Should I Become a Vegetarian?
Author: Gertie Goddard (19/10/17) 👩💻
Despite my title, I don’t actually want to preach vegetarianism here… or even answer the question at hand, actually. What I would like to do is use this platform to explore some of the facts behind an incredible, weird, disturbing, and fascinating global phenomenon that no one seems to think twice about - eating animals – and hopefully incite you to raise some questions yourself.
For instance, I bet you wouldn’t have guessed that I originally wrote ‘eating meat’ above and then changed it to ‘eating animals’, and this makes me feel a bit uneasy. But why? Isn’t that what eating meat is? Well try this: replace ‘meat’ with the word ‘animal’ next time you see it…. Suddenly that ‘fresh animals’ section in Tesco doesn’t sound so appetising, does it?
This leads me onto the principal problem with the consumption of meat in modern day society, and the total dissociation we have with the animals we are eating.
For as long as the meat tastes good, we can get it easily and it doesn’t cost too much, that’s normally enough to justify us purchasing it. Actually thinking about that animal’s life –how it lived and how it died– is rarely considered. Which is ironic, as we as humans are generally very compassionate about animals - we care for them as pets, we visit them in zoos, watch them in BBC documentaries and anthropomorphise them as fictional characters. Yet when it comes to eating them? Well that’s only cruel when it’s certain species of animals, apparently.
This is probably why I’ve never forgotten the time my parents killed and fed me a pet chicken we had called Spike. Even though I had always loved eating chicken, it felt totally wrong eating a chicken I actually knew. In my eyes, my parents had killed one of the family. We were eating family.
In all honesty, why was that chicken’s life worth more than any other?
Fact time: How many animals do you think are killed each year in the UK? A million? Several million?! In fact, over a a billion factory-farmed animals are killed each year in Britain’s slaughterhouses….which tallies up to over 55 BILLION worldwide. In just ONE year! The shocking thing though? What percentage of the world’s population do you think are eating these animals…
Although I only recently became vegetarian, I have always enjoyed eating meat – and all kinds of it - but forever felt an inner conflict about it. Originally, I thought this was because I liked animals, but I’ve come to realise it’s more than that. It's down to the fact that no one seems to value meat anymore, or recognise it as a once-living, moving, breathing animal - and it’s totally understandable. It arrives skinned, cut into pieces, and neatly packaged right to your local supermarket.
What’s more, humans abuse this… because why eat one animal when you can have several?! A full- English breakfast, plates of sushi, bacon-wrapped stuffing-filled chickens, meat-feast pizzas… It’s even celebrated in our social media, just look at Epic Meal Time or Man vs. Food.
Perhaps a questionable reference but I can’t help but appreciate how wartime rationing for civilians was the most economically, environmentally and socially efficient system for food. Of course, I recognise those times were far from pleasant, but at least people were aware of what they really needed, and what was a luxury – alcohol, sugar and meat, for example.
A social no-no
It’s a difficult topic to discuss – food ethics - because food affects us all in so many ways; our biographies, our tastebuds, our social histories… Yet, there is something about vegetarianism that tends to polarise – you either never eat animals, or think it somewhat ludicrous not to.
We can make a plethora of food decisions based on weight loss, general preference or allergies… but reason or conscience? That’s not normally high on the list, and is quite often frowned upon if it is.
This dissociation from meat has enabled a whole cascade of crazy things to happen right under our noses. Our greed for meat has, quite simply, enabled the agribusiness to shift livestock and poultry farming into unhealthy, inhumane systems with hardly any public scrutiny. And yes, I’m talking about factory farming.
Face Off: Juliet visits a typical British pig farm
Did you know that virtually all (95% plus) of factory farmed chickens are infected with E.coli in a factory farm. Which makes sense - they do normally live in squalor, after all - but between 40-75% of these chickens are still infected once in retail stores. Furthermore, according to Consumer Reports, 83% of all chicken meat is infected with campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase.
What’s more, factory farmed chickens have, essentially, been artificially selected to become obese as quickly as possible. So, as a result of fat genes, over-feeding and lack of exercise – the majority of them cannot walk. They are force fed antibiotics every day, and their meat is often pumped full of a broth/salty solution prior to purchase, otherwise they will not taste like chicken ‘enough’.
Fact time: The ratio of male to female chicks is 50:50 – so what do you think the factory farm industry does with the sex that cannot lay eggs? They cull them, of course - an approximate 6 billion male chicks are killed each year because of this.
Even if the morality of eating animals is not something you affiliate with, I’d expect the environmental impact of eating meat is probably something you are aware of - and that’s because it is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
For instance, did you know that 30% of the earth’s entire land surface (70% of all agricultural land) is used to rear farmed animals? And that’s not space for them to roam around in! That’s land used to grow grain for them to eat. In addition, we need to provide the animals with a huge amount of water, and we use a range of energy intensive processes/systems to kill, process, transport and store their flesh.
Fact time: The meat industry creates the same amount of greenhouses gases as all the vehicles in the world combined.
Red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, and 11 times more water. Giving up beef alone will reduce your carbon footprint more than giving up your car.
It’s a crazy ironic world we live in, isn’t it? We literally grow food to give to our food, meanwhile 842 million people are starving. No wonder the UN special envoy on food called animal agriculture a “crime against humanity”.
On this point, I would really recommend you read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, watch ‘Before The Flood’ featuring Leonardo DiCaprio (totally free to watch on NatGeo), and ‘Cowspiracy’ on Netflix.
Or, you can just watch this One Minute video by the guardian, which I feel sums things up quite nicely:
The highs and the lows
In the past 50 years, the cost of everything has gone up dramatically. A new house has increased by about 1500%, new cars by 1400%... but the price of milk? Only an 350% increase - and eggs and meat? They haven’t even doubled in price!
When exactly did we allow animals to lose their value? Was it when we stopped killing them ourselves? Was it when the first factory farm opened? I know I’m not alone in thinking there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we are treating animals for our temporary consumer satisfaction. In fact, every single person I’ve spoken to about this topic (not in a preachy-way mind, just out of curiosity) seems to agree with me, often claiming that the issue stems from the fact that meat is just too readily available. So much so, in fact, that vegetarian options are quite often limited or unappetising.
However, I have experienced some interesting aspects to vegetarian life which I thought I might share with you. For example, as a vegetarian, my weekly shop costs around £30 (about 40% lower than it used to be), and I am a lot more inventive when I cook. I’ve also read several studies that suggest that vegetarianism is actually really good for your health. As seen in Harvard’s Health Publications, research has indicated that being a vegetarian reduces the risk of:
Type 2 Diabetes
Although I have to raise a point a colleague made here, “But eating meat was part of human evolution, it’s what enabled our brain to grow to the size it is today”. Which is totally true. As seen in a study by Plos One, if early humans had followed a diet like gorillas, they would have had to eat for about 9 hours every day to consume enough calories for proper brain development – an almost impossible feat.
However, “The bottom line is, it is certainly possible to survive on an exclusively raw diet in our modern day, but it was most likely impossible to survive on an exclusively raw diet when our species appeared,” Herculano-Houzel told LiveScience.
Food for thought
Although I doubt you would believe it (having read this far though, well done) but I really tried to cut the length of this article down, and can only thank Conservation Conversation for publishing it. It’s a difficult yet fascinating topic that I could talk about for hours but, at the end of the day, would just like to raise it as a topic for consideration.
I’ve heard plenty of people tell me they do meat-free Mondays, meat-free weeks, or follow a ‘neolithic-like’ diet (where they only eat meat on justified ‘special occasions’) or are just generally trying to cut down – and all of these give me hope. Perhaps this conscientiousness could grow into a movement that could help shape our planet’s future, bring morality back to farming, and help us reconnect with the actual animal we are eating – rather than just scrutinizing what it tastes like.
Food for thought? Lettuce know...
Want to learn more? Check these out!
Interesting Articles &Websites
What is the carbon footprint of the food you eat? - http://www.greeneatz.com/foods-carbon-footprint.html
Seven reasons why you should stop eating meat - http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/why-british-people-eat-less-meat-reasons-health-weight-environment-ethics-vegan-vegetarian-a7886076.html
Carnivore Dilemma - http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/meat/
Have you watched Cowspiracy? - http://www.cowspiracy.com
Have you calculated your carbon footprint?... http://footprint.wwf.org.uk