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New Year Solutions: Meat

January 2019 by Georgia Gage

We are writing a review of Jo Fidgen’s podcast on BBC 4 of New Year Solutions in which Joe “tackles the ways in which ordinary people can make a difference”. Episode 1 tackles meat and you can listen to it here.

As a piddly individual on earth, the best thing you can do for the planet is to give up meat. Or at least, eat less of it.

Carbon footprint expert, Mike Burners-Lee (Author of How Bad Are Bananas) says you can get the same amount of protein from plants (pulses, beans and grains) for about a 50th of the carbon footprint of a burger.

Carbon footprint, a term we hear a lot. Are we entirely sure what it means?

A Carbon Footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) that is released into the atmosphere as a result of our activities. These can be measured by individuals, organisations, products or countries.

Let’s take your standard supermarket burger, how did it get from a cow to your Saturday-night dinner? Maybe the cow lives in America (a lot of cows do), it must grow and be fed, watered and medicated and have some land to roam around in. It must be killed and the meat processed and packaged. It must be chilled and transported by freight to the UK where it is driven to the supermarket where you then pop it into your trolley and take it home (most likely in a car), before cooking it. Every step of this journey impacts the environment and produces greenhouse gas emissions. The sum of these emissions equates to the carbon footprint of that burger. If you eat that burger, the carbon footprint from field-to-plate is added to your carbon footprint.

Now that we have an understanding of the carbon footprint of meat, we can compare it to the carbon footprint of plants.

“40% of the Earth’s land is taken up by producing animal products,” said Joseph Poore (Researcher at Oxford University). This includes growing plants to feed the animals, which combined, takes up 83% of the world’s farmland whilst meat and dairy only provide 18% of the world’s calories [1].

Sadly dairy is not excluded from this barrage of horrible statistics. Dairy is just as detrimental to the environment as meat. 10,20 litres of water go into making 1 litre of milk and it takes 10 litres of milk to make 1kg of cheese [2]. That is a lot of water for your cheese and chutney sandwich. Cows have a larger carbon footprint than pigs and sheep because cows are bigger so require more resources. In addition, cows burp and fart. A lot. Their wind (back and front) consists mostly of methane which is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide; it traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period [3].

If the entire planet became vegetarian, we could reduce the amount of land we need to feed everyone by 80%. This means 3.1 billion hectares of spare land, this is the size of USA, Europe, China and Australia combined! This spare land could be left wild or reforested and would absorb carbon from the atmosphere; a carbon sink. It would provide homes for wildlife and animals; 13,000 species are nearing extinction due to farming. We would feed more people and end world hunger.

So really, there are very few reasons not to become vegetarian or indeed, vegan.

But cheese is so delicious!?

Yes, cheese is delicious. There are several tasty milk alternatives on the market, vegan cheese is still…finding its feet a little. However, there are some promising emerging brands. We recommend giving Walnut Gatherer cheeses a try!

This race against climate change is not about becoming extremists. Baby steps are in order, degrees of change is what will edge us towards a new and sustainable normal. If you can simply reduce the amount of meat and dairy you eat, (not cut out completely) this is a brilliant first step.

How about starting with meat-free Monday? Soya or oat milk? Treat meat and dairy as a luxury item, a special treat for Sunday roast. If anything, you’ll save money and probably increase the health of your diet. There are several protein-rich alternatives, include pulses, beans and grains in your diet. Swap the beef burger for the bean burger.

Check out our blog post on Veganuary! Some of our team are going vegan for January and sharing some of their ideas and recipes as they go.

This blog post is a review of Joe Fidgen’s podcast, New Year Solutions which you can listen to on the BBC Sounds app or follow this link.


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