The Green Bay: Meat Free Mondays (Week 2)

EATING less meat has many merits. Health-wise it helps reduce the risk of food related illnesses such as cancer, it builds stronger bones, increases your life expectancy and it keeps your weight down. In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University’s department of public health found that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion in costs each year. Former chief scientific officer Sir Liam Donaldson has said that reducing the UK’s consumption of animal products by 30 per cent [by 2030] would prevent 18,000 premature deaths every year. In addition to this it also saves money (the cost of meat has risen 10 per cent since 2007, yet most of the staples of a meat-free diet are comparatively cheaper: plant proteins such as dried beans or lentils typically cost less than the equivalent amount of animal protein), and saves the animals (billions are animals are farmed and killed for meat each year, these are often kept in cramped conditions and can sometimes carry diseases).

cattle grazing globalConcerning the environment, eating less meat will help reduce pollution. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the livestock sector is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. The FAO estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, larger than that of the transport sector. Carbon dioxide is also emitted when forests are cleared for grazing or for growing grain to feed animals.  Fossil fuels are used to transport animals and meat produce and also to power the production of their feed.

Substantial amounts of land are being used up to keep these animals and grow food to feed them. 30% of the earth’s entire land surface is used for rearing farmed animals and a typical meat eater’s diet requires up to 2.5 times the amount of land compared to a vegetarian diet. Additionally, a farmer can feed up to 30 people throughout the year with vegetables, fruits, cereals and vegetable fats on one hectare of land. If the same area is used for the production of eggs, milk and/or meat they could feed between 5 and 10.

Livestock is also using up a significant proportion of our earth’s water. Livestock production accounts for over 8% of global water consumption and the estimates of the water required to produce a kilo of beef varies from 13,000 litres up to 100,000 litres. This is opposed to the water required to produce a kilo of wheat which is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 litres.

Now I’m not asking everyone to give up meat completely, but everyone giving up eating meat for just one day a week could make a world of difference. We would not only be able to lead healthier lifestyles, save money and save animals, but also feed our growing population and reduce famine without the need to develop harmful pesticides. We could significantly reduce our impact on the environment in terms of green-house gases and take a step forward to providing clean water to the 780 million who currently don’t have access to this.

So if you’re thinking of giving meat up for one day a week, or even more than that, here’s a handy website to get some recipes ideas to spice up your vegetarian menu in tasty ways that don’t just involve adding quorn to everything: BBC Good Food Vegetarian Recipes.