Consumption of meat is an integral part of our social, cultural, and daily life. Our ancestors survived in the wild with the typical “Hunting and Gathering” method. With the food evolution and modernization, meat, dairy and eggs have become an inseparable part of our diet.
According to a 2018 study, an average Nepali consumes around 11.25 kg meat per year. If eaten in a normal range, meat can be a good source of nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc, Omega-3 and protein. However, its global consumption has drastically spiked in recent decades. Indeed, meat has now become added taste to our palate rather than a balanced diet to our plate.
Unfortunately, this trend of animal-dependent food has huge consequences – both on our planet and human health.
FAO estimates that animal farming contributes to around 14.5% of the global greenhouse gas emission. Livestock animals release a copious amount of methane into the atmosphere through digestion. Methane is a potent gas that has the capacity to trap heat 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
The industry is also responsible for a massive amount of deforestation. Different parts of the world are experiencing rapid forest destruction for pasture land expansion. For an instance, it is speculated that the infamous Amazon wildfires were initially set up by cattle farmers who wanted to clear the land for livestock production.
Water footprint related to animal production is also tremendous. A study found that more than 4000 litres of water are used to produce a kilogram of chicken, compared to 300 litres of water for a kg of vegetables. Furthermore, water pollution from excreta, pathogens like E.Coli, antibiotics, hormones and organic matter relating to animal farms is also substantial.
Meat consumption is not only detrimental to the earth but also to our own health. Epidemiological studies suggest that increased consumption of red and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Likewise, many deadly diseases such as H1N1 flu, Bird flu, Salmonella, and even COVID-19 was initially linked with the consumption of meat.
In spite of the potential risks and negative effects, the livestock sector is growing faster than our crop production. With fewer farmers in fields, people are now switching to the meat industry for employment options. Almost 80% of all agricultural land now is either dedicated to grazing or production of feed. In many developed countries, fruits and vegetables are now more expensive than meat prices.
It is estimated that changing our diet to a more plant-based pattern can save $1 trillion USD annually. This accounts for both health cost and lost productivity, not to mention the devastating effects of climate change. By adopting a vegetarian diet for a year, you can reduce carbon emission similar to taking a small car off the road for 6 months.
Rebalancing our food habits is a global urgency. While completely changing a diet may not be a feasible plan, taking small steps by lowering meat consumption can really be a huge contribution towards planet earth. So, let’s include more veggies and less meat on our plate.