A post from mummy bean…
There’s a lot of debate surrounding the subject of vegetarianism and the environment. This blog is not just about parenting, it’s about making choices that help to sustain the planet we live on so that it’s here for our children and their children.
We chose to go vegetarian for a month and explore the impact intensive livestock farming is having on the environment.
So how exactly is going vegetarian helping to create a more sustainable planet?
The impact of Livestock Farming:
- 65% of nitrous oxide is produced by livestock. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that stays in the atmosphere for 150 years
- Up to 76 billion gallons of water is consumed by livestock annually.
- Beef, arguably, has the biggest impact on the environment requiring the most land and far more water than pork, poultry, eggs or dairy.
- A quarter of the world’s land is used for grazing livestock.
- It is thought that over 50% of greenhouse gases can be attributed to livestock.
OK so we get it. Meat’s bad, it’s warming the earth, taking up land, draining valuable resources, all so we can have a cheap burger but what about intensive arable farming?
The Impact of Arable Farming:
- In the past thousands of miles of hedgerow have been removed in a bid to increase crop yields encouraged by the EU. This is gradually being rectified but it has already destroyed the habit of many small animals and birds.
- The impact of monocultures, on the environment and the food chain has increased. Larger quantities of fertilisers and pesticides are required to grow large quantities of the same crop in one place.
- Monocultures leave the soil susceptible to erosion. This means, when it rains, the soil that holds the chemicals used to maintain the crops, runs off into the rivers and streams effecting the food chain in the water as well.
Hmmm, so perhaps the bun surrounding that burger ain’t so good either?
It’s clear to see that intensive farming on any level is not good for the environment or, arguably in some cases, the local economy. Perhaps it is not whether or not we eat meat that’s the problem but instead how we produce our food, the volume in which we consume it and the waste we produce in doing so. We, as humans, need to take responsibility for how we produce our food.
Food is considerably cheaper now than fifty years ago. In the 1920’s we spent up to 60% of our income on food. That’s almost half. Now we spend just 13%; largely in part due to cheaper food from intensive farming, but at what cost?
Just under half of our food, here in the UK, is imported. Transporting food has an obvious environmental impact.
Markets work on supply and demand. If we stop demanding the food that is produced by intensive farming the suppliers will respond. This, unfortunately is not an option for all for many reasons and I understand that I am in the very privileged position of being able to make these choices.
I do think we need to start thinking about where our food comes from and ask ourselves, is this sustainable, regardless of whether it’s meat, veg, dairy or items for our store cupboard. Even if it’s just one thing we can make a choice about in our cupboard for example buying a locally sourced loaf of bread, bacon produced by the local farm, lettuce grown in our own back garden, it’s one more thing we are doing to help.
So will we be going vegetarian permanently?
I don’t think we’ll return to a strict vegetarian diet but I definitely won’t be eating as much meat. I was brought up vegetarian and the return to the diet has definitely agreed with me. I’ve noticed the difference but I also miss meat and, for various reasons, I don’t want to bring Bean up vegetarian.
Of course, I will make her aware of where her food comes from and if she chooses to be vegetarian then I will support that. Instead we will have at least four days a week where we don’t eat meat. For now the best thing I can do is take responsibility for what I am eating. Ensure that I am fully informed of where all our food is coming from. Eating any food responsibly is the answer, and the problems with our environment are not going to be fixed by a wholly vegetarian diet.
I’ll leave you with this thought: If we all went vegetarian, surely the demand for vegetables and arable crops would increase, in turn increasing the likelihood of monocultures and intensive farming further? Does this mean the actual problem is one concerning the size of our population? – that’s a whole different blog post.