Food can be a sensitive conversation because what we eat reflects our values, tradition, privilege, health, and understanding about our food’s impact on people and planet. This is especially true about the “m” word: meat.
Changing the Conversation
Meat consumption has the largest environmental impact in comparison to all other food groups. As such, there are a growing number of powerful movements that seek to encourage plant-based diets. A failure of these movements however, is that they often suggest that meat consumption is a choice when in fact this is not the case for many people around the word. For example, someone may desire to eat a sustainable diet, but due to their income, they cannot afford to eat a completely zero waste, local and organic, plant-based diet. I think we can all identify with this sentiment in some way.
So how do we change the conversation in order to (1) empower our community with choice to reduce our meat consumption and (2) to also include those in our community that have been previously excluded from the plant-based movement due to personal barriers?
1. Become food literate
Food literacy is defined as understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, the environment, and our economy. This information allows you to make shopping decisions that reflect your values. When it comes to animal agriculture and the environment, here’s what you should know:
Water use: Agriculture uses up roughly 92% of our freshwater resources. Here is a breakdown of what different types of food require to be produced:
- Vegetables/Fruit =322-962 litres per kg
- Chicken = 4,325l/kg
- Pork = 5,988l/kg
- Beef = 15,415l/kg
Land use: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, used both for grazing and growing crops to feed animals.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Cows can blame their digestive systems for being the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases over other livestock. Cows create large amounts of methane as they digest food. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is much worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
2. Have the Tools
When you reduce your intake of meat, it can leave you questioning what you can eat instead. Here are three easy tips to get you started:
(1) Find meat alternatives that easily replicate your traditional meals. Have you tried Beyond Meat?
(2) Instead of seeing a plant-based diet as taking things out of your diet, think of it as an opportunity to try fruit or vegetables you’ve never bought before.
(3) Stop wasting time trying to create new recipes, and instead use what’s already been proven. Check out our vegetarian recipes here!
3. Embrace the Grey Zone
Transitioning to a more plant-based diet is just that, a transition. A great way to start is to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet one day a week. Try “Meatless Mondays” or whatever day works best for you!
4. Support Lower Income or Marginalized Communities
When we alleviate inequality and build strong communities, more people will have the power to choose what they eat, rather than this choice being determined by what is accessible or what is cheapest.
- 1) Mekonnen, M. M., and A. Y. Hoekstra. “The Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint of Crops and Derived Crop Products.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, vol. 15, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1577–1600., doi:10.5194/hess-15-1577-2011.
- 2) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “FAO’s role in animal production.” http://www.fao.org/animal-production/en/
- 3) Lassey, Keith R. “Livestock methane emission: from the individual grazing animal through national inventories to the global methane cycle.” Agricultural and forest meteorology 142.2-4 (2007): 120-132.