Michaela Da Silva / Staff Reporter
Last month (March 2021), Lyon, France, put forth a headstrong yet highly controversial movement in climate efforts to eliminate the distribution of meat in school classrooms and cafeterias. This was put forth by the Green Party leader and mayor of Lyon Grégory Doucet. Following this, Gérald Darmanin, the right-leaning French interior minister, stated in backlash that dropping meat was “scandalous” and an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that was part of “an elitist and moralist” policy. This interaction between such political leaders sparked the input from many others in Lyon and the surrounding French community on the impact of mass meat consumption.
Vegetarianism is a prehistoric, life long debate. It seems now more than ever we must further analyze the repercussions and impacts of this lifestyle from an economic and environmental standpoint. Although many see it plainly as a personal, low-impact life choice to be regarded as quite simple, the situation in France and the dispute can be dubbed point and case for why we need to rethink this long term action.
NUTRITION, a science
The first argument more carnivorous-leading individuals will utilise is the topic of not getting enough sustainable nutrients from the elimination of meat. Many will jump to conclusions that vegetarians and vegans do not get enough protein and B12, most popularly. However, many studies from health organizations have found that protein from alternate sources have actually proven to be more beneficial. The average meat-eating individual consumes about 100 grams of protein in a day, which is more than double the amount needed. Excess protein is then burned as sugar or converted into fat which is processed through the kidneys, which causes a very high strain because of the buildup of toxic substances that are produced by the breakdown of such a high concentration of amino acids (such as sulfuric acid). Additionally, when high amounts of protein are consumed, buffers (such as calcium) from the bones are released in order to neutralize the acids. This process can eventually result in the dissolving and weakening of the bones, known as osteoporosis. An alternative to these risk factors include eating a more plant based diet with plant proteins, which are less concentrated and also contain many, many more nutrients along with them than meat does. An example of this is that all plant-based proteins are accompanied by fiber, versus animal sources of protein which have essentially no fiber. This can also be told for cancer-fighting phytochemicals, as well as lesser fat and cholesterol levels. (Nutrient statistics above from Down To Earth).
Getting all necessary nutrients through vegetarianism definitely takes more of an effort, but when achieved it is much better for your body and long term functions.
ECONOMY & CLIMATE
Our diets impact the economy and state of global relations in more ways than we think. A huge part of this is world hunger and the sheer amount of money needed to sustain meat facilities (such as slaughter factories and cattle farms). In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Most recently, people have been studying the effects meat agriculture has on the climate, in particular greenhouse gas emissions. A key takeaway from the climate debate on vegetarianism is that depending on where you live, plant-based diets can reduce food’s emissions by up to 73%.
Below are some more economic statistics regarding meat consumption:
- One-third of the world’s grain is used to feed livestock.
- Twice the world population could be fed with today’s global harvest if we did not feed farmed animals but rather consumed the yield ourselves. (2019)
- The livestock industry consumes about 40% of global arable land, 36% of crop calories produced and 29% of agricultural freshwater.
- Meat farming produces much higher emissions per calorie than vegetables.
- The meat industry contributes roughly 14.5% of all human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
- Beef production releases 4x more greenhouse gases than a calorie-equivalent amount of pork, and 5x as much as an equivalent amount of poultry.
- Livestock production accounts for more direct greenhouse gases than all trains, ships, planes and road transportation combined. (From the book, Every Woman’s Guide to Saving the Planet)
- It is estimated that 70 billion land animals are slaughtered each year for food (this excludes fish and other seafood).
- The global average meat consumption is 34.1 kilograms. (From the book, On Eating Meat by Matthew Evans)
- Australians are among the biggest meat eaters in the world, consuming on average of 110 kilograms of animal meat each year. (From the book, On Eating Meat by Matthew Evans)
- In 2018, global meat consumption was 360 million tonnes.
- Over the 20 years to 2019, global meat consumption increased by 64%.
- While the number of people on the planet has doubled over the last 50 years, the amount of meat consumed has tripled.
People eat meat and think they will become strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.Pino Caruso
The planet and our growing, ever changing economy are becoming more in need of our contributions to keep up with sustainable, beneficial efforts: no matter how small they may seem. Plant based and vegetarian alternatives are not only an equal (and in some cases more beneficial) partner to meat consumption on a nutrient basis, but also a better long term option for our population and the planet’s health. The arguments against this movement and lifestyle are based mostly on support of human tradition for millions of years; however, as we have seen most recently, humans and human life is changing drastically and at an extreme rate. We no longer do things as we once did, and we no longer have the infrastructure or the planet to support the mass production of harmful gases produced by cattle, the space to support these farms, the sheer amount of freshwater to sustain these animals (70% of the world’s water goes to livestock) and, quite frankly, the basic need for them. We are constantly adapting to the changes around us in civilization, and although this may be uncomfortable and rejected by many, it is these lifestyle decisions that will ultimately do us the most good.
Amid a growing market share of plant-based alternatives in markets around the world, the future of the food supply chain could spark a significant change. This can be seen in investments, too, where this shift is already quite evident. Beyond Meat, a leading provider of meat substitutes, was one of the best performing stocks of 2019—gaining 202% after its IPO in May 2019. It isn’t too late to do what we can for our planet.