Happy Earth Day 2019! Today we celebrate our planet, with a focus this year on protecting the millions of species we share it with.
The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.
In the 4.6 billion year history of Earth, humans are quite a recent development. Yet in the very short period of time we have been around we have managed to have such a devastating impact on the environment that the sixth mass extinction is under way.
A report by WWF found that 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets which put huge strain on Earth’s resources.
The way we live and consume (especially in richer countries) has a lot to do with it. It is easy to feel powerless, blame others or the inactions of big corporations and governments. Yet the food we put on our plates can be one of the most powerful statements we make.
Think about it, each week, many of us make decisions about food 3 times a day, 7 days a week. That’s 21 opportunities to make a difference and help preserve the species around us. One of the easiest way to reduce our ecological footprint is to choose to eat less meat.
The biggest lesson from the first Earth Day: When we come together, the impact can be monumental. Go green with us by making small changes that add up to making a big difference.
If you are not sure where to start, you can simply have one meat-free day a week. If you want to have more of an impact then try to build up from there. Ideally you want to decrease meat consumption to no more than 70-90g a day. This is the equivalent of eating 2 to 3 regular meat portions a week based on current average UK consumption. The rest of the time, you can simply enjoy a plant-based diet.
Here is why following a flexitarian diet by eating meat around twice a week can really reduce your ecological footprint and help preserve biodiversity:
Reason #1: Deforestation
Food, especially mass produced meat, takes a major toll on the environment. Intensively farmed animals are fed with grains which require land to grow. The meat industry requires around 33 percent of total arable land.
Additional space for livestock and crops is also created through deforestation. For example, cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates. This has devastating effects on climate change, insect populations and local wildlife habitat loss.
Reason #2: Climate Change
Not only does deforestation exacerbate climate change, but so does farming of animals.
Greenhouse gas emissions are a major issue with meat production. Through flatulence and manure, livestock produces methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), two very potent greenhouse gases. Intensive farming only makes the problem worse as the number of animals is greatly increased and concentrated.
CO2 emissions are also a problem. Even though, they are not produced in great amount by the animals themselves they are generated by meat and fertiliser production, farming infrastructure, transport and deforestation.
Different type of meat generate different greenhouse gases. A study done by the EWG found that “lamb, beef, cheese, pork and farmed salmon generate the most greenhouse gases. With the exception of salmon, they also tend to have the worst environmental impacts, because producing them requires the most resources – mainly chemical fertiliser, feed, fuel, pesticides and water – and pound for pound, they generate more polluting manure.”
Reason #3: Animal Welfare
Unless it is organic or raised by your local small scale farmer, most of the meat available in supermarkets is produced in animal factory farms where welfare is low on the agenda. Animals are kept indoors in appalling crowded conditions. Their health and growth is boosted with antibiotics. The emphasis is on quantity rather than quality.
Many people find the exploitation and slaughtering of other species as unacceptable and choose to go vegetarian or vegan. If going completely meat-free is too daunting for you, you can still have a positive effect on animal welfare by eating less meat.
Following a flexitarian diet and choosing higher welfare products will reduce demand on factory farmed animals and send a strong signal to the meat industry to clean up its unethical practices.
Factory farming is not only cruel but also a threat to the planet. Philip Lymbery, head of Compassion in World Farming highlights that “As the global demand for cheap meat grows, the expansion of agricultural land is putting more and pressure on our forests, rivers and oceans, contributing to deforestation, soil erosion, marine pollution zones and the global biodiversity crisis“.
On the other hand, farm animals left to roam freely in fields are a key element to enriching soil fertility and also help promote biodiversity.
The good news this Earth Day is that a flexitarian diet is not only good for the planet but also good for our health. High red meat consumption has been linked to a host of disease such as cancer, cholesterol & heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
A varied plant-based diet including pulses, tofu, beans, seeds, nuts and wholegrains with the occasional additional of higher welfare meat can provide all our protein needs. Plant-based protein sources, also happen to be excellent sources of diverse vitamins, fibre, minerals and antioxidants while being low in fat.
Growing pulses (lentils, beans and peas) also “promotes sustainable agriculture, as pulse crops help decrease greenhouse gases, increase soil health, and use less water than other crops“.
The other good news is that a meat-free diet can be delicious and easy to follow. Everyday, supermarket shelves are being filled with even more vegan and vegetarian options. Nothing beats cooking your own though so make sure you check out my selection of recipes for inspiration.
Make this Earth Day meat-free and start embracing the flexitarian diet to help protect the millions of species around us.