We can all make environmental decisions about the food we eat, and lets face it, this may be the simplest way in which someone living in an urban landscape can make positive environmental decisions on a day to day basis. It does not require any specialised equipment, or technical knowledge, but rather some patience- and maybe a little sacrifice- in order to understand and research how our food choices impact on the environment.
So what can we do? Easy… Eat less Beef (or meat in general but especially beef). I myself have stopped eating beef (and pork..but for a different reason) for several years now for this exact reason… do i miss it? no not all, however it must be said that i do eat meat in the form of chicken and lamb which i do acknowledge does hold its own issues for the environment, so i am hardly the environmental poster boy, but my reasoning is that these small changes are better than none, and any reduction in eating beef would be positive, and may spark bigger changes and bigger commitments to positive environmental lifestyle choices in the future.
So now let me explain it it simply….The worlds cattle industry contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the worlds combined transportation, and is second only to the energy industry. There are several ways in which cattle are a poor choice for the environment..
The methane (otherwise know as cow farts) they produce is 20 more times more powerful than carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change and the acidification of the oceans as well as a plethora of other side effects. It is estimated that 18% of greenhouse gases are attributed to livestock production with a large majority from cattle.
As the demand for beef increases the amount of grazing land required also increases with estimates putting the current livestock agricultural use at 30% of the earths land with this expected to double in the near future. This leads to increased land clearing, destruction of forests and general land degradation. The destruction of forests contributes an astronomical amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It also decreases and impacts biodiversity, as the home of certain organisms are destroyed at the expense of more grazing land. There is also the noted occurrence of desertification which happens when cattle over graze the land and prevent grasses and other plants from growing, and essentially the land turns into a desert and can be difficult to recover from.
Feeding these animals then becomes another problem as often he land is unable to support the large numbers of livestock which are raised on it. As such livestock is fed by corn, which creates large numbers of farms dedicated to maize. This type of monoculture (the production of one type of product from a farm) drains the earth of nutrients and leads to petrochemical fertilisers which are themselves bad for the environment ( i will definitely have to do another blog on this particular issue). This destroys the local ecosystems as the local organisms of animals often require more than one type to plant to survive for example bees. Cattle also requires large amounts of water and is regarded as highly water intensive. This can cause environmental proves as water is diverted to the production of cattle at the expense of local plants and animals and their ecosystems which rely on this water to survive.
So we can see how the livestock/cattle industry impacts on the environment. So now what are our options?
As mentioned above- either stop eating beef or meat or cut down on your consumption. For most people this is unrealistic and somewhat unnecessary if you make conscious meat eating decisions. Cut down on meat and especially beef consumption. Not only will these reduce the impact on the environment, but also likely to increase health benefits (as humans consumption of beef is on average above the suggested weekly intake).
Choose local meat from local farmers where you can. This reduces the transportation of meat and reduces greenhouse gases further. This can be done by buying at local farmers markets. From experience i know this can be done no matter where you live. Farmers markets were easily accessible in Sydney, Melbourne, and in London. I have a farmers market literally 5 minute walk from my place and i live in zone 2 (close to central London). Yes, the cost is more than a bulk buy steak in either coles or tescos, but if you cut down your consumption i am sure you make the costs even out. Don’t be scared to ask questions about the meat your buying if you are unsure where it comes from- your a paying customer, you deserve to know.
Choose organic meat when possible. Although the phenomena of intensive feed lots (form of intensive cattle production which is a highly destructive form of farming) are not common place in the UK or Australia as they are in the USA, it is still important to be aware of the quality of the meat you are eating, particularly if you are purchasing frozen meat where the meat may have come from overseas.
Eat sustainable meats- sustainable meats are those that have minimal impacts on the environment and do not require large amounts of human input. In Australia it is possible to eat kangaroo. kangaroo is not farmed and is often culled due to the high numbers. It is also a native animal which means that it lives in harmony with the environment and its existence is not detrimental to the local environment. Obviously care is needed as you do not want to put any animals existence at risk through overconsumption, however in Australia this is a good alternative to farmed beef. Similarly eating wild invasive species is also a good alternative. Again in Australia there are several introduced species that are causing havoc with our environments and local ecosystems. These include camels, buffalo, wild pigs and rabbits. Make an effort to source butchers that kill invasive species, this way you are assisting the eradication of these animals from the local environment, however ensure that they are wild and not farmed as this would defeat the purpose. Research the areas where you live to determine what invasive species are around and if it is possible to utilise them in a culinary way. I strongly believe that this is the future of addressing rising food demands and the problem of invasive species.
So if you want to be more environmentally friend in your day to day living, addressing this aspect of your life is a good start. Cutting down on the amount of meat you eat on a daily or weekly basis will hardly change your life that much and will probably benefit your overall health at the same time. There’re several other ways in which you can reduce your impact on the environment, and in the case of eating invasive species-can also assist the environment. Any little change is positive and you can start to do his immediately.
If you have an questions or comments please feel free to leave them here.
Peace and happy eating:)