It’s no secret that we eat an awful lot of meat. So much, in fact, that to breed the ever-increasing livestock we all salivate for, we’re doing quite a bit of damage to our planet in the process. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (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 rearing of animals for market is simply unsustainable – when you think that one-third of all arable land worldwide is dedicated solely to growing animal feed, or that 40 per cent of the world’s cereals are grown specifically for livestock**, you can start to grasp the colossal amount of resources that go into producing your burgers and juicy fillet steaks.
When we think of food waste, we think of actively throwing food away, but this is waste in the sense that we’re over-producing for unsustainable uses. We’re over-working our food system to epic proportions, going above and beyond to create more food, not for those going hungry, but for the privilege of eating meat.
That privilege is now extending to more and more people. As countries get richer, their diets get better and demand for meat and dairy products rises. Not a bad thing in many ways, but the increasing pressure to produce is leading to more deforestation, more greenhouse gas emissions and more food shortages as world food supplies are squeezed, food prices rocket and the hungriest are left most at risk.
The answer is simply to eat less meat.
Meat Free Monday is a campaign, started by Paul McCartney, to shout about exactly this. Now in its fifth year, it denotes a simple message – if everyone cut out meat for one day a week, there’d be less strain on the food system and our planet, we’d be a little healthier and we’d all save a bit of cash. Good news all round. Above all, the point is to raise awareness that we simply can’t continue the way we’re going.
We don’t all have to be vegetarians, but eating veggie-based meals doesn’t have to be a chore either. Breaking out of the meat and two veg idea and experimenting with non-meat meals that are just as vibrant, tasty and exciting in their own right is the way to go (see my veggie traffic light burger recipe).
It’s clear that this is now becoming a more accepted way of thinking – chefs, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, have been touting the benefits of eating more veg-based meals for years, despite being proud carnivores. Vegetarians and vegans are no longer treated like rogue hippies and there are ever-more cookbooks making veggies the hero.
So make Mondays meat-free and embrace your veg!
**Tristram Stuart. Waste: uncovering the global food scandal. 2009. Penguin.