To Meat or Not to Meat?

When I first met my partner and she told me she was vegan, I didn’t really think much of it. In my ignorance, I just thought it meant that she cared a lot about animals, and couldn’t bear to think of them being killed for human consumption, or exploited for their produce. She assured me that it was no big deal; she didn’t mind what I chose to eat and would never try and impress her values onto me. She told me it was her choice, but I soon came to realise that anyone with a conscience and a care for the environment doesn’t really have a choice in this matter.

Because it was important to her, I promised that I would watch the documentaries which had persuaded her to become vegan in the first place; Cowspiracy, Fork Over Knives and Earthlings. She said it didn’t need to affect me, but the level to which it affected me really surprised me.

We started with what she assured me was with the easiest viewing documentary and so I was introduced to Cowspiracy, which essentially provides evidence to suggest that agriculture is the biggest factor contributing towards climate change. It proposes that a vegan lifestyle is the best way to reduce the carbon footprint that agriculture has, with less demand for beef and for dairy products, and less rainforests being destroyed to make space for farmland and grazing pasture. I was genuinely shocked at the amount of damage farming is having on the environment with an acre of rainforest being destroyed every second, as just one example of how much damage agriculture is doing to the planet.

Not only that, but other facts and stats from the programme left me a little bit speechless;

• Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
• Emissions for agriculture projected to increase 80% by 2050.
• Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
• A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
• Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction

It seems quite obvious now, but having watched Cowspiracy, not only did I become aware that cow milk is designed, naturally, for baby cows and therefore all of the nutrients contained in milk are designed to make a calf strong, not to give nutrients to humans which were not intended for us. More than that, if you really think about it, the only way a cow can produce milk is to be constantly pregnant, and that can’t be nice for the cow, or ethical of us to artificially inseminate cows in order for them to produce the quantities of milk that our world consumes. A reduction in demand for these products will result in a very much needed positive impact on the planet, if we want to preserve it for future generations.

I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong, and that is the biggest problem here – even environmental charities don’t talk about it because animal agriculture is a big money making business. I have always drank milk; as a child I was told it will make your bones and teeth strong, and so Nesquik powder in milk was a staple before bedtime. As an adult, the only way I directly have milk is on cereal, though I love cheese and I am shocked at just how many standard products I eat every day which contain traces of milk and milk powder.

As someone who feels like they really do care about the environment, I realised that in my day to day habits, I am a complete hypocrite, because I happily enjoy all of the products which in their production and serving onto our tables is destroying the planet I thought I was doing my best to protect. I am embarrassed at my own naivety, as I genuinely thought that by recycling, choosing not to have children, using energy saving lightbulbs, walking instead of driving and when possible saving water, I was already doing my bit. It turns out; all of these things really make a fart’s worth of difference.

Naturally, I know that I cannot realistically become a vegan overnight, as I need to retrain my body and brain with regards to what alternatives I can eat instead of the products that I have been consuming for almost thirty years.

I have made a start and converted to almond milk about 3 months ago, and actually, it tastes way better on my cereal than cow’s milk ever did. Coconut milk also goes quite well with my morning bowl of fruit and fibre. I have also given up butter and use a vegan alternative spread called Pure, which tastes no different on my toast than the Flora spread that I was using previously.

The biggest hurdle I am yet to overcome is in giving up beef. I don’t eat a lot of meat, I always prefer fish and would happily choose chicken or pork over beef, so whilst I don’t feast on steaks or have roast beef or burgers very often, my mum makes amazing lasagnas, corn beefed hash, beef casseroles and stews, all of which I know I am going to have to give up, if I truly wish to not bury my head in the stand and actually take notice of what is the right thing to do for the planet.

It’s not going to be easy, and I know that I am going to have to do this with baby steps if the lifestyle change is going to stick. The milk and butter transition has been a piece of cake, but I still eat cheese and there are a lot of products which I consume without even considering whether or not they contain milk or any of the things that with the environment in mind I ought to be avoiding. I have allowed myself a transition period in which I can continue with these products in the short term, but a gradual phasing out will need to happen.

In order to make the necessary changes, I know that I will continue to avoid milk and butter, and cutting out beef will be my next step. I still feel fairly strongly about a human diet’s need for protein and therefore some meat, and so for the time being I will continue to eat pork, chicken and fish, but only that which is sustainably sourced and free range. My partner assures me Fork Over Knives will persuade me that non-animal proteins are available in abundance and far healthier, but that is something I am yet to look into.

I am unsure as to whether I can make the commitment to full time vegan, though this may well happen in time, or whether being flexitarian is a more realistic option for me. More research and finding my own way through to find the right balance is going to take some time.

Whilst I am anxious about abandoning the norm, or what the media tells us we should and shouldn’t eat, if I truly claim to care about the environment, I know that change is necessary, or at least being open minded enough to change, and that is a good start.
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Becky Bye - Freelance Writer