The Meat Pie In The Sky

Can you remember a day when you didn’t hear about climate change? You would have to think back a long way or shut down access to media for a while. Let’s face it, climate change is not going anywhere. We’re bombarded with measures that mankind must undertake to save the future - build greener homes, install heat pumps, buy electric cars, invest more into renewable energy sources, ban fossil fuels from industrial and domestic use … I wholeheartedly support and agree with every single one of them. But! There is a catch: all the above are long-term projects. They can’t be implemented overnight, and the two dates we hear in the media – 2030 and 2050 – are not exactly around the corner, are they?

So, what if there was something that we could do today, now, to make our own impact? What if we could make a real difference that doesn’t change our life or lifestyle.

I am a born and bred child of Generation X. My parents weren’t rich, but they weren’t poor either. Typical middle class. And just like any middle-class family in the 70s, they would go to the butchers to get their weekly meat supply: a few sausages, a couple of pork chops, and a bit of beef on the bone for stew. What I witnessed in the years after, was a meat revolution: prices started tumbling while butchers were replaced by large, chilled supermarket displays and as much meat as you could shake a steak knife at.

What changed? Let us look at chicken, for instance. Today, it is totally ubiquitous, the meat that everybody wants (and can afford), but before the 1960s chicken used to be something that only the rich were able to buy, luxury meat. However, extensive breeding work during World War 2 brought forward new varieties that grew plump and ready to slaughter within 12 weeks without having to be farmed in the usual labour and time intensive circumstances. To put it into figures, this has resulted in almost 69,000,000,000 chickens slaughtered per year! Looking at the annual number of animals killed for human consumption makes me shudder: 72 billion in total, including 1.5 billion pigs and 300 million cattle.

Globally, we consume 350 million tons of meat a year, and the production has doubled since the late 1980s, and quadrupled since the mid-sixties. If this development continues, we will require a staggering 570 million tons by 2050. That seemingly unsatiable appetite for the big fry-up in the morning, the chicken salad for lunch and the steak for dinner has an astronomical impact on our environment, which I would like to put into figures for better understanding, and I am using as a verified and reliable source:

Meat production negatively impacts biodiversity as it is very resource-demanding and contributes to the extinction of species. According to the WWF, 60% of biodiversity is destroyed by meat-based diets. That ham sandwich contributes to the critical risk of extinction of almost 29% of all species.

Meat production requires fossil fuel. Over 8 litres of fuel are needed to produce one kilo of grain-fed beef.

Meat is highly water demanding. Especially beef which is amongst the most water intensive food products. Half of all water consumed in the USA is used to grow grain for cattle feed.

Water use for 1 kilogram of the product below:

  • Chocolate: 24,000 litres (ouch!)
  • Coffee beans: 21,000 litres
  • Beef: 15,500 litres
  • Sheep and goat meat: 8,800 litres
  • Pig meat: 6,000 litres
  • Cereals: 1,600 litres
  • Fruit: 1,000 litres
  • Vegetables: 300 litres

Globally, 2 trillion tons of water will have been used in meat production for the whole of 2021. Unless we learn to drastically reduce our water usage, we will run out of fresh water by 2040.

Meat is a very inefficient food source. One hectare of agricultural land can produce enough beef or lamb to feed one to two persons in one year. Opposed to that, one hectare of rice or potato crop land can feed between 19 and 22 people in one year.

And that, of course, means that meat consumption contributes to our global food crisis. Get this: almost HALF OF OUR WORLD’S HARVEST is fed to animals! According to the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (ADHB), the UK produced over 2 million tons of cereals in just July and August this year to feed animals that eventually end up on our plates. You may also have heard of rain forests being burned down around the world to make space for soybean fields? 90% of that soy harvest is turned into animal feed. If we don’t turn this course around and fast, we will run out of food in 28 years.

Meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production, the Guardian found in September this year. Scientists predict that food related greenhouse gas emissions will have reached 11.4 gigatons of CO₂ by 2050 – and meat will contribute to two thirds of these emissions.

So, is it time to stop chasing the meat pie in the sky? These figures should urge us to respond with a very resounding YES. On average, we eat 372 grams of meat (or the equivalent of 3.3 Quarter Pounders) per day in the UK alone. If we can’t bring ourselves to abstain from meat altogether, is it necessary to eat that much? With countless delicious meat substitutes, from no-chicken pieces to no-meat sausages and no-meat mince to an ever-growing number of plant-based meal alternatives, putting that into perspective, it is actually a delicious addition to our lifestyle more than a sacrifice. We must leave a better world to the generations that follow, and changing our diet has an immediate impact on our environment.

P.S: Despite the fact that we are heading for a food crisis (and the food industry playing a major part in climate change), we still waste almost 50% of the foods we buy. Let’s all do our meal planning more responsibly.

P.P.S: If we all had the meat appetite of the average American, there would only be enough food to feed 2.5 billion people.

Gérard Fabrice Guminski

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