried to give up meat. This came about mainly due to the Water Resources and Development module I’m currently taking, where I learnt that excessive meat consumption is a predominant reason as to why we are currently suffering a global water crisis (in case you didn’t know, there’s a global water crisis; we’re running out of water). Fun fact: it takes 15000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef, ten times more than to produce a kilogram of wheat.
Unfortunately, my meatless Lent was thwarted halfway through because of the consecutive dodgy-ness of a quorn sausage panini and a veggie burger that made me both ill and indignant towards vegetarian meat substitutes. I blamed an aversion to quorn for my failure and celebrated by buying a pack of mince and a chicken pizza from pizza express (not quite simultaneously). This was a rash decision, and though I was glad to return to an omnivorous state, it didn’t do much to help the planet at all.
I spent this weekend in Oxford where, somewhat coincidentally, I learnt about food-related issues from a few different people. Firstly, I made a friend on the 5 hour megabus journey who taught me a lot about his vegan lifestyle. He said: ‘I’m a vegan because if it is possible for someone to reduce their contribution to the suffering and abuse of animals in any capacity, then they have a moral obligation to do so.’ He also taught me the best way to cook tofu and we debated at length whether cats or dogs were better pets (dogs, people, come on).
The truth is that current meat production is unsustainable, and more often than not, is incredibly inhumane. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the increasing amount of Halal meat being used by food chains, which people seem to be strongly opposing because they class the method of slaughter ‘inhumane’. Halal practice means that a prayer is spoken over the animal before being slaughtered by swiftly severing the carotid artery, jugular vein and windpipe and allowing the blood to drain out. Contrary to popular belief, a recent study suggests that in 88% of these cases, the animals are stunned first. Having practiced this method for many years, many Muslims believe this to be a humane way of killing an animal.
What’s interesting is that a study conducted at Hanover University in Germany, named ‘Attempts to Objectify Pain and Consciousness in Conventional (captive bolt pistol stunning) and Ritual (knife) Methods of Slaughtering Sheep and Calves’, attempted to find out and compare the pain that animals actually feel in both conventional and ritual methods of slaughter. I couldn’t find a proper explanation of the study online, but I did find this informal answer that summarized the results. The findings seemed to show that while ritual slaughter resulted in convulsions due to a reflex response from the spinal chord, the animal appeared not to feel any pain from the cut itself, and three seconds after the initial cut had reached a state of deep unconsciousness. Though it looks from the outside that the animal is writhing in agony, the brain is apparently not recording any sensory messages. Conversely, the western ‘bolt pistol’ method, where the animal is shot in the head with an electric steel bolt to induce unconsciousness, registered severe pain after the initial stun as the animal suffers a cardiac arrest. However, the animal is unable to move which make it easier for them to be hoisted up onto shackles and killed with a stab to the neck or heart.
Obviously, one study is not insurmountable evidence to prove that one method is less humane than the other. What is far more overwhelming is the evidence displaying the undeniable and shocking cruelty of the meat and dairy industry as a whole. This video is graphic, but you need to watch it before you can make any claims about whether or not the animals that you eat have suffered. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO.
That was not cheery so here is a picture of a happy goat to cheer you up (BUT NOT MAKE YOU FORGET):
In our Western culture, we have been brought up believing that meat is a necessity in our diet as our only source of protein. This is simply not true, and a predominantly meat based diet is actually much worse for us than a vegetarian or vegan diet. It has been consistently linked with heart disease, cancer and high cholesterol.
Moreover, the rapidly escalating demand for meat (it grew five-fold in the last 50 years) means that more rainforests are being cleared for cattle ranches, wiping out the last remaining natural environments on our Earth. Over 70% of the Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed. SEVENTY PERCENT. THAT IS TOO MUCH.
Livestock also contribute more to global warming than the entire transportation sector, because animal protein production releases far more carbon dioxide than plant protein production due to the growth and transport of animal feed grain, the energy used to operate the farms and slaughterhouses and the process and storage of flesh. The animals also produce methane which is 23 times more effective at trapping heat inside the atmosphere than CO2. If you take the fact that 10 billion livestock animals are slaughtered in America every year, that is an awful lot of CO2 and methane being produced that contributes considerably to global warming and climate change. Plus, if America is able to supply 10 billion animals with the grain that they need to be well fed, why are there over a billion people going hungry all over the world?
Here are some quick fire facts:
- A third of global grain production is fed to animals in developed countries.
- It takes about 10 kilograms of good quality plant protein, such as wheat or soya, to produce 1 kilogram of meat protein.
- The amount of vegetable protein fed to cows in America could feed almost the entire populations of India and China.
- If everyone on the planet was vegetarian, we would already produce enough food to feed over a planet’s worth of people. However, if everyone on the planet conformed to an American meat-based diet, not even half of the global population could be fed.
- It is estimated that 40 million tonnes of grain would be needed to end world hunger, yet 540 million tonnes of grain are already fed to animals in the West.
In Oxford I also went to see a debate on food security, where one man was fighting for the reduction of food waste whilst the other was backing the building of super-scale farms to produce enough food to feed the projected 9 billion people by 2050. I’ll discuss this talk more in another post, but what both parties agreed on was the rising demand for meat as developing countries follow Western patterns in their meat consumption levels. Instead of feeding starving people, we are feeding animals to feed rich people. The super-scale farm man (who seemed far more focused on economic profit than humanitarian ethics) stated ‘who are we to tell people how much meat to eat?’
When you are presented with the reality of it, our meat and dairy consumption is unjustifiable. There is no need for us to eat meat at all, let alone for it to form the basis of our diet. Obviously, you can’t force people not to eat meat. However, when you look the benefits that could be reaped from at least reducing global meat production – better health, less animal abuse, lower CO2 emissions, more rainforests – it seems like the obvious choice. We have grown up seeing our supermarket shelves packed with faceless meat, and have never been properly taught where it came from or why we eat it, because the answers are far less than satisfactory. We are so disconnected from the food that we are eating that it is easy to disregard stories about animal cruelty in production farms and slaughterhouses and push this grim truth to the back of our minds. As consumers however, we are in a position to change our choices. A vegetarian planet would be a happier and healthier planet. It is estimated that one vegan saves almost 200 animals a year.
I’m definitely going to try my hardest to make this transition, which I don’t think will actually be very hard considering my Aldi shop today has filled my cupboards with about a trillion fresh vegetables (+ granola, obviously). So, I encourage you to think about what your eating, and about the positive changes that you can make, right from where you’re sitting now. (For the love of all that is sacred, at least buy free range you heartless bastards).
GOOD LUCK! And lots of love, Megsy x