Scientists have recently published a report that tells us that if we were all to switch to a vegan or at the very least a vegetarian diet, humanity’s impact on the Earth would be lessened. To me, at first glance, that seems a bit counter-intuitive. If more of our shrubbery and foliage is being eaten by us, how does that help?
Of course, the answer lies in the detailed analysis of human eating habits and how we, as a species, have used industrial levels of animal husbandry and factory grade fishing techniques to wreak havoc on the planet. You’ll value your next free range chicken meal were you to ever visit a large poultry farm. I didn’t even need facebook and its persuasive power to promise myself that I wouldn’t be partaking of foie gras ever again; with the absolutely inhuman way the ducks and geese are treated in order to engorge their livers.
But then what would you make of the food we eat on a regular basis? Our recipes and cuisines have developed over hundreds of years with our table manners only serving as the bookends of a highly evolved gastronomic adventure. People love to travel the world in search of that next meal – usually one that involves some meat, seafood and poultry. That’s pretty standard. And with globalisation in full swing we often get the exotic served right at our doorsteps if we live in one of the urban hotspots of the world. But it’s the sheer scale of the food industry that serves to load our resources, lately joined by countries with large complements of poor people who are getting richer and in the process switching from their frugal plant based diets to meat-intensive.
The best estimates are that we will have a 9 billion population by 2030 and will peak out around 12 billion in 2050. That’s an awful lot of meat, fish and poultry that the world will have to produce to feed this population. So it definitely makes sense to switch over to a plant-based menu wholesale. What this does it remove the industrial levels of animal husbandry and their consequent need for animal feedstock – made of the very items that we need in a vegetarian diet. Are we capable of making that switch? It’s highly unlikely.
For many of us, what we eat is an outcome of the family and society that we are born into – that includes understanding what’s normal and what would be seen as exotic. In some countries it is normal for the entire family and community that family belongs to, to be vegetarian. In some places the new normal is to switch to a vegan diet, eschewing any form of animal produce, even cheese, milk and eggs. In most other places in the world, some form of animal meat is considered a standard offering in a meal. You had to be really poor to not have meat on your table. But that’s not the point.
We know that any major shift will take generations and we don’t have the time before 2050 to actually do more than two of those. No shift is likely to happen anyway as long as your morning eggs and sausages taste so good. It’s not likely to happen either with the large fast food chains that make billions out of selling the premise of tasty meats in various forms. It’ll not happen while the affluent populations of the world not only enjoy their hot dogs and burgers, but export it en masse to the rest of the world.
For me, from a personal standpoint, I can’t say that I find anything is going to change. It is actually a relief to know that we may all actually eat ourselves into Armageddon before we end up suffocating ourselves through poisoning our atmosphere with exhaust fumes from the millions of tailpipes or even drowning ourselves due to rising sea levels.
So, this discussion has been pointless – I, for one, love my occasional sinful Chicken Biryani or Mutton Rogan Josh just as much as I love a typical English breakfast spread. That’s the sort of love that makes one forget about the future of the Earth and our very existence till the next meal.