Ditch the Meat Mindset
by Pushkin Defyer
7 Mar 2020

Hollywood actress, Dame Emma Thompson was forced to deny a charge that she was a climate change hypocrite' after flying more than 5000 miles from Los Angeles to join the Extinction Rebellion protests in London.
If Emma's flight was 1st Class return, her emissions would have been about 10 tons of CO2. Her defence was essentially that this contribution to environmental damage was beyond her personal control. "If I could fly cleanly, I would" was a response to her critics.

Dame Emma has a point. To an extent we are all prisoners of the 21st Century we occupy and some of the changes necessary to protect the climate and the environment is beyond our personal control. Only Governmental and transnational cooperation will, for example, bring about a cleaner aviation industry.

However, there are measures within the personal control of all of us which collectively have the potential for a hugely positive impact on the environment. As of the New Year, I made a resolution to be a vegetarian for 3 months and generally to cut down on my meat intake.

My reasoning was not political or environmental at all, rather an attempt at weight loss - which worked brilliantly as I continue my flexitarian diet 6 months on, only occasionally consuming red meat, I am maintaining good weight as a result.

Soon after making my decision, I decided to propose the idea of a meat-free day at my school. I encountered stern opposition to it but an equal number who supported me with a few who were apathetic.
It seems that the issue of meat consumption is a sensitive one - after all it involves our personal dietary habits. Reports abound advising people to drastically lessen their intake of meat and to strive for a balance with a more plant-based diet (with some suggesting a wholly plant-based one).

Diets in many cultures revolve around consumption of meat and this debate can make them feel as though their culture and way of life is under threat.

In many ways high meat consumption may be regarded as a form of addiction akin to nicotine addiction. The British obsession with devouring our fellow species may be an example. Avid meat eaters feel their freedom of choice of is under attack. Whereas those who advocate a more plant-based diet argue from what they consider the health, moral and environmental high grounds.

Similar issues concerning personal freedom of choice arose when restrictions on smoking in public areas was first touted. However, there was a realisation that freedom of choice must be balanced against the economic and social benefits of a healthier society. This together with the notion of personal responsibility for one's health and the benefits to society as a whole have had a dramatic impact on the public's reaction to smoking.
The next great challenge which Governments should seriously address is how to incentivise the public to radical changes in their dietary habits. Whereas smoking in public places had a personal and public health aspect to it, in the sense of making our environment healthier and more pleasant, the environmental implications in substantial public changes in dietary habit so as to reduce or exclude meat consumption is more dramatic.
When it comes to the environmental impacts of meat consumption, there appears to be an overwhelming case to reduce the amount of meat in our diets. The UN advised in a 2006 report that livestock generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. This a striking finding.

Most Greenhouse gas comes from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gases generated by manure. By eating less meat, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% - an area equivalent to the US, China, EU and Australia combined - and still feed the world. In the UK agriculture takes up 69% of land. If this land were to be freed up we could build more housing.
It also appears that there is a discrepancy between the huge footprint of livestock (responsible for 83% of agricultural land and causing 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions) and the benefits it offers in terms of calories (18%) and protein (37%).

Figures from Public Health England show that blood pressure and related diseases cost the NHS £2 billion every year. In 2011 research by WHO found that obesity and poor diets now place the largest economic burden on the NHS of all lifestyle choices. A controversial 13% tax on red meat and a 79% tax on processed meat would make up associated NHS costs.

Personal obesity amongst the UK populace is a graphic illustration of personal disregard not only for one's health but for the effect our personal habits have for the environment. This, however, merely reflects the martlet placer for the UK consumer in which meat is still King. Visit any of the large supermarket chains and the huge dominance of meat and meat-based products is glaring.

Obesity-related health issues cost the NHS a total of £17.4bn in 2007 and will cost the NHS a total of £22.9bn by 2050 unless we do something to tackle obesity. The report also suggests that by 2025 with the current trajectory, 40% of Britons will be obese and by 2050 the majority of Brits would be obese.

One of the best ways to tackle obesity and blood pressure is to lessen the amount of red meat and processed meat we consume. In terms of benefiting personal health and the environment reducing meat consumption is a no brainer.

A substantial switch to vegetarian diets could drastically lessen costs on the NHS caused by meat-based diets and help tackle growing obesity because vegetarian diets are naturally low in saturated fats and cholesterol. They have been shown to reduce heart disease risk and data shows that vegetarians suffer less disease caused by a modern diet (for instance coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes etc.). Vegetarian diets can also benefit people's mental health.

Being prepared to change our personal habits for the benefit of the environment is not merely a matter of practical advantage, there is also the moral imperative in being prepared to take personal responsibility for the way our individual lifestyles may impact on the planet that future generations will inhabit. This environmental morality has an equivalence in the moral case against meat consumption

So much of the damage we, as the predominant species, have inflicted On our planet stems from disregard for our fellow species - from our Brobdingnagian use of plastics and other pollutants to our decimation of natural habitats such as rainforests to satisfy our ever-growing needs. If the environment as we know it is to be saved we all have to buy into the notion of higher standards of personal morality in our individual lifestyles and that includes our approach to diet.

At the end of the day, whatever side of the debate one is on, it appears vegetarianism is winning over a lot of people and for good reasons too. A study, commissioned by the Linda McCartney Foods vegan and vegetarian food brand, looked at the spending habits of 2,000 adults living in the UK. According to the findings, 26% of those surveyed had reduced their meat intake in the past year.

The same study also suggests 17% of meat-eaters also intend to reduce their meat intake this year and more than 50% of those polled believed 2019 will see more people become vegetarian than any year prior. So, with vegetarian meals being cheaper to buy and with many environmental, moral and political reasons to support veganism and vegetarianism, it appears that vegetarianism is only gathering momentum.

If you believe that reducing or removing meat and meat-based products from your diet is too great a challenge, set yourself an realisable short term goal, for example a 3 month period. You will contribute to improved personal health whilst at the same time making a practical and verifiable personal contribution to a greener planet.

Pushkin Defyer

Young Green Liberal Democrat

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From GLD Challenge Magazine 2019-20

Pushkin and Steven Bray

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