A Meat-Free Diet?

by Jan

VegetablesHaving attended the Climate Strike at the Domain in Sydney on Friday  (20 Sept 2019), I started thinking about whether going vegetarian would help not only the planet, but my health as well.  It sounds pretty easy, taking into consideration some nutritional points such as consuming enough proteins and the right vitamins and minerals.

I’ve been reading around this topic and it’s not just about the body’s need for good nutrition. And nor is it about displaying food fads on social media, along with endless selfies.

A meat-free diet, whether vegan or vegetarian, is also about the health of the planet and cruelty to animals. Our beef comes from cattle which have a digestive system made for grass, not grain from ‘finishing’ in intensive feed-lots. These environments are bad for the health of the animals’ stomachs and the increasing emission of methane.

It would make more sense if farming methods included regenerative agriculture. This means keeping native grasses rather than introduced pasture grasses. If these pastures are mixed and perennial, there is permanent ground cover, and the nutrients remain in the soil. If trees are not recklessly clear-felled, they provide shade for the animals. You can read about regenerative agriculture in the books of: Charles Massy, Bruce Pascoe, and Bill Gammage.

Broadscale cropping is often a monoculture which requires annual ploughing using lots of petrol, and petroleum-based fertilisers. After years of this, the biological activity in the soil becomes inert, therefore requiring increasing amounts of fertilisers each year. This is similar to humans trying to exist on constant sugar hits. It’s not sustainable over the long term.

Another writer, Joel Salatin, runs a farm in the US and rotates his crops and animals. And because it’s so successful he has a lot of speaking engagements.

Apart from increasing emissions of methane from cattle, eating less read meat is not going to harm us. Also, this sounds strange, but some people think killing animals is not cruel, and some think it is cruel. If they are slaughtered very quickly and painlessly, that is a lot better than the alternative.

A vegetable-based diet does decrease the carbon foot-print, but there are trade-offs.

If we all eat less or no meat, that will decrease the cost of and emissions from transportation to and from other countries. It is the same with vegetables; importing them is also costly and therefore unsustainable. And for this reason there has been a recent increase in domestic and community gardening, apart from the traditional market gardens on the periphery of most cities.

But when expansion for growing legumes and lentils (vegetable protein), means clear-felling native forests and rainforests, to make way for crops, that’s not always sustainable either.

It helps sustainability and reduction of air miles if we choose food, not so much on what we like, but on what is local and seasonal. Food waste doesn’t only happen at home; it also happens in the supply chains, including retailers.

So, whether vegan or vegetarian diets are better for the environment can only be assessed if the production systems and supply chains are sustainable. Airfreighting raspberries from, say, California in the middle of our winter does not make a lot of sense, delicious as they are.

As consumers, we need to understand and keep up to date with information about what to buy and eat, without wastage. Here are a few tips for us to remember when we go shopping for food:

  • Remember what you have left in the fridge
  • Try to buy vegetables and fruit which can combine with these above-mentioned foods in your fridge.
  • Try to buy fruit and vegetables which are imperfect. Just because a capsicum looks fab in a photo does not mean that every capsicum is going to look perfect. They all taste the same. Imperfect produce is always cheaper, and nature is hardly ever perfect.
  • Try to buy goods which are local and seasonal.
  • Try not to buy too much at once; that can lead to wastage if it sits in the fridge for weeks.
  • Be sceptical about food fads. Think of the poor farmers who have to grow this stuff, eg. kale, cauliflower are seasonal, not on permanent supply.