We could gain so much from going meat free – so why don’t we?

I ate steak on World Meat Free Day. Quite accidentally, I tucked in to a classic carnivore’s choice, totally oblivious to the campaign. One day is all they ask. And I failed. According to the website, if 10 million people took part in the day the amount that CO2 emissions would decrease is equivalent to the emissions produced by driving around the world 2,438 times. Even more astonishingly, we would save 13 million tonnes of water in one day, that’s the equivalent of 5,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Humans started eating meat around 2.5 million years ago. This dietary change is thought to be a result of our ancestors competing to survive in an ecological niche where meat was a viable option. It is evident in our jaws that we are built to consume an omnivorous diet, and our bodies have evolved to cope with high amounts of fat and cholesterol. In fact, human’s development of tools to butcher and eat meat is thought to be behind the mal-formation of our smaller modern day jaws – natural selection has been side stepped by innovation in this case, leading to misalignment and poor occlusion which is rarely seen in wild animals. Yet the benefits of meat to our diet in terms of protein, vitamins and minerals has unsurprisingly secured it as a staple in our modern day diet.

Jumping from the relatively innocent hunt and kill methods of yesteryear, to the mass farming operations of today, it is evident how the environment has suffered. Globally, some of the most damaging activities stem from our desire to eat meat. Deforestation in the tropical rainforests of Central and Southern America is one of the biggest issues, need for land being responsible for the loss of many unique plant and animal species. The list goes on, but I will just focus on Britain for now.

Aside from our supply chain lacking transparency (can anyone taste horse?) it also takes its toll on the land, water resources, climate change and other wildlife. But we already know this, and that’s the confusing part. Consuming meat every day of the week – sometimes more than once a day – is contributing to the exhaustion of resources that would be entirely more beneficial elsewhere. It seems as though we consume through habit, yet clever marketing and seemingly abundant, increasingly cheaper, supply on the supermarket shelf make it all too easy. Decisions that we make so quickly regarding what to eat throughout the days and weeks should bear more weight but most consumers of meat won’t make the link between their roast dinner and the massive environmental damage caused by beef production. Perhaps cutting government subsidies to agricultural livestock production would be the most effective way of reducing consumption because, unfortunately, a hit to the wallet is often more effective than a plea to the heart.

The good news is that we don’t need to cut out meat entirely, we just need to cut back a little. But many feel like it’s not dinner without meat, having spent so long living under the misconception that meals are based around animal product. Some people (particularly men) in my life would be uncomfortable with the proposition of anything with the affix ‘veggie’. Veggie chilli, veggie lasagne, veggie burger – all a bit of a turn off for anyone expecting meat at every meal. Consumers need to get back in touch with fruits, vegetables and grains to make exciting meals that can lure even the most stubborn meat eater away from cheap, low-welfare, imported rubbish. We also need to stop assuming that all men are Neanderthals that won’t eat anything that didn’t once have a heartbeat, perpetuating the ‘meat is manly’ myth.

That brings me to the matter of sourcing locally. In 2010, the Guardian reported that “at least one quarter of meat on sale in the UK comes from farms that do not have to meet national standards for animal welfare”. Even without the appalling welfare standards, the fact that the UK imports meat from all over the world represents the scale of the problem exacerbated by growing demand. If it has to be meat every day of the week, it is best bought locally or from somewhere that considers the origin of its produce – 100% of meat at Aldi and Lidl is Red Tractor accredited.

With this in mind, will you be going meat free one day a week? Or are the benefits not quite enough to sacrifice your meat intake? Let us know in the comments…

Blog post by Hannah Coles