Written by Bethany
We are all hyper aware of the climate crisis conversation that is encompassing our day-to-day lives at the moment. Some of us may even have a hint of eco-anxiety: a notion of slight environmental doom. We all try to do our bit from time to time; recycling our cardboard boxes, switching off the lights when we leave the kitchen, putting on a jumper instead of turning on the heating. However, when there is more that we can individually do, and if we are physically and economically able to do so, maybe we need to ask ourselves - what is stopping us?
We’ve all read the articles and statistics: one of the most impactful things that we can do which dramatically decreases our individual carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emission is cutting down our meat, fish and dairy consumption, aka becoming vegan or vegetarian (even if it’s only for a couple of nights a week). 26% of the Earth’s land is used for grazing beef cattle or for animal feed (Greenpeace 2020) - doesn’t that sound so absurd? Even the greenest most organic types of meat, creates more greenhouse gases than plant based sources of protein.
So what can we do?
1. We can eat less meat and fish. There needs to be a substantial collective shift in our minds that meat is the main component of a meal, and instead think of it as an addition to, or a side.
2. We can try and buy our food as sustainably as possible. This applies to everyone, even vegetarians and vegans. The buying of responsible fruits, vegetables, fish and meats, aka fresh produce, is paramount to eating sustainably. We can do this by buying organic foods, buying local produce at local markets for example, and buying fair trade. No product we buy in the supermarket is entirely 100% sustainably produced, however buying food with these things labeled is a sure improvement.
3. Reduce our food and kitchen waste. A terrifying statistic of 900 million tonnes of food is thrown away globally each year (BBC 2021). To reduce our waste, we first need to look at what and how much we are buying. When doing our food shops for the week, we need to perhaps consider how many lunches and dinners we’ll be having at home that week and how many we’ll be out for. Instead of buying extra food throughout the week, we can look at all the ingredients we have already in the fridge and cupboard and get a little creative!
Now let’s talk about accessibility. It’s true, being vegan and eating mock meats, milks, chocolates, cheeses etc, can be very expensive - however, the narrative that veganism is entirely inaccessible to those with low income lacks substance. We have a warped view and a lack of education of what consists of a balanced diet and what the sources of key nutritional elements actually are. We all remember the laminated drawing in primary school of a plate with ⅓ for red meat, ⅓ vegetables and ⅓ carbohydrates , shown to our sweet little younger selves as the perfect representation of a balanced diet. Most of us are aware now that there are many plant-based alternatives for protein that are some of the most accessible foods: chickpeas, lentils, beans. Establishing and ingraining the idea that protein can only come from red meats, allows for harmful eating habits that have negative impacts on our health. Often the meat that is bought by families in the UK is low quality, highly processed and saturated, and overall very bad for our health with little nutritional value.
Vegan/vegetarian staples are affordable, they are some of the cheapest things found in a supermarket: beans, legumes, rice, oats, bread, potatoes, pasta. Similarly, frozen vegetables have the same nutritional value as fresh ones and are often half the price. Therefore, eating vegan isn’t inaccessible for the most part, however acknowledgment that becoming vegan and seeking those mock meat alternatives and specific substitutes (notably B12) can be expensive to those with low income is important. Yet for those of us who can afford to, and have the privilege to, make those subtle switches, should try.
The big shift to veganism or vegetarianism may not be for some, but even just slightly shifting your diet to eating one or two nights vegan a week, or eating vegetarian most of the time whilst saving your meat and fish consumption for the weekends, is still making a significant individual impact. When a climate crisis is looming, an individual evaluation of what we eat and how those dietary choices impact the earth needs to be taken.
Meat alternatives can now be found in every UK supermarket, which demonstrates just how popular they are. At the end of the day it all comes down to supply and demand. Those large corporations and supermarket chains are driven by what the consumer desires, and if we show them that a greener future is what we desire by buying more sustainable foods, they will eventually listen, making the foods more easily accessible and cheaper.
A few documentaries and podcasts about the subject to watch, listen and educate yourself on are : ‘The Game Changers’, ‘Cowspiracy’, ‘What the Health’, ‘The Disclosure Podcast’ and ‘Eat for the Planet’.