Part 4. Eating Our Planet Healthy.
The last few weeks I have written about changes I have made to eating patterns and the motivations/frustrations that have led to these changes. So far this has focused on my weight and health, but a significant factor that has also helped drive some of the decisions I’ve made relating to the food I eat are environmental…
For most of my adult life I feel I have been environmentally aware. I adopted recycling straight away, I’ve always been one to turn off lights and other electrical products, I’ve moved to eco-friendly light bulbs, buy my house electricity from only sustainable sources, been careful with water usage, walked or cycled instead of driving at times, have 15 year old T shirts and never been into fast fashion etc. When I recently changed my car, I took a long look at the hybrids and e-cars, but as yet, sadly, found they were not quite meeting the requirements I have. On the whole I think I do a pretty responsible job. That is until I started to understand the environmental consequences supported by some of the food choices I was making.
Here’s what I am trying to digest (pun intended)…
Animal agriculture is a leading cause of environmental devastation!
Like many of us I have been aware of the somewhat comedic fact that cow farts are bad for the environment, however, some of the other related issues had completely passed me by.
Relating to farts, this particular statement has stuck - Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation! (Trains, Planes Automobiles and Ships combined!)
However, these are all the environmental effects associated with meat production:
· pollution through fossil fuel usage
· animal methane, CO2 and Nitrous Oxide
· effluent waste
· water consumption
· land consumption
This is from an article in the Independent in 2018 “If these industries (Meat and Dairy Companies) continue down their current path, the authors of the report warned that the livestock sector could be responsible for 80 per cent of the allowable greenhouse gas budget by 2050.”
One of the most intriguing and powerful things I have watched (twice) recently is the movie “Cowspiracy” (available on Netflix and with an accompanying website https://www.cowspiracy.com/facts). This documentary follows the investigations of the film maker Kip Andersen who starts his journey after being challenged by the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. He then comes across the “Cow Fart Fact” which prompts him to start investigating what world environment agencies are doing about animal agriculture.
The first area considered is Water Consumption.
Most of us are aware of the term “carbon footprint”. A new term for me is “water footprint” and it’s fascinating! This is the amount of water needed to produce things we use/do in everyday life – such as washing and flushing, producing our food, our clothing and other goods. Here is a table I found on www.waterfootprint.org.
It takes at least 40 times the amount of water to produce a kilogram of vegetables than a kilogram of beef! Using the above chart to calculate, it takes 1751 litres (385 gallons) of water to produce a quarter pound minced beef burger!
A five-minute shower uses about 45 litres of water, so one quarter pounder is the equivalent of 39 showers! So just skipping one quarter pounder is SO much more effective than having a slightly quicker shower! These numbers are just crazy when you think about it, but when do we ever get advice from water companies suggesting we eat less beef, and yet how much more effective would it be than telling us to shower a little quicker!
Before moving on, try and comprehend this number, because I can’t!
Global animal production requires about 2422 Gm 3 of water per year
It’s a lot of water! I had to look it up.
1 cubic gigametre = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic metres!
It’s also worth noting that 98% of the water footprint of cattle is the water needed for the feed! And where is this feed grown? We’ll come back to this later.
The next environmental issue of animal agriculture to consider is poo! (Side note; can’t believe I am writing a serious blog and I get to talk about poo and farts! Such a lad!)
The effluent waste produced by livestock is so gross, but more importantly it is having a devastating effect on our oceans. US livestock alone generates 116,000 pounds of excrement every second!!! The runoff from this means there are 100,000 square miles of nitrogen flooded ocean dead zones where there is no ocean life at all. We have all seen the images of the plastic in the ocean, but this is so much more insidious.
The last environmental effect to consider is land consumption – which is mainly deforestation. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. The deforested land is used for either grazing cattle or growing the feed crops for the cattle. In the Cowspiracy movie there is a very interesting section where Kip is talking to an executive at Amazon Watch. When asked about the role of animal agriculture in deforestation the executive initially seems very uncomfortable, avoids talking about it for some time but then, when admits the issue, focuses the discussion on the issue of activists being murdered by the industry. I was shocked to hear that over 1100 activists have been killed in Brazil for speaking out against the cattle industry in the last 20 years.
There is only one way to reclaim this land – breed less animals for food consumption, and this will only happen when human demand for this food reduces. There are massive corporations, shareholders, government and NGO’s with vested interests at play. These will not change unless we the people do something.
If you are still reading at this point, thanks! I'll summarise this blog as follows:
Billions of humans eat even more billions of animals that consume incomprehensible amounts of water, food and land.
THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE. THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR THE HEALTH OF THE HUMAN RACE AND NOT GOOD FOR THE HEALTH OF OUR BEAUTIFUL PLANET!
For me, this bit of research has really shocked and horrified me. It has caused me to completely re-evaluate my attitude to eating animals as a food source, and while I am not vegan, I have significantly changed my eating habits for life. I have cut out about 95% of the meat and dairy that I used to eat. I feel much better for it - for the health benefits of both me and the planet!
Thanks again for reading my blog and please interact with me. There’s more I need to learn…