Food is something that we all make decisions about every single day. It is such a familiar part of our daily lives that it is hard to imagine that our choices in the kitchen, supermarket, café, sandwich shop, or restaurant have an impact on the natural world.
What does it matter whether we fancy a beef and mustard sandwich, or a home-made hummus wrap? How could our individual lunchtime decision possibly matter to the world? Even if we are aware of the disproportionately large environmental footprint of beef, and that a take away sandwich is packaged in single use plastic, surely one sandwich for one person won’t make any difference to the planet?
We are mostly blissfully unaware of the impact that our food choices have on the planet as we pop into our local sandwich outlet on the high street at lunchtime. The impacts are all far away and hidden by a long and complex supply chain. We don’t see the ocean dead zones caused by intensively farmed cattle waste. Nor the thousands of acres of rainforest felled to feed these intensively farmed animals with soya beans and palm oil by-products.
What can one person do about this? Let’s look at animal products to start with.
The easiest difference we can all make is to avoid, or reduce our consumption of, intensively farmed meat, fish, and dairy. Large amounts of food is needed to grow a far smaller amount of intensively farmed meat, fish or dairy. We can easily feed everyone on the planet, but not if they all want to eat animal products every day.
- The mantra should be ‘Less and Better Meat’ to which I would also add fish and dairy products.
- Meat-free meals. Start with one or two a week, and buy a great veggie cook book such as Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Much More Veg.
- Avoid intensively farmed animal products where possible. This includes meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Free range may be more expensive, but the extra cost is offset by eating some meat-free meals.
- Consider trying alternative ‘milks’ to reduce your dairy intake. There are now so many to choose from. After extensive testing and many curdled failures, I reckon that Oatley Barista milk is the perfect dairy milk substitute for coffee drinkers.
The Facts for People who would like more Information
- One third of the land on earth is already used to grow animal feed.
- A further 26% is used for grazing.
- 80% of deforestation is due to animal feed production. This includes the loss of the Amazon rainforest
- For every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of corn, soya and oil palm we receive on average 17-30 calories worth of meat. The conversion rate for beef is in the order of 100-3!
- 5 kilos of wild fish are needed to grow 1 kilo of farmed fish
- The World Wildlife Fund has published a report ‘Appetite for Destruction’ looks at the hidden impacts of animal feed on the planet and links our reliance on animal protein to worldwide extinctions and biodiversity loss.
- The average European consumes around 61kg of soy per year , indirectly through animal products including fish and milk. In 2010 the British livestock industry needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy used for feed.
- If the global demand for animal products continues to rise as it is estimates (WWF) then soy production would need to increase by 80%. This would wreak more destruction on the Amazon, Congo Basin, Yangtze, Mekong and Himalayas among other vulnerable areas. As well as the local people losing their water security and way of life, many species such as jaguars, gorillas, elephants, and tigers risk being driven to extinction by our appetite for meat.
- In 2014 there were 23 billion chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys and guinea fowl on the planet ready for us to eat. That’s more than 3 for every person.
- The feed needed to farm fish, shrimp and prawns required an area the size of Britain in 2010 and demand continues to rise.
- 20% of total direct global carbon emissions are from food and agriculture. This does not include methane production from animals or CO2 emissions as a result of deforestation.
Image courtesy of WWF
Philip Limberly ‘Dead Zones’
WWF Appetite for Destruction
WWF Eating for 2 Degrees including the Livewell Plate