THE BIG QUESTION: Should we stop eating meat?
Britain is set for barbeque weather this weekend. But it is also National Vegetarian Week – an annual celebration of the meat-free lifestyle. How strong is the case against meat eating?
Summer weather has arrived in the UK. To celebrate, people all over the country will be firing up their barbeques to cook huge piles of sausages, burgers, kebabs, spare ribs, chicken legs, pork chops and every other kind of meat product imaginable.
This carnivorous celebration is an important part of summer tradition. But a growing body of evidence says it is bad news – for our consciences, our bodies, and our planet. This weekend, the Vegetarian Society is holding an alternative summer cook-off – to highlight the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.
What could possibly justify a life without bacon sandwiches? There are three strands to the argument.
First, there is the environmental cost. According to some studies, livestock farming produces 18% of global carbon emissions – more than the world’s entire transport system. Worse still, cows and sheep produce huge quantities of methane in their digestive tracts – accounting for more than a third of all human-related emissions. Methane is 25 times more damaging to the climate than CO2.
And cow flatulence is not the only harmful by-product of beef. Producing meat requires thousands more litres of water than vegetables, animal antibiotics pollute the environment, and 70% of Amazon deforestation is to clear land for cattle ranches.
Second, there are ethical issues. Over two million animals are slaughtered daily in the UK. Though some grow up in humane conditions, grazing freely in open fields, many live short, miserable existences in so-called ‘factory farms’.
In these dirty, dark and overcrowded warehouses, animals are crammed into cages so small they are barely able to move. Steroid-pumped chickens grow so fast that their bones cannot support their weight, and many animals develop excruciating skin diseases, or go mad with boredom. Females, trapped in a relentless cycle of birth and pregnancy, will only see daylight when it is their time for the slaughter.
Third – eating meat may be bad for our health. Meat can be an important source of protein, but it is also high in fat. Vegetarians are less likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Meanwhile, processed meat (like bacon and salami) has been linked to cancer.
Sins of the flesh
So, vegetarians ask, why would anyone continue to eat meat? It is bad for animals, bad for humans and bad for the planet.
But most people are not convinced. Eating meat is natural, they say, and happens all the time in the wild. Humans have been doing it for tens of thousands of years. And meat eating is part of human culture. Vegetarians should not spoil Britain’s barbeque fun.
- Would you ever give up eating meat?
- Why do we do things that we know are damaging for ourselves and the planet?
- Plan a vegetarian menu for one week. How do you ensure your meals are tasty and nutritious without resorting to meat?
- Write a defence of eating meat.
Some People Say...
“Meat is murder.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So eating meat is bad for me?
- It depends how much you consume, and what kind. Red meat and processed meat can be particularly bad for both health and the planet. But small amounts are not likely to have such a big impact.
- How much is too much?
- One recent study calculated that we should eat no more than the equivalent of a serving of chicken and a medium burger every two days. But estimates vary. Many of the benefits of going totally veggie can be gained from cutting down: eating meat for one meal a day, or having one or two meat-free days each week.
- Any other ways to be a bit more ethical?
- Eating meat that is responsibly farmed or organic reduces much of the environmental impact – and the suffering of the animal.
- Carbon Emissions
- CO2 is a gas produced by industrial activity, transport and farming – among other sources. When released into the atmosphere, it creates an insulating layer around the planet that traps the sun’s rays as they bounce off the earth. That heats up the planet, creating the global warming that is currently threatening harmful consequences all over the world.
- As well as threatening the existence of the creatures that live in rainforests, deforestation can speed up global warming. That is because trees, through the process of photosynthesis, play an essential role in absorbing CO2 that has been released into the atmosphere.
- Protein-rich foods are an essential part of a healthy diet. Found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as non-animal sources like pulses, tofu and nuts, protein is essential for cell function, and helps to build muscle and repair the body. Teenage girls need about 46 grams of protein every day.