Meat or Pasta: Is Vegetarianism Ecologically Safe
AROUND VEGETARIANISM AND MORE CATEGORIC VEGANITY, disputes continue: while some people consciously refuse meat or animal products for ethical reasons, others condemn this choice. We have already tried to figure out whether it is worth giving up meat for health reasons, and now we have decided to study the question from the other side: what is more beneficial for nature – to refuse meat or not, to buy leather things instead of clothes made from synthetic materials, or vice versa?
Choosing dinner, we rarely think about how it affects the planet – but it would be worth it. We all understand that the rejection of meat, fish and poultry is more humane in relation to animals – but the impact of our diet on the environment is more complicated. Livestock really does a stronger blow to nature than agriculture. According to the UN, this is the reason for the release of 14.5% of all greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – more than the emissions of all cars, trains, ships and aircraft combined.
The same applies to the water footprint (the volume of water spent on the production of goods or the provision of services): researcher Argen Hökstra notes that the water footprint of any animal products is always higher than the water footprint of plant products. At the same time, the basis of the water footprint is not water, which is spent on the production of meat, sausages and milk, but liquid, which is used to grow livestock feed. About 40% of all cereals grown in the world go to feed – it is easy to imagine how many people could be fed with their help.
Of course, it is impossible to say that only the meat industry is harmful to the environment. Deforestation for agricultural purposes also affects the climate (also because trees absorb carbon dioxide), and rice fields, for example, remain a source of large emissions of methane, which also changes the climate. Agriculture also kills animals. Plowing the fields and harvesting destroy many rodents, snakes, lizards and other small animals – they simply fall under the combines. In addition, mice are killed and poisoned at the granaries. It is believed that from this point of view it would be more ethical to eat insects, because death brings them less suffering. Along the way, the ideologists of an ecological lifestyle are trying to improve the current state of affairs: for example, they are developing vegan agriculture, which affects animals less.
Many researchers believe that it is best to abandon red meat: 65% of such emissions in animal husbandry
with intestinal fermentation of cows
According to Benjamin Holton, a University of California scientist studying how the food industry affects the environment in terms of carbon footprints, a vegetarian diet is a half measure. It’s safest for nature to choose vegans, because it generally excludes products of animal origin – including eggs and dairy products. At the same time, there is no gap between veganism and vegetarianism, vegetarianism is close to the Mediterranean diet – it is its experts who recommend those who are not ready for the sake of the environment to completely abandon meat.
“Our studies show that if everyone strives for a Mediterranean diet (rich in nuts and legumes, which includes a lot of fish, chicken about once a week, red meat once a month), this will be equivalent to giving up a billion cars polluting our planet” – says Holton. A massive shift to the Mediterranean diet would help reduce global warming by 15% by 2050. Those who are not ready to radically change the menu are advised to at least reduce portions of meat – or, for example, once a week do not eat it at all. In addition, it is important where the products were made: eating local meat and vegetables causes less harm to nature than transportation.
True, in the transition to vegetarianism or the Mediterranean diet, there can also be pitfalls. If, for example, chicken is replaced with cheese in the diet, then the carbon footprint, on the contrary, will grow – because raising cows affects the environment more than raising chickens. Catching fish – and this is an important part of the Mediterranean diet – also raises ethical questions: now a huge share is fished – and in pursuit of a lower price, many producers sacrifice fish conditions. In addition, the cultivation of some species of fish requires large resources – for example, in order to get a kilogram of salmon, you need three to five kilograms of another fish.
Meat products also affect the environment in different ways – and a lot depends on what criteria we use to evaluate it. For example, referring to greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, many researchers believe that it is best to refuse red meat: 65% of such emissions in cattle breeding are associated with intestinal fermentation of cows, sheep and goats (i.e., burping and gases). Air emissions from pork production and poultry farming are much smaller – they make up only 10% of all emissions in animal husbandry.