Environment

Eating meat is killing the planet

BY JEN DAVIDSON

Last week’s alarming report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that our consumption of meat is contributing significantly to a hotter planet. But can we be coerced into evicting meat from our diet?

As one of the biggest per capita meat eaters in the world, Aussies are renowned for their love of a bloody good steak. Harking back to colonialisation, “meat and three veg” remains the default of our diet. Even our embrace of an international cuisine spicing things up with flavours from around the world, red meat still takes centre stage. Are we literally barbecuing planet Earth?

Livestock production generates 33 per cent of global methane emissions, and beef and dairy cattle are by far the biggest offenders. Methane (produced by cow belching for example) is the most potent of the greenhouse gases (read more in the most recent IPCC Assessment Report).

Methane combined with the release of nitrous oxide from manure and nitrogen fertilisers (in swine and poultry production too) make our food habits unsustainable. In a closed system where carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide production far outweighs our forests’ capacity to absorb it, our demand for burgers and bolognese adds fuel for the fire.

This in turn causes chaos: floods, heatwave, desertification, drought, more intense storms, and rising sea levels. The effects of climate change are especially disastrous for the developing world, where governments have fewer resources to mitigate these increasingly imminent disasters. And ironically, what we eat now and how it is produced and disposed of will jeopardise the security of global food security in the future.

It is a hugely complex issue and the answers are not simple. But ditching a steak for a lentil burger could make an impact long-term.

So why not? What’s stopping us from eating less red meat?

Ask any carnivore and they will tell you straight off the bat: they “really like meat”. So how do we sate the appetite of a hungry beef eater? Is it with the meat substitutes increasingly appearing in supermarkets?

Damien Dingley, a regular middle aged Aussie bloke has thought about the move but is also concerned about nutrition. “I’m not sure how to make sure I get enough iron and protein without red meat,” he says. Others hesitate about the cost of alternatives. For me, it’s devoting time and headspace for a new paradigm in the kitchen.

So how can vegetarianism, or at least the move towards it be nutritionally balanced, cheap and easy?  Kat Vella, a newcomer to vegetarianism, was motivated to reduce her footprint. For her, a gradual approach has worked. Mushrooms, tofu, soups, stir fries and noodles are the new staples.

Eating less or no meat is not just for the planet; it’s for your own health. Nutritionists have been arguing the anti-inflammatory, disease-reducing and digestive health benefits of a plant based diet for decades. Veganism is certainly gathering momentum with almost 10 per cent of Aussies completely bypassing animal products altogether.

So it’s up to us. Cook up more veggies on the barbie and turn down the heat.

Featured image: Variety of vegetables. Photo: Pexels/CC

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